Politics and our political lives aren’t things that are always straightforward. While our beliefs in certain matters may be very clear and strong, that doesn’t mean that they don’t run up against complications out there in the real world. As someone who was raised Roman Catholic, whose political leanings have been affect by the teachings of the church and who is Progressive, this is something I have experienced from time to time. That tends to happen when you see some ultra-conservative members of the clergy try to use their institutions as a cudgel against those who disagree with them. We’re seeing that play out stateside right now and I have to admit that it really caught my eye:
As the Associated Press points out, it’s possible that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops might move to ban pro-choice Catholic politicians from receiving communion. For practicing Catholics, this is one of the worst things that the church can do to its congregants and is extremely heavy handed. Such a move is one that practicing Catholics would not receive lightly and if those suggesting it were trying to pressure people to change their views on Abortion this way, they are likely to fail miserably. Actually I would suggest that if history has taught us anything, it will most surely fail in their end goal, as the experience here in Canada taught us:
As a Catholic and a New Democrat, this is an episode I remember all too well. Local parish priests tried to “punish” NDP MPs Charlie Angus, Tony Martin and Joe Comartin for voting in favour of same-sex marriage in 2005. When you look back on it now 16 years later, the action taken by these parish priests looks all the move over the top, heavy-handed and ineffective a move it was. Angus, Comartin and Martin went on to be re-elected in the next two elections (for Angus, he’s never lost), they continued to have wide support from catholic congregants in those very same churches and same-sex marriage is widely accepted in society as a whole. In summary, these priests tried to impose their ultra-conservative interpretations of doctrine onto them to make an example of them, and instead made them more respected in Canadian political society.
So when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops considers doing this to President Joe Biden and other elected pro-choice Catholics, they are putting themselves in the same position to fail miserably. When you read between the lines of the letter from Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to the American Bishop’s he’s basically saying just that. Beyond the divisive and heavy-handed tactics of this proposal, Cardinal Ladaria laid out some very specific issues with this idea:
- He said any new statement should not be limited to Catholic political leaders but broadened to encompass all churchgoing Catholics in regard to their worthiness to receive Communion.
- He questioned the USCCB policy identifying abortion as “the preeminent” moral issue, saying it would be misleading if any new document “were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”
- He said that if the U.S. bishops pursue a new policy, they should confer with bishops’ conferences in other countries “both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”
- He said any new policy could not override the authority of individual bishops to make decisions on who can receive Communion in their dioceses. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.
A couple of those points really hit home for me. Firstly the last point, about how any other bishop could basically tell the conference to go fly a kite and do whatever they want. Just as those parish priests in Ontario decided to take their own actions against those two MPs, other American bishops or priests can decide to ignore this claptrap, especially if they know that their congregations would be revolved by them obeying this dictate. So that right there makes it ineffectual as a move.
But for me the big point that hit me is one that strikes at the very core of the struggle between some peoples attempt to force the church to fit one ultra-conservative view, despite how it runs counter to not only the teachings of the church, but of Jesus Christ himself. By trying to say that abortion is the “preeminent moral issue”, Cardinal Ladaria is right to point out that this would be misleading as it would give the impression that church teachings focus solely on this and don’t care about other moral and social issues. This position by these bishops ignores the churches teachings on charity, giving back to one’s community or maybe the simplest of all, “doing onto others as you would have them do onto you”. When you read the Bible, you read stories about how Jesus Christ preached against greed, gluttony, and excess. He didn’t spend his time hanging with the rich and famous, nor did he preach about a single issue to the exclusion of all others. He spent his time with the poor, the infirmed, those who needed help and those who were shunted aside. So to try to use such a cudgel, to use one of the sacraments of the Catholic faith as a weapon against people who disagree on one issue, is beyond the pale and quite un-Christlike.
But I’ll also close on this observation about these US Bishops and their obsession here. As I just mentioned above, Christ preached about so many issues of social justice and fairness in society, yet I’ve never heard of any of them looking to ban Catholics who steal from their neighbours, who cheat their employees, who hoard obscene amounts of money or anything like that from receiving Communion. Those are all against the teachings of the Catholic church as well, and yet they propose nothing of the sort to make a statement like this against those Catholics, or call into question the very nature of their devotion to their faith. Maybe that’s because that would involve condemning a lot of conservative and Republican officials instead, people who these bishops clearly identify with more than anything else. It’s for that reason that this just reeks of cheap politics from the pulpit, which is why I appreciate Cardinal Ladaria’s letter pointing out the hypocrisy in what they are suggesting.
To be part of a faith is not a 100% proposition. Just like with politics and political parties, there are things that we agree with and others we don’t. I am a pro-choice, pro-equal rights Catholic New Democrat, in the tradition of so many “social gospel” progressives that we’ve seen make great impacts in the politics of this country. That doesn’t many me any more or less Catholic than the next guy and I don’t claim it does. But I vehemently reject the idea that my support for a woman’s right to choose makes me less Catholic than the anti-abortion churchgoer who cheats his employees or mocks the poor. As Angus, Comartin and Martin showed us 16 years ago, this will fail and will blow up in the faces of the American bishops and in doing so, they will put themselves on the wrong side of history.