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For Catholics, Holy Communion must remain at the center of the abortion debate

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

June 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – In a statement dated June 2, 2019, Most Reverend Thomas Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield, Illnois, made it clear that pro-abortion Catholic politicians are forbidden to approach the Lord in Holy Communion. Because they have violated the most fundamental requirement of being a practicing Catholic, namely, to adhere to the teaching of the Church on matters of faith and morals, they are not spiritually capable of receiving the Bread of Life without offending the Lord in the Sacrament and committing additional grave sin. True to his responsibilities as a pastor of souls, Bishop Paprocki was faithfully applying Canon Law, which serves the good of souls, and interpreting for his flock the admonition of 1 Corinthians 11:27–29, in which St. Paul warns against unworthy reception of the Body and Blood of Christ.

As was to be expected, his brother bishop Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, defended giving Communion to pro-abortion politicians. Like Cardinal Donald Wuerl, with whom he has worked closely, Cardinal Cupich decries a supposed “politicization” of the Church’s sacramental life. This argument within the American hierarchy goes back many years. Cardinal Raymond Burke, for example, has always taken the same line as Bishop Paprocki, especially when reproaching Nancy Pelosi for her pro-abortion politics. In reality, Cardinal Cupich’s position amounts to an Americanist view of the radical separation of Church and State, by which politics and religion are mutually exclusive domains – the former being public, “neutral,” and “non-sectarian,” the latter being private, subjective, and particular. The problem with this view, of course, is that it tends to exclude religion from any public expression, influence, or requirement. One cannot be a Catholic in private life and a secularist – or worse, a promoter of murder – in public office.

Back in 2009, I attempted to engage Cardinal Wuerl on this issue, challenging his Americanist stance. The response I received was a polite dismissal of the issue. (The exchange of letters was published last year at LifeSite.) The archbishop’s office deemed it sufficient that Wuerl was personally pro-life; the political consequences were left vaguely to individual consciences. It seems that the debates in the Catholic Church in America have a way of getting stuck in a rut, because there has been no effective papal governance and no will among American bishops to correct their erring brethren.

Last Friday, June 14, I gave a lecture at the monthly luncheon of the Catholic Citizens of Illinois (CCI), entitled “What Good is a Changing Catechism? Revisiting the Purpose and Limits of a Book” (full text here). From the board members of CCI, I learned more about the horrible legislation supported by the Governor of Illinois and the appropriate reaction of Bishop Paprocki. I also learned that a priest, Father Stan Chu Ilo, in an article entitled “Keep Holy Communion Out of the Abortion Debate” (Chicago Tribune online, June 11, 2019), rejected Bishop Paprocki’s policy of barring pro-abortion Catholics from Communion, in line with the soft approach of Cardinals Wuerl and Cupich.

In an official response, CCI’s Vice President, Kevin White, wrote as follows:

To the Editors:

Father Stan Chu Ilo’s recent attack on Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree barring Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton from presenting themselves for Communion in the Diocese of Springfield, does a grave injustice to Bishop Paprocki. But this is not his first rodeo, and Bishop Paprocki can take the heat.

Much worse is that Father Ilo’s remarks do a grave injustice to the beauty of our Roman Catholic faith. When a shepherd fails to defend the flock, as Vatican II and our own Cardinal Cupich have taught and affirmed, we the laity must step into the breach.

The Catholic Mass, for us a celebration of Our Lord’s redemptive death and resurrection, culminates in the distribution of the Eucharist. An essential tenet of our faith is that, at this juncture of the Mass, the Eucharist has been transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Not symbolically, or as a memorial, but in fact.  

Space does not permit an exposition of why we believe this. But the basis for this belief is well-established, theologically and otherwise, and presumably not denied by Fr. Ilo. As such, when we then present ourselves to partake of the Eucharist, we believe it necessary, indeed mandatory to do so properly disposed. To do otherwise, St. Paul instructs, is to profane the Eucharist and engage in a most serious form of blasphemy.

We refer to our partaking of the Eucharist in this way as an act of “Communion” because, in partaking of Communion, we are publicly reaffirming our “communion with” our Roman Catholic Faith, including another most fundamental (and historically radical) tenet of our Faith, namely our belief in the sanctity and dignity of all human life.

Thus, Communion is not “nourishment” or “medicine,” at least as Father Ilo depicts it. By partaking of Communion, we do not become better people.  Exactly to the contrary, Communion can bring us to the Truth only if we commit presenting ourselves worthily for it. No, Father Ilo, not as perfect people and not as saints. None of us are perfect and none are saints.  But as committed at least to trying.

Whether we are presenting ourselves worthily for Communion is committed to our own well-formed consciences to decide.

In exceedingly rare cases, however, as when a recipient has openly and notoriously declared that he or she is not in communion with the Church, then our Faith teaches that it is gravely wrong to pretend that such a person is presenting themselves for Communion for any reason other than to denigrate the sacrament. In that circumstance our Bishops, as our shepherds are duty bound not to appear to endorse the charade. A failure to act, in that context, is a disservice not just to the errant individual, but as well to the other faithful who observe it or otherwise become aware of it.

Nor is it fair to try to depict Bishop Paprocki as the outlier here. As Bishop Paprocki expressly states, he acts out of Christian charity, and in the interests of the salvation of the souls entrusted to his care.  Indeed, as recently as November of 2017, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elected Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann as chairman of their “Committee on Pro-life Activities.” At that time, Archbishop Naumann was already widely known for endorsing Bishop Paprocki’s current approach of disallowing pro-abortion politicians to present themselves for Communion.  

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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history, and directed the choir and schola. He is now a full-time author, speaker, editor, publisher, and composer.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published seven books, including Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014); Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017); A Reader in Catholic Social Teaching (Cluny, 2017); and Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has been published in Czech, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and will soon appear in Spanish and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over 750 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church. 

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, please visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.