I'm not a psychiatrist or psychologist. My degree and employment background are in communications. But…
Should pro-abortion politicians be excommunicated?
Question: Over the years, Catholic leaders such as King Henry VIII, Martin Luther, Napoleon Bonaparte and Fidel Castro were excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for being nonconforming to the teachings of the Church, being a heretic and setting a horrible example for other Catholics. Joe Biden, as president of the United States, is committing grave offences in his support of abortion, same sex marriage, etc., and is in a position to influence millions by causing harmful policies and attitudes in society worldwide. Why doesn’t the Church excommunicate Joe Biden? What makes him different than the others mentioned above?
— Bill Kirby, via email
Answer: Lets distinguish between excommunication and denying Communion to someone. Formal excommunication is usually a lengthy process and applies very strict norms since it is one of the strongest medicines the Church uses. It is also a last recourse, other methods having failed. More common is the possibility of denying holy Communion to public dissenters or serious sinners. Though the person is not excommunicated and thus remains a member of the Church, they are instructed not to present themselves for holy Communion.
Bishops are generally reticent to apply the norms restricting Communion only to one class of people, in this case politicians who dissent. The general public would likely perceive it cynically and only through a political lens. This in turn would make the politician a kind of martyr or hero. There is, however, growing consensus among the bishops — at least the ones I have talked with — that a general teaching addressed to all the faithful on the worthiness to receive holy Communion is needed. For indeed, there are any number of people on a given Sunday morning in parishes who should not present themselves for holy Communion. Any one conscious of mortal sin should not come forward until confession and absolution have been celebrated and received. Non-Catholics should not come forward, either, out of respect that they are not able or willing to profess the full Catholic faith. Neither should dissenters or those who cause public scandal, and this includes, but is not limited to, Catholic politicians who support or vote to fund abortion, those who support or celebrate same-sex “marriage,” transgenderism, physician assisted suicide and so forth.
When a Catholic comes forward and says “Amen” to holy Communion, few realize that this is just a shorter version of a longer formula recited by those being brought into full communion with the Catholic Church: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and professes to be revealed by God.” When we understand this, it becomes clearer why non-Catholics and dissenting Catholics should not come forward.
In terms of sin, St. Paul says: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29). So worthy reception of Communion is necessary wherein one, having examined himself, approaches only if he is not aware of mortal sin.
Most priests and bishops have failed to teach this over the past decades. As a result, the Eucharist is reduced to a kind of expected right or a sign of hospitality.
It is time for the bishops to issue a comprehensive teaching on the need to receive Communion worthily and to be willing to enforce it. Any such teaching would include why certain politicians and well known people should not come forward, but it would not limit the focus to them alone.
I have personally written to and spoken with regional bishops’ conferences and encouraged this approach in the past years, and I am hearing more bishops speak of this as a way forward that does not simply trip political wires but summons all the faithful to the worthy reception of holy Communion.
There is evidence of a growing consensus among the bishops that a comprehensive teaching of this sort may be the way to go. Thus all of us are summoned to worthy reception and no one is singled out. Frankly there are very few Catholics who understand well that Communion includes an assent to all the Church’s teaching, not just a belief in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at blog.adw.org. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.