Some American bishops have pushed back against their colleagues who have publicly criticized President Biden and restricted his access to receive communion. After Archbishop Gomez criticized him for pursuing policies that threaten human life, especially legalizing abortion, Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago said the criticism of Biden was “ill-considered,” unprecedented and was not endorsed by the whole conference of bishops. Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said excluding Catholic leaders from communion would “thrust the bishops of our nation into the very heart of the toxic partisan strife which has distorted our political culture and crippled meaningful dialogue.”
The most persuasive arguments for not denying communion to Catholic public figures have come from Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego. Echoing Pope Francis, he calls for “dialogue, not judgment; collaboration, not isolation; truth in charity, not harshness.” McElroy insists we need a “pathway of reconciliation” that places the “healing of our society ahead of any specific policy issue.” For him, “repairing the soul of our country is the pre-requisite for any sustainable effort to advance the common good.” Following the good example of Pope Francis, we should “reach out to President Biden in his humanity, a man of Catholic faith striving to serve his nation and his God.” The cardinal warns against “weaponizing” the Eucharist, citing the Pope’s statement that the Eucharist is not “a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
Commenting on the well-publicized debate among the bishops, McElroy said it already had a “tremendously damaging impact” by thrusting the toxic political culture into the life of the Church and the Catholic community. He went on to warn that actually denying communion to Biden or some other prominent Catholic would do even greater damage to the unity of the Church and popular understanding of the Eucharist.
McElroy claims some bishops not only have made abortion the preeminent moral issue of our time but also “a de facto litmus test for determining whether a Catholic public official is a faithful Catholic,” a stance that reduces the common good to a simple issue.
President Biden has a lot of support in his desire to participate fully in Mass every Sunday. In a personal meeting with Pope Francis, Biden said the pope told him he is welcome to receive communion. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington DC said he seeks common ground with the president and welcomes him to receive communion in his diocese, where Biden regularly attends Sunday Mass at Holy Trinity Church. Likewise, various bishops of Wilmington, Delaware have allowed Biden to receive communion in his home parish St. Joseph on the Brandywine, where he typically arrives slightly late for Mass, sits in the back of church, receives communion and leaves before the crowd. Most American bishops have followed the broad approach of Pope Francis who urges the clergy to be shepherds who exercise compassion and not politicians who issue condemnations.
What is my opinion of weaponizing the Eucharist?
The next and final meditation in this series on abortion is: Abortion and Electoral Politics
About the Author
Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.