Dear Bishops: Clear Your Minds of Cant – and Can’t

The American bishops will begin their regular June meeting (virtually) the day after tomorrow. High on the agenda: a “Catholic” president who not only flouts teachings on abortion, sex, and marriage but whose administration is hell-bent on curtailing religious liberty when it resists the sexual revolution. Or in formal language: the question of “Eucharistic coherence.” For the uninitiated, this abstract term raises a simple question: Should persons like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi and hundreds of others who promote the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents yearly, and give grave public scandal, present themselves to receive Communion?

The answer is: No.

The term “Eucharistic coherence” was first used in a 2007 document issued by the Latin American bishops at Aparecida, Brazil. The chair of the drafting committee: Jorge Bergoglio, then cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis. The Aparecida Document (click here) says clearly and forcefully:

We hope that legislators, heads of government, and health professionals, conscious of the dignity of human life and of the rootedness of the family in our peoples, will defend and protect it from the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia; that is their responsibility. Hence, in response to government laws and provisions that are unjust in the light of faith and reason, conscientious objection should be encouraged. We must adhere to “eucharistic coherence,” that is, be conscious that they cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals. (¶ 436)

What answer will our bishops give to this very question? Ironically, certain members of the American episcopate (Cardinals Cupich and Tobin notably), who have not been elected by their fellow bishops to positions of authority, have gone to Rome to try to block the American bishops from saying precisely what Cardinal Bergoglio and the Latin American bishops’ conference said.

Those who are in authority at the bishops’ conference decided, through regular procedures, to look into this question again, given our current president and speaker of the house. It’s remarkable that controversies have already erupted over the mere fact that this meeting will discuss the Communion question. Any statement – if one does appear – will be issued only after a second round of discussion and voting at the bishops’ annual meeting in November.

Some American prelates seem in a near panic that the Church will actually do something about wayward brothers and sisters who have put partisan politics above their faith. And who promote a false view of what Catholics can and cannot do in a pluralistic country like ours.

Why that’s happened is a question for another day. But some 67 bishops signed a letter (here) to USCCB President Archbishop Gómez opposing not only discussion among the bishops but committee work to draft texts. Cardinal Dolan, initially a signer, withdrew his name when he was later sent the actual text. And there are rumors that other bishops were misled into signing before they saw what it proposed.

The USCCB meets in Baltimore, 2019

But the discussion is going ahead. So herewith, some brief suggestions for how the bishops should proceed, if they’re really serious.

The great Dr. Samuel Johnson once advised his brilliant biographer James Boswell: “My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as other people do. . . .it is a mode of talking in Society: but don’t think foolishly.”

Relevant instances of cant:

Dialogue. Some bishops try to delay or even prevent action against anti-Catholic Catholics by saying that we need to be “in dialogue” with them about mutual interests. To be sure. But that’s beside the point. Everyone, for example, wants a clean environment, help for the poor, proper treatment of authentic refugees. But who needs “dialogue” for that? A serious Catholic may think that the slaughter of nearly 1 million human beings in the womb every year, which is going on right now, might be more urgent than, say long-term domestic and foreign policy positions.

Calling for “dialogue” on abortion is classic “cant”; it has gone nowhere, is going nowhere, and will go nowhere with political offenders. We know that to a moral certainty. Continue talking with the wayward for the sake of their souls, but please don’t think – or try to convince the rest of us – that such dialogue will produce public results. Conversion is what’s needed here, and it won’t come by political “dialogue.”

Weaponization of the Eucharist. The bishop of San Diego, Robert McElroy, has said that sanctions against Biden-like politicians would be “weaponization of the Eucharist.” I agree, in the sense that it’s employing the Eucharist against the wickedness and snares of the devil. I disagree that it’s an attempt to beat the dissenters into submission. That’s pure cant. Does anyone think Joe or Nancy or others will feel threatened by the withholding of Communion, or will change their ways? I wish they would, but they’ve talked themselves out of this part of Catholicism long ago. And are even proud of it.

“What about. . .?” When people in the Church try to highlight the massacres of innocents in abortion, we’re accused of not caring about women, the poor, the environment, refugees, etc., which are also Catholic concerns. Indeed, they are. But they’re normal political questions with multiple possible responses. How, say, do we best fight poverty – antipoverty programs or economic growth? The answer will always be a mix, and the mix will change over time, as does the problem.

Dialogue, weaponization, other concerns – it’s all cant, and we shouldn’t take our eyes off the real issue. A Catholic in public life can’t hide behind these dodges when you’re vigorously promoting policies that Aparecida called “unjust in the light of faith and reason.”

The death of the innocents is the pre-eminent issue in Catholic social concerns today. Our bishops, singly and together, must say so and act like they believe it.

Robert Royal

Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., and currently serves as the St. John Henry Newman Visiting Chair in Catholic Studies at Thomas More College. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.

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