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Catholic Bishops: A Question

As you may know, I have been on vacation for a few weeks and have tried to write blogs when computer access is available. I am now back and was struck immediately by an e-mail I received from a long-time supporter of ours who is a cradle Catholic like me. He wrote the following:

Why have the Catholic bishops not instructed the appropriate dioceses and parishes to refuse to administer the Holy Eucharist to politicians and candidates who openly espouse a woman's right to receive an abortion[?] I find this refusal to act very cowardly and hypocritical. I don't believe that the church [sic] can hide behind the excuse that their tax free status prohibits them from acting because this is a matter of morals and is independent of politics. The failure to act causes me to question the validity of the church of which I have been a member for 70 years.

This is perhaps the $64-million-dollar question of the decade, if not the century. And I wish I had a simple answer to provide, but I don’t. So I would like to start with some basic Church teaching that might help us agree that there are some Catholic bishops who simply don’t see things as clearly as people like me.

The Catholic Church teaches that the act of abortion is an intrinsically evil act, a direct attack on God and, therefore, a mortal sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

Since the first century, the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

A mortal sin is to be judged as mortal according to the following criteria set forth in the Catechism:

For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."

 Further, the Catechism states,

Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

By deductive reasoning, we can therefore know that those who are intentionally supporting the grave sin of abortion either politically, financially or otherwise in the public sphere, while claiming to be Catholic, can be guilty not only of scandal but also in serious danger of so gravely offending God that, unless they repent, they will be damned. That is not a personal opinion of mine; it happens to be a truth taught by the Catholic Church. Why else would the sacrament of penance exist?

Therefore, the Catholic bishops have a moral responsibility to be loving and charitable toward those errant souls by not only refusing them the body and blood of Christ, but explaining the reasons why they have no other choice. To deny Holy Communion to such people is act of love toward the public sinner and an act of protection for Christ’s body and blood. Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) made that point perfectly clear in his 2004 memo entitled "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles". Archbishop Raymond Burke recently made the same statement, explaining that it is proper to deny Communion to such people "until they have reformed their lives."

Therefore, I have to answer the fellow who wrote to me by suggesting to him the following:

If a bishop knowingly avoids the obvious and does not teach his flock these facts from the Catechism and acts as if he does not believe in them by failing to explain

  • how we are evaluate political candidates and

  • why he is obligated to enforce Church law and deny Holy Communion to public advocates of abortion who claim to be Catholic,

then that bishop is at fault. We need to pray for him, exhort him to teach the truth and ask the Lord to make him bold in these tragic and treacherous times. If lay people like us fail to do so, then we too are too timid to defend the truths of the Catholic faith.

Whether or not a person is going to hell is not for any of us to decide. But it is for each of us to know and understand the truth and spread it to all those with whom we have influence. In the case of a bishop, this responsibility is enormous, but it is also part of his job description.

As far as questioning the validity of the Catholic Church is concerned, I would ask you to join me in praying for the man who wrote to me. He does not see the difference between the Church, which is the bride of Christ, and the mortal human beings who are bishops in need of guts. Let us not question Christ; rather let us question those who for whatever reason offend Him by their silence and acquiescence.

Let us not judge those bishops, but encourage them to be bold. The hour is late, and Catholics need leadership, not political pandering. Abortion is an act of murder, and the bishops have the obligation to tell it like it is. That’s a fact!