WASHINGTON — As Catholic bishops gathered at a general assembly meeting, a pro-life group held rallies in major cities Wednesday calling on church leaders to support a draft document advising ordinaries to deny communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.
Students for Life of America held Fight for Life & Faith rallies outside Roman Catholic cathedrals in seven cities, urging bishops to “address the scandal of radical, pro-abortion [Catholic] politicians receiving the sacrament of Communion” at their virtual general assembly meeting, which began Wednesday and runs through Friday.
Bishops are expected to vote on whether to approve a draft document that would advise Catholic politicians who support abortion to refrain from communion while leaving “decisions on withholding Communion up to individual bishops.”
Across the street from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., pro-life activists called on Cardinal Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington to “uphold this crucial tenet of the faith and to defend the lives of the most vulnerable in their dioceses.”
Gregory has faced criticism from the pro-life community for announcing that he would not deny communion to President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic who supports abortion.
Gregory was one of more than 60 bishops who signed a letter calling on the USCCB to delay implementing national guidance regarding communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians. The letter was written on letterhead from the Archdiocese of Washington, indicating that the faith leader played an instrumental role in the crafting of the document.
Pro-life activists gathered in Washington spoke with The Christian Post about why they attended the Fight For Life & Faith rally and reacted to the claim from Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, who described the withholding of communion from Catholic politicians “based on their public policy stance” as an example of “the weaponization of [the] Eucharist.”
Ronnie Gonza of Fort Washington, Maryland, attended the rally because of his concern about “U.S. bishops being silent” and not addressing “public officials who are Catholic and not … aligned totally with the teachings of [the] faith, whether that’s abortion, same-sex marriage.” Gonzaga pushed back on McElroy’s analysis, asserting that Catholic teaching requires those who receive communion to be in a state of grace and “there’s no exception” to that rule.
Another attendee, Makayla Obasun, told CP that “I’m just out here to show that the ... politicians that call themselves Catholics have to abide by the Catholic Church’s rules.”
“If we want people to understand the Catholic Church, we need to make sure that the politicians who represent the Catholic Church hold the belief that life begins at conception and it needs to be protected,” Obasun added.
Obasun also disputed McElroy’s reasoning, noting that “you can’t get the Eucharist if you aren’t Catholic or if you have mortal sin.” Maintaining that “specifically going against life is also a mortal sin,” Obasun argued that pro-abortion Catholic politicians “shouldn’t be able to get the Eucharist, just ... like a normal person who’s committed a mortal sin.”
Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins was the first of five speakers who addressed the crowd as some vehicles honked their horn in support of the pro-life movement’s efforts and a pro-abortion protester chanted in the background. The speakers included representatives of various advocacy groups and academic institutions. While the speakers were primarily Catholic, a pro-life atheist also spoke at the rally.
After discussing how “the Catholic Church’s firm adherence to Scripture” and “the standing for truth no matter the cultural tides” helped motivate her to convert to Catholicism, Hawkins contended that allowing pro-abortion Catholic politicians suggests that “our Church must not really mean it when we talk about abortion.”
“If it’s OK to increase the number of abortions, if it’s OK to force Americans of all religious backgrounds to pay for abortions, then logically, many come to believe it’s OK to have one,” she said.
Citing statistics from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute finding that 54% of women who have abortions are self-identified Christians, Hawkins concluded that “Christian women and mothers are receiving mixed messages about abortion that are being set and enabled by Church leadership.”
“Today, the pro-life generation is asking the leaders of the Catholic Church to practice what it preaches, and we’re asking that of every single denomination,” she added. “We aren’t here to debate Catholic Church teaching on the matter; the Church teaching is absolutely clear. Supporting the murder of innocent children is incompatible with the faithful practice of Catholicism. Now, we just need our Catholic leaders to act like it.”
Jason Jones of the Human Rights Education and Relief Organization emphasized that pro-abortion politicians “do not need to be told” that they should not present themselves for communion and told bishops that they “do not need to hold a vote for what you all already know.”
Implying that the teaching forbidding pro-abortion Catholic politicians from presenting themselves for communion is innate to the faith, Jones asked: “Are you going to be voting on the Trinity next year?”
Terrisa Bukovinac, president of the Democrats for Life of America and a pro-life atheist, delivered a strong message to U.S. Catholic bishops. She emphasized that while her position on the issue of abortion puts her at odds with the majority of people in her party, there are still 12 million pro-life atheists nationwide. Expressing a desire to partner with the Catholic Church to combat abortion, Bukovinac exclaimed that “I have put my reputation on the line for the unborn” before asking the bishops, “When will you?”
Terry Schilling of the American Principles Project told the crowd that “by giving communion to pro-abortion politicians, not only are our bishops putting the Church’s teachings on life in question, they are putting the teachings on the most Holy Eucharist in question.” Acknowledging that “this issue is primarily about saving the unborn,” Schilling shared his belief that “this issue should also be about saving the souls of pro-abortion politicians.”
“How much do you have to hate someone to put their souls in danger of the pains of Hell simply because it makes you feel uncomfortable or puts you in a difficult position?” he asked. “It’s time that our Church leaders take a stand and reclaim its position of moral leadership.”
Michael New, a research associate at the nearby Catholic University of America, explicitly outlined actions taken by the Biden administration that directly contradict the president’s Catholic faith teachings on abortion. Lamenting that “President Biden has repealed the Mexico City Policy,” New explained that, as a result, “U.S. foreign aid dollars can go to NGOs that perform or promote abortions.”
“President Biden has removed restrictions on human fetal tissue research. President Biden’s FDA has made it easier for women to obtain chemical abortion drugs,” he added. New expressed particular concern about Biden’s budget proposal, which requests “a 72% increase in funding for the United Nations Population Fund, which, he said, “supports abortion.”
He added: “President Biden’s budget proposal is the first presidential budget proposal in 28 years that does not include the Hyde Amendment,” which prevents taxpayer dollars from funding abortions. New told the crowd that despite his unabashed abortion advocacy, “President Biden regularly presents himself for communion at mass.” He proceeded to share his concern for the souls of Biden and other Catholics who support abortion.
In addition to the main event in Washington, rallies were also held in Kansas City, Kansas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Tyler, Texas, to “rally & thank” bishops who have supported the effort to “address public confusion about the reception of the Eucharist.”
The rallies in Washington and Chicago were held to “rally & encourage” bishops who “have been working to stall and stifle efforts by their fellows to address the scandal.” Anna Lullis, the data strategist for Students for Life of America, told CP that nearly 200 people signed up to attend the rallies.
“The Eucharist is such a focal point of our faith that we really pray the bishops make the right call on holding pro-abortion politicians accountable specifically when it comes to receiving Holy Communion and that they hear our message loud and clear,” she said. “In Catholic Church teaching, it is very clear where our stance is on abortion. That is taking away the life of an innocent human being, and any formal cooperation with that is also a grave matter and a grave offense.”
The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law teaches that those who are “obstinately preserving in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” A 2004 letter written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who served as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Catholic Church at the time and later became Pope Benedict XVI, advised U.S. bishops on how to address the issue of pro-abortion Catholic politicians presenting themselves for communion.
In the letter, Ratzinger explained that “the Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin.” He quoted from the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, which states: “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law or vote for it.’”
Bishops skeptical of embracing a national policy regarding communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians warn that the lack of “consensus among ourselves” on the matter could have a negative impact on the unity of the Catholic Church. In a letter to U.S. Catholic bishops, Luis Ladaria, the current prefect of the CDF, stressed that any draft document featuring guidelines for the reception of communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians “would need to express a true consensus of the bishops on the matter.”
Ladaria also argued that “it would be misleading if such a statement were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teachings that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”
New elaborated on this point of view when speaking at the Fight for Life & Faith rally. He expanded upon the Church’s guidelines about the reception of Holy Communion: “There are a number of people who probably should not be presenting themselves for communion. This isn’t just limited to Catholic elected officials who support abortion.”
“This should include Catholics who are engaging in any kind of extramarital sexual activity, would include Catholics who view pornographic materials, it would include Catholics who are not attending mass on Sunday, it would include Catholics who are neglecting to care for aged parents, [and] it would include Catholics who are engaged in fraud or perjury or other mortal sins.”
New also highlighted the need for the Catholic Church to embrace “a clear expression of Church teachings about the reception of Communion.”
While a poll from the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Catholics believe that Biden and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be able to receive Communion, New mentioned a poll conducted by CRC research that found 77% of weekly mass attendees believe Catholic public officials who disagree with Church teachings on grave matters should not present themselves for Holy Communion.”
In addition to holding rallies outside the cathedrals of major Catholic dioceses, Students for Life of America formulated a petition asking Archbishop Jose Gomez, the president of the USCCB, to ensure that the “critical conversation” about the “reception of Holy Communion” takes place. The petition had accumulated nearly 800 signatures as of Thursday morning.
The agenda for the USCCB General Assembly includes a vote on whether “to proceed with the drafting of a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church,” but the issue of abortion is not mentioned.
According to the USCCB website, “The body of bishops meets typically twice a year for a General Assembly to transact its business and address matters of concern within its civil and canonical mandates.”
The Washington Post reported that “watchers of the conference of bishops say they expect a yes vote” on whether to approve a draft document on the issue. If approved, the bishops will continue working on the document before presenting it to the public at a later date.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org