The Catholic Church has been at the forefront of American politics in the last couple of months and, fortunately not necessarily for the wrong reasons, but for an ardent discussion among the American Bishops of one of the central tenets of the Catholic faith: The Eucharist.
Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law says that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” The Eucharist, Catholics believe, is “the real presence of Jesus Christ in the form and the appearance of bread and wine, which Catholics believe is part of the sacrifice of the mass” JD Flynn told El American.
Mr. Flynn is the editor-in-chief of The Pillar, which is “a Catholic media project focused on smart, faithful, and serious journalism, from committed and informed Catholics who love the Church.” He also is a canon lawyer with experience in different dioceses of the U.S. and was kind enough to sit down to El American to talk about the heated debate among American bishops about the Eucharist and Catholic politicians who support policies contrary to the Catholic doctrine.
Of course, the first name that comes to mind is Joe Biden, who is the second Catholic president of the U.S. but also a staunch supporter of LGBT policies, and more infamously, abortion (and the death penalty, even as he denied it during his campaign). Within a wider project of Eucharistic revival, Bishops voted in favor of writing a document about what they call Eucharistic coherence, namely, what to do with Catholic public figures who support policies that are not in line with Catholic teaching, of which, abortion is the most notable due to its seriousness.
For Catholics, the Eucharist is a sign of communion with the Church as a whole, which means that those living in a state of grave sin or supporting doctrines contrary to the Church should not receive communion. “The Eucharist is a sign of our communion with God and is a sign of our communion with one another as the Church as we approach God through the Church in the sacrifice of the mass,” Flynn said.
What are the Catholic bishops planning?
“A person who is living at odds with Catholic doctrine or acting in opposition to Catholic doctrine is not supposed to receive the Eucharist. That’s an element of Catholic teaching that has existed for two thousand years,” Flynn told El American.
This led the bishops to seriously consider the challenges presented by a Catholic president who does not faithfully follow the Catholic doctrine, “everything began with a discussion about the challenges of having a Catholic president who does not believe or who acts against the Church’s view that abortion is always immoral and abortion should always be illegal and who has advocated for federal funding of abortion.”
“The Bishops’ document might make mention of the fact that the people who in their personal lives or professional lives are sort of acting in opposition to the doctrine of the Church in any number of ways, should not receive Holy Communion” JD Flynn added.
At the end of the day, what matters is what bishops do individually, JD Flynn says
If one reads The New York Times, with headlines like “Targeting Biden, Catholic Bishops Advance Controversial Communion Plan,” one would think that the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference serves as a parliamentary body that can deny people communion. But the Church does not work that way.
“The bishops’ conference can do the very few things that the Church says they can do. They can make rules sort of about how old you are when you get confirmed and certain financial thresholds for parish administration. But there are very few things actually that the bishops’ conference is empowered to do,” Flynn said.
“So the stakes of the debate are in one way extremely low because at the end of the day, what the USCCB can do about this is say something or not say something. The bishops’ conference will fight about what they should say. But saying something is the most they can do.”
Does this mean that bishops cannot do anything? Not quite. What this means is that the Bishops‘ conference does not have any canonical authority in this regard, but individual bishops do and they are the ones that can make the decisions.
“Individual bishops, though, are the place where the rubber meets the road because individual bishops in their dioceses are able to set norms and give instructions to their priests about this question of Eucharistic coherence. There are dioceses in the U.S. that have particular laws that say that a politician who supports abortion or any number of other issues that are contrary to the teachings of the Church can’t receive Holy Communion until they repent of that.”
Will we see more bishops publicly denying communion to pro-abortion politicians in the U.S.? Probably, but also probably Joe Biden will not be one of them.
“I think we might see more bishops taking a public and direct stance in the next few months. Now, the interesting thing is that that action doesn’t have to be public. So there may well be bishops who have already told politicians not to receive communion in their dioceses. But because there are a number of abortion issues heating up right now in the U.S. Congress, there is an expectation that some bishops may judge politicians in their dioceses that cross the line as they engage in the support of abortion,” Flynn said.
However, it is unlikely that Joe Biden will be one of those politicians who might be singled out. “Where the real crux of the issue is at the level of individual dioceses especially Biden’s dioceses of the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, where he maintains his home.” Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, has already said he will not deny Biden communion, and newly-appointed Bishop of Wilmington, William Koening will most likely follow suit.
The bishops will draft the document about Eucharistic coherence in the next few months, discuss it, and vote in September. It will likely be somewhat unspecific and more of a guide than an “act of Parliament.” Still, the tensions between the Bishops and a practicing Catholic president that challenges Catholic teaching on a daily basis are likely to grow while they try to survive in a rapidly secularizing society. One thing is certain: Catholic bishops are far from being in an enviable position.