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Archbishop Samuel AquilaFlickr/Wikimedia Commons

(LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver pushed back on Cardinal Robert McElroy’s call to give Communion to homosexuals and adulterers in “objectively grave sin,” insisting that inclusion “cannot mean that we remain in our sins.”

McElroy sparked controversy with an essay last week in America Magazine explicitly rejecting “a theology of eucharistic coherence” and demanding “radical inclusion” of “LGBT persons,” including those who practice sodomy, without calling them to repentance. 

Archbishop Aquila published a powerful response to the left-wing San Diego cardinal in Catholic World Report on Wednesday that detailed his reversion to Catholicism as a young man and took aim at bishops who fail to preach “the radicality of the Gospel.”

“Cardinal McElroy’s reflection paints the Church as an institution that harms due to its incapacity to welcome everyone into full participation in the life of the Church,” he observed. “According to His Eminence, the Church categorically discriminates, but did not Jesus himself put demands on his disciples which distinguished them from those who did not respond to the radical and costly call of the Gospel?”

The Denver archbishop pointed to Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man in St. Mark’s Gospel, in which He “demands radical discipleship from the young man” but allows him to refuse it. “Furthermore, Jesus lays out the cost of discipleship as denying oneself, and even family, for the sake of the Gospel (cf. Lk 9:23-26; Mt 16:24-25; Lk 14:25-27),” he noted.

“Jesus never waters down his teaching, nor does he appeal to conscience; he gives testimony to the truth,” he stressed. The Lord’s call is indeed “radical, and it goes out to everyone, but is not received by everyone because of the cost of discipleship.”

Those who reject Christ through mortal sin and separate themselves from Him consequently cannot receive Communion, Archbishop Aquila affirmed, reiterating immutable Catholic teaching.

“The Church recognizes that someone who lives a particular way, whether it be in willing violation of natural law or some other moral category, is not in communion with the Church,” he wrote. “This is not to condemn the person, but to recognize the truth of their situation and call their immortal soul to something greater.”

While the Eucharist is “not for the perfect,” he acknowledged, “it is for those who are in communion” and is “a sign of unity that belongs to those who are in a state of grace.”

“Inclusiveness does not and cannot mean that we remain in our sins,” the archbishop strongly emphasized, as “Jesus wants us to be happy.”

“Yes, we are to invite and include, but not at the expense of leaving others and ourselves mired in sin that separates us from God. The laws of God are laws of a loving Father so his children may live in his joy.”

Jesus’ call to the woman in adultery — “sin no more” — “is the same call Jesus makes to each of us,” he added. “We are included in his company, but we are also called to turn from sin.”

“The Church needs the courage, and love, to be clear in inviting people to leave their sin. What Jesus offers is better than what the world offers the person in sin, and his grace and power is sufficient to free anyone from the slavery to sin,” Archbishop Aquila said.

He criticized certain prelates today for neglecting that message. “The presentation of some bishops and cardinals sadly fails to preach the radicality of the Gospel and obscures the true eternal love of the Father for the sinner.”

This failure to proclaim the fullness of Gospel and remain rooted in Christ, the “vine,” may well be the cause of declining Mass attendance, the archbishop argued.

“We must ponder in our hearts if the real reason for our empty pews is that we have not stayed attached to the vine,” he wrote. “Our dropping attendance may be a fulfillment of the promise of Jesus that if we do not stay attached to him, we will wither (cf. Jn 15:1–6).”

“Those Christian communities who have tried inclusion to the exclusion of sin only divide more and their pews are still empty.”

‘I thought the way some of my brothers think, I would have left the Church’

In a striking indictment of heterodox bishops, the Denver archbishop confessed that he “would have left the Church long ago” if he shared their convictions.

“I must admit that if I thought the way some of my brothers think, I would have left the Church long ago and joined another Christian community,” he wrote. 

A revert to the faith in his youth, Archbishop Aquila revealed that only the “call to leave the values of the world behind” and follow Jesus brought him back to Catholicism.

“As a college student, I strayed away from the Church. The Catholic faith did not draw me, as my experience was that of confessors yelling at me or trying to talk me out of my sins. The truths of the faith, even the difficult ones, were not presented with charity,” he recalled.

“It was only when I read the book in the late 1960s by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, titled The Cost of Discipleship, that I started my journey back to Christ and eventually the Catholic Church,” the prelate said, stressing the powerful draw of the Eucharist, in particular.

I began to understand what the Eucharist is and what I had left behind. I wanted the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and his mercy and forgiveness in Confession, and that brought me back to the living out of my faith. It was a call to leave the values of the world behind and to have my heart and mind formed by Jesus (cf. Rm 12:2). Bonhoeffer’s distinction between “cheap grace” and “costly grace” is timely for us today.

The Church “radically” invites everyone, regardless of their situation, to the “loving embrace of Jesus and the Father, and holy mother Church,” he noted. But more than merely inviting, the Church — always seeking the other’s good — demands a life of authentic freedom and love according to God’s plan rather than the confusion of the world.

She invites because she loves; and to love is to will the true good of the other. Only God’s love can move us from all the confusing identities of the world, to see that we are not the ones who decide our identity. Rather the Gospel shows that through the Father’s loving plan, each of us can become a beloved daughter or son of the Father, with our identity firmly rooted in Jesus’. Through conversion, a disciple discovers that he or she is not god. God alone determines what is good and evil and, like Christ, the disciple seeks only the will of the Father.

Archbishop Aquila’s insistence on the God-given reality of human nature over the “confusing identities of the world” echoes the late Pope Benedict XVI, who appointed him to the Archdiocese of Denver and similarly condemned gender ideology, by which “man wants to be his own master” and overthrow the “essence of the human creature” “as ordained by God.”

Cardinal McElroy’s claims about conscience are ‘very dangerous’

Concluding his article, the Denver prelate refuted McElroy’s claim that conscience “has the primary place” over doctrine, blasting it as “very dangerous.”

“His Eminence makes the frequent claim that our conscience is our ultimate guide. In a certain sense this is true if, as the Catechism teaches very clearly, we first have a well-formed conscience,” he explained. “Conscience is an act of the intellect in judging the morality of past, present, or future actions.”

Appealing to conscience, however, cannot be a “‘get out of jail’ card,” he said, “and it is very dangerous to imply as much. Rather, it is a judgment measured by reality.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches clearly: “A well-formed conscience will never contradict the objective moral law, as taught by Christ and his Church.” “Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church,” it adds.

Archbishop Aquila previously defended Eucharistic coherence in two essays in April 2021. McElroy penned an article for America Magazine the following month insisting on Communion for pro-abortion politicians.

McElroy, a divisive and controversial prelate named a cardinal last year by Pope Francis despite his well-known heterodoxy and problematic record on clerical sex abuse, has repeatedly drawn rebukes from fellow bishops. His latest essay has prompted widespread criticism, including from prominent Catholic commentators Fr. Gerald Murray, Dr. Jeff Mirus, Fr. Raymond de Souza, Stephen White, and George Weigel, among others.