The latest meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has triggered more than a few nominally Catholic Democrats. After the bishops voted to draft a document teaching about the Eucharist, Democratic politicians vigorously protested and even threatened the USCCB.
Many of them signed a petition urging the bishops “to not move forward and deny this most holy of all sacraments, the source and the summit of the whole work of the gospel over one issue [abortion].” Some have called for defunding the church, like Rep. Jared Huffman, who tweeted, “If they’re going to politically weaponize religion by ‘rebuking’ Democrats who support women’s reproductive choice, then a ‘rebuke’ of their tax-exempt status may be in order.” This recalls former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke famously campaigning on the promise to tax churches that didn’t celebrate same-sex government relationship licenses.
Evidently, these politicians believe that they have a “right” to the Eucharist, just as they have a right to kill the unborn. As John Daniel Davidson points out, this is completely wrong: “All Catholics know, or should know, that they are not supposed to present themselves for communion if they are objectively in a state of mortal sin.”
Flaunting support for abortion puts one in mortal sin and should prevent a person from presenting himself for communion. Nevertheless, all these Democratic politicians do. They don’t believe in things like mortal sin, and they classify murdering millions of children in the womb as merely one “issue” among many.
Why they should care, and why leftist media outlets like New York Times should amplify their grievance, is something of a mystery. Perhaps it’s theological ignorance, as Margot Cleveland suggests. Perhaps it’s a power play of powerful Democrats enforcing their will and immorality on the USCCB.
Whatever their motives, these proudly undevout Catholic Democrats and their allies in the media seem to take the USCCB’s document on the Eucharist seriously with many public statements, reports, and signed declarations. By contrast, Republicans seem indifferent to the fact that their colleagues are intimidating Catholic clergy and thereby violating the separation between church and state.
True, a poll from CatholicVote has shown that practicing Catholics would prefer that the bishops deny communion to President Biden and other pro-abortion politicians who cause great scandal by endorsing grave evil. However, these types of politicians have been doing this for decades, at least since the first Catholic president John F. Kennedy, who essentially disavowed any influence from his faith to win support from Protestant voters with little serious pushback from the church.
Gone are the days when a proud king would grovel to the pope to lift ex-communication like King Henry IV did with Pope Gregory VII. Now, a pip-squeak congressman from California can openly taunt church leaders without any consequence.
Redefining the Terms of Discussion
As Michael Knowles argues in his recent book “Speechless,” liberals exert far more energy in breaking the rules than conservatives do in defending them because they understand the game. They know they can rely on conservatives to be conciliatory and exploit this to push their own agenda by redefining the terms of discussion. After this, the battle is already won since conservatives lack the words and premises to make an effective counterargument.
Similarly, Catholic Democrats make their demands knowing the USCCB will accommodate them in the interest of “dialogue” and being “pastoral.” By the time any bishops take issue, they will lack even the language to articulate their position.
To be fair to jaded Catholics who see little point, their leaders have given little reason for confidence. With a few exceptions, Pope Francis will endorse and promote corrupt clergy, even known predators like Theodore McCarrick or notorious heretics like James Martin. Moreover, a number of bishops in Germany have openly defied church teaching by blessing homosexual unions — although, to his credit, Pope Francis seems to be responding to this to avoid a schism.
As such, it is the liberal cardinals, like Blase Cupich of Chicago and William Gregory (both favorites of Pope Francis) who make the loudest objections about even considering the possibility of denying communion. No doubt, they will force enough concessions and loopholes that will allow them to render the whole document largely meaningless. Eric Sammons argues this in “Crisis”: “it’s hard not to see the whole debate as full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.”
More than likely, some “brave” bishops will defy any recommendation to deny communion and continue welcoming Biden, Pelosi, and anyone else who is in the mood for the Body and Blood of Christ. Meanwhile, some “rock-ribbed” bishops will tout their orthodoxy and praise the USCCB’s affirmation of church teaching while doing practically nothing to enforce it or challenge their wayward peers.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. The great irony in this debate is that the great multitude of laypeople who attend Mass, practice their faith, and donate their time and money to the church are the ones who have the power. Although a theological matter like the proper reception of the Eucharist shouldn’t be political, it has become so because bishops are starting to notice the empty pews and the rise of a political movement that endangers the church and religious freedom.
Faithful Catholics Should Speak Up
Catholic laypeople should capitalize on this moment to make their voices heard. Not only should they write and call their bishops, but they should also talk with their priests, deacons, and parish committees. They should share their feelings with those who work in the parish ministries. They should share articles with their friends and family and make these points on social media. One of the few nice things about today is the fact that elites aren’t as insulated from criticism as they used to be.
Beyond making noise, Catholics should make themselves presentable for communion and act as models for others. As it happens, the threshold for receiving the Body and Blood of Christ worthily is much higher than not supporting genocide. At the very least, Catholics should understand St. Paul’s injunction in his first letter to the Corinthians, “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”
Instead of having a paltry handful of people going to Confession while the great majority of the congregation present themselves for the Eucharist, this should be reversed. St. Paul considers taking Communion unprepared as a judgement, not a party gift for all who attend Mass.
Finally, and most importantly, Catholics, and indeed all Christians, should pray. As the great modern mystic Thomas Merton continually points out in his book “No Man Is an Island,” all action comes to nothing without prayer. This is proven time and again as so many Christians buy into the next great evangelization or self-help gimmick and neglect the intense quiet focus of prayer. What results is people leaving churches in droves while those who stay consider ways to dilute their faith further.
Like so many other churches, the Western Catholic Church is sick and dying right now. The vast majority of its members are superficial, self-entitled, and deeply ignorant. This is a fact that Catholics have to come to terms with in order to properly address it. It’s a problem that the bishops won’t solve and ultimately can’t solve.
For those who whine about not “weaponizing Holy Communion,” they should know that Jesus described Himself as a weapon: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). Therefore, one should think of the sacraments as weapons against sin. To their great detriment, Catholics have kept these weapons sheathed for far too long. If they hope to save their church, they should take out their weapons and go to war.