Home Us bishops The declaration of the American bishops: an invitation to disobedience

The declaration of the American bishops: an invitation to disobedience


By Phil Lawler (bio – articles – email) | November 18, 2021

After voting almost unanimously to approve a long-awaited declaration on the Eucharist yesterday, members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gave each other a round of applause. I wonder if they have noticed that few other Catholics are applauding.

What elicited the applause of the bishops? Did they salute each other for their courageous testimony? No; it was not a courageous document. Did they congratulate themselves on the prudence which enabled them to avoid a heated debate? Not likely; They’ve been laughing at him for over a year on this subject, and the argument is sure to continue. Sometimes an open and healthy debate is needed to purify the air. Or were our bishops just applauding with relief that, once again, their conference had managed to navigate a delicate passage without completely capsizing?

The statement that the USCCB approved is not a bad document in and of itself. It might even be considered a good document if published in a vacuum. But bishops do not live in a vacuum. On the contrary, they apparently live in an environment similar to that of an early model submarine. The only voices they hear are those of their traveling companions; communication with the outside world is uneven, distorted by the static, easy to misinterpret.

Consider the history of this statement. It was proposed last summer, originally intended as a declaration on “Eucharistic coherence”. It was born out of the recognition that the country’s foremost lay Catholic, President Joe Biden, is in flagrant contradiction with the teachings of the Church regarding the sanctity of human life. Some bishops, responding to pro-life calls, have called for a clear statement that Catholic politicians who promote unrestricted legal abortion should recognize that they have cut themselves off from the fellowship of the faithful and should not receive the Eucharist.

move back again

The public positions taken by President Biden – and other notable Catholic politicians, such as President Nancy Pelosi – are no longer nuanced. The subtlety of the late Governor Mario Cuomo, who made famous the excuse that he was “personally opposed” to abortion but could not enforce his own moral preferences, is long gone. Today, liberal Catholic politicians are shameless in their unwavering support for the slaughter of the innocent, their determination to force all taxpayers to subsidize the bloodshed, their desire to silence all opposition, their obsessive desire to force the Little Ones. Sisters of the Poor to burn incense before the altars of Family Planning.

Time and time again, American bishops have issued statements affirming their support for the pro-life cause, begging Catholic leaders to join this struggle, warning politicians that it is gravely wrong to allow (let alone approve) the legal acceptance of abortion. But time and time again, they have backed down from calls for a clear and unambiguous statement that politicians promoting the massacre should not come forward for communion.

This year’s debate was no different. As soon as the proposal for a declaration on Eucharistic coherence was presented, the usual objections were raised: the declaration should recognize that abortion is not the only moral issue; he must not distinguish anyone; he should challenge all Catholics to examine their conscience. And of course, the USCCB went down that route, producing a statement that avoided the question everyone was asking. Once again, the bishops took on the role of Lucy Van Pelt, holding the Charlie Browns soccer ball from the pro-life movement. Would they make that clear statement this year? Could they? Maybe… Oh, well, maybe next year.

A clear signal from Rome

To be fair, this year the American bishops received clear signals from Rome, where Pope Francis said he had never refused the Eucharist to anyone. Although the pontiff did not directly address the American bishops controversy, he held a sympathetic meeting with Biden, and when Biden said the Pope encouraged him to continue to receive Communion, no one at the Vatican disputed this. account of the conversation.

As the date for the USCCB meeting neared, the Vatican News site offered a completely one-sided treatment of the US discussion, with an interview with Cardinal Roger Mahony, who welcomed a statement by Democratic lawmakers streamlining their votes by favor of abortion. Why did a Vatican outlet choose to give its platform to Cardinal Mahony – not an active prelate or one who had played a leading role in this year’s debates, but one who resigned under pressure he a decade ago – if not to discourage the American hierarchy from making a strong pro-life stance decision? Then, when the USCCB meeting opened in Baltimore, the papal nuncio, Bishop Christophe Pierre, told the assembly: “There is a temptation to treat the Eucharist as something to be offered to a few. privileged. Here he was warning of a position that precisely no one in the room had. But he was using language that had been used for years to derail calls for Eucharistic coherence.

Undoubtedly influenced by these messages from Rome, the USCCB chose to broadcast a message that did not directly address the question that everyone was asking. Or did he do it? Because sometimes silence is worth an answer. Do you remember the Synod of Marriage and the Family? The key question then was whether the Church would approve the reception of the Eucharist by divorced and remarried Catholics. The meetings of the Synod did not provide a definitive answer to this question. So in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis provided an answer – with a wink, a nod and a footnote. The question is still not officially resolved, and faithful bishops can insist that the teaching of the Church remains unchanged. But “everyone knows” which side the Vatican favors.

The challenge to the American bishops at this meeting in Baltimore was clear to all. Could they agree to say, in clear terms, that support for legal abortion is incompatible with receiving the Eucharist. The answer is no.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the Pro-Life Committee of American Bishops, explained why he believed a new declaration was needed:

We’ve said it before, but one of the reasons we need to repeat it is that I’m not sure we’ve taken seriously, as bishops, our responsibility to care for the souls of these. politicians – to really engage in a dialogue.

But if the American bishops are always does not take this responsibility seriously today – almost 50 years later Roe deer, nearly 40 years after the ‘seamless garment’ argument erupted, nearly 20 years after Theodore McCarrick scuttled a message from Cardinal Ratzinger calling for clarity: how another statement might help ?

Consciousness examination

The Bishops’ Declaration challenges all Catholics to recognize, with wonder, the unfathomable gift of the Eucharist, to realize that none of us is worthy to receive the Body of Jesus Christ, to recognize our state of sin and to call for the mercy of our Eucharist. Lord. These are all good and necessary messages, particularly necessary at a time when only a minority of active Catholics accept the fundamental doctrine of the Church on the reality of the Eucharist.

But while they rightly remind us to examine our conscience before taking Communion, in this document the Bishops do not examine their own conscience and wonder to what extent they are fulfilling their sacred duty to protect the sacrament from sacrilege and scandal.

Even the American bishops (a group of men with a strong tendency towards complacency) could not be satisfied with this message. The pro-life lay faithful will surely not be satisfied. But ultimately it is not the laity to whom the bishops must answer. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco wrote in May: “I tremble that if I do not openly challenge the Catholics under my tutelage who advocate abortion, they and I will have to answer to God with innocent blood.

Perhaps a few bishops, spurred on by this statement, will resolve to have those long-awaited private conversations with Catholic politicians who flout the moral teachings of the Church. But what if politicians ignore their pleas and continue to publicly brag about their rejection of God’s law? The bishop could advise the rebellious politician not to receive Communion. But what if this advice, too, is looked down upon?

In such cases (and there are many), the Code of Canon Law (915) states the duty of the bishop:

Those .. who persist stubbornly in manifest grave sin, should not be admitted to Holy Communion.

The American bishops, with clear approval from the Vatican, have refused to assert what Church law prescribes. Some bishops are ready to do their duty, but others are not, and the USCCB as a body remains silent. By this silence, the statement of the USCCB launches an invitation to disobedience. He comforts bishops who will not apply Canon 915. He pampers politicians who will not protect human life. This creates a temptation for all Catholics to stifle the cries of their own troubled consciences – a temptation to say: Not served.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for over 30 years. He edited several Catholic magazines and wrote eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is News Director and Senior Analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See the full biography.

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