Manila—The Catholic Church in the United States has fallen into a deep crisis. At the heart of the crisis are the issues of abortion and the Eucharist. Can the US bishops continue to teach what the Church teaches on these issues, or should they now ask President Joe Biden to show them the way? A huge fallout cannot be avoided, and it could affect even our own church in the Philippines.
The Church has always taught that abortion, which involves the killing of unborn children, is “intrinsically evil.” Canon 1398 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law declares that “a person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.” This means that a person is automatically excommunicated upon commission of the crime, without having to be pronounced guilty by any specific tribunal. From this alone, one can see that mere public support of abortion is already a grievous Catholic wrong. However, in 1973, the US Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade recognized a woman’s “ constitutional right” to procure an abortion. This led us to our present problems.
This ruling has had no effect on the Church’s condemnation of abortion. Conscientious Catholics continue to pray that the Supreme Court’s composition would change and that Roe v. Wade would be ultimately overturned. Still, nothing has prevented the rise of abortion and Catholic politicians openly supporting the moral evil that the Church condemns. Until the US bishops started calling them out, these politicians had been free to proclaim their pro-abortion positions without risking their standing as Catholics.
This appears to be the case of President Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and former Senator John Kerry, among others. In April 2008, during Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic visit to the US and the UN, American pro-life Catholics published a manifesto asking the pope to deny communion to American politicians who would use the papal mass to project a “Catholic image” while promoting the killing of the unborn. My wife and I followed this visit at the time, and I got a copy of the manifesto at the Catholic University of America in Washington.
Benedict XVI eluded the trap by not personally distributing communion to the faithful. But somehow Pelosi and Kerry were able to receive communion during the papal mass at the National Park in Washington, while former New York city mayor Rudy Giuliani was able to do the same at St. Patrick’s cathedral in Manhattan. Earlier, in February 2004, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke warned Kerry, while campaigning as the Democrats’ presidential candidate within his archdiocese, that he would be denied communion if he ever attended Mass in any of its churches. Kerry lost to President George W. Bush in that election, while Burke later became prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the equivalent of the Supreme Court in a civil government) in Rome, and was made a cardinal by Benedict XVI in 2010.
The US press generally describes Biden as a “devout Catholic,” presumably because he reportedly regularly attends Sunday Mass and apparently also receives communion. But his public support for abortion makes “devout” open to serious question. One becomes a Catholic by being baptized into the Catholic faith; according to the Catechism, baptism leaves an indelible spiritual imprint upon the soul. But one becomes a “devout Catholic” first by believing and practicing what the Catholic Church believes (and practices), and by rejecting what the Catholic Church rejects. Having been baptized and confirmed as a Catholic or having raised a Catholic family of one’s own is no guarantee that one can no longer fall into serious error.
Procuring or supporting abortion is one such error, as clearly stated in Pope Saint Paul VI’s 1968 landmark encyclical, Humanae Vitae, and repeated over and over in several of Pope Saint John Paul II’s encyclicals and apostolic exhortations. As Most Reverend Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles and president of the US Catholic Bishops Conference, puts it, “Abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family. It is not only a private matter, it raises troubling and fundamental questions of fraternity, solidarity and inclusiveness in the human community.”
Although the Church teaches that abortion is always grievously wrong, it cannot do so with utmost credibility and effectivity so long as any bishop or priest is free to administer the Eucharist, which the Church defines as “the source and summit of the Christian life,” to a “devout Catholic president” who openly and proudly supports the slaughter of the unborn inside their mothers’ wombs. It is a grave scandal, especially during a pandemic when most Catholics cannot even go physically near the blessed sacrament.
Some have tried to justify this questionable practice by quoting Pope Francis and Cardinal Luis Ladaria, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Eucharist. The Pope is reported saying, “The Eucharist is not for the perfect, nor the doctrinally pure, but for those who have ‘fragilities’.” And the CDF cardinal-prefect is reported saying, “The Eucharist is not the reward of saints, no, it is the bread of sinners.” Unless these words are adequately explained, they are not likely to promote a helpful understanding of and a healthy respect for the Eucharist.
If the Eucharist is indeed, as the Church teaches, the “body and blood of Jesus Christ,” it cannot just be “the bread of sinners” and not also “the reward of saints”; nor “the prize for the perfect” and not also “the medicine and nourishment for the weak.” It cannot just be either the one or the other; it is and has to be both—the bread of sinners (struggling to become saints) and the reward of saints (seeking to transform sinners). Just because the gospel calls all—all without exception—to a life of holiness, it would be totally disingenuous to suggest that the Eucharist is “no big deal,” and that anyone who wants to receive it can receive it, without making the necessary effort that everybody else makes to become “worthy” of it.
From boyhood I have been taught that only in a “state of grace” can one worthily receive the Eucharist. I am now eighty-one years old, and this year my country celebrates five hundred years of Christianity. I find it a serious offense to be told that one has to be in a “state of sin” in order to receive the sacrament. But that is precisely what some people would like to tell the Catholic president of the US.
If any Catholic cares at all about Joe Biden’s faith, which, I believe, is far more important than the office he holds, and if they think he is at least half as devout as the press says he is, then they should ask him to consider doing what any other devout Catholic will probably want to do—go to sacramental confession, do penance for his past behavior, and promise the Lord and everyone else that he will never again try to cancel any Church teaching on anything before he presents himself for his next communion.
The writer is a Filipino Catholic author, journalist, politician, and humanitarian worker. Born in 1939, he served in the Cabinet from 1969 to 1980; in the Batasang Pambansa (parliament) from 1978 to 1984; in the Philippine Senate from 1992 to 2001, mostly as Senate majority leader; and as a journalist and humanitarian worker for more than half of sixty years. In 1998, he ran unsuccessfully for vice-president. He sits on the board of the US-based International Right to Life Federation; is a regular plenary speaker at the World Congress of Families, a regular participant in the World Meeting of Families with the Pope. Elected to the Senate for two consecutive terms on a pro-life, pro-family platform, he vigorously pursued his advocacy in various inter-parliamentary conferences and other forums. Over the years, his articles have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, and major Philippine newspapers. He has written a novel (The Last Holocaust), and several books on politics, including A Nation on Fire: The Unmaking of Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the Remaking of Democracy in the Philippines. His latest book—“All Is Grace,” an autobiography—is due from Europe Books in London before this fall.