May 10, 2021 (Lepanto Institute) — Last week, Bishop Robert McElroy, the bishop of the Diocese of San Diego, wrote a piece for America Magazine decrying the public calls for pro-abortion politicians to be denied Holy Communion, as per Canon 915. Canon 915 specifically states that “[t]hose who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” In short, it is the obligation of bishops and priests to deny Holy Communion from notorious sinners.
But in Bishop McElroy’s opinion, such an act is a “political weapon” to be used against Democrat politicians that “must not happen.” Citing the Catechism, which calls the Eucharist “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet,” he wrote:
A national policy of excluding pro-choice political leaders from the Eucharist will constitute an assault on that unity, on that charity.
The “sign of unity” regarding the Eucharist is that all receiving Holy Communion are united in Faith — the WHOLE Faith — and the “bond of charity” is that expression of love of God above all else, and love of neighbor as love of self. But both the “sign of unity” and the “bond of charity” are broken by one who approaches to receive Holy Communion when they are manifestly separated on a matter of Faith, and they have directly and deliberately acted against the charity of others. Catholic Politicians who advocate and support the practice of abortion — with is the intentional murder of children in the womb — have broken from the immutable teaching of the Church on the intrinsically evil nature of abortion and are implementing wicked policies to perpetuate the murder of their neighbors, which is a direct assault on charity, itself. In other words, the refusal to provide Holy Communion to such politicians is merely a manifest sign of what the politician has already done; removed themselves from union with Church teaching and destroying the bonds of charity.
Bishop McElroy moves on to make an argument that if pro-abortion politicians are to be denied Holy Communion because “worthiness requires integral union with all of the major teachings of Catholic faith,” then very few politicians would be able to receive and even many parishioners would be unworthy as well. In support of this, Bishop McElroy wrote that
failure in fulfilling that obligation in its fullness cannot be the measure of eucharistic worthiness in a church of sinners and questioners, who must face intense pressures and complexities in their daily lives.
The pressures and complexities of our daily lives have nothing to do with the actual practice of or assent to the Faith. Regarding sin and the worthiness to receive Communion, St. Paul says, “whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.” Those who are guilty of unrepentant grave sin commit sacrilege if they receive Holy Communion in such a miserable state, and those who tell such a sinner that it is licit for him to receive Communion without confession participate in that sinner’s judgment. Remember, Our Lord told Pilate that “[i]t is the one who handed me over to you who has the greater sin.”
And the requirement of assent to the Faith is no different. Our Blessed Lord was very clear about the importance of believing ALL of the Church’s teachings. He said, “Amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.” Also, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 143, says this about the Obligation of Faith: “By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer.” Finally, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote on behalf of Pope John Paul II in 2004 on “The Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles”:
Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgment regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin?”
Clearly, the unity and charity mentioned in the Catechism refers to the obligation of adherence to all the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.
A little later in his article, Bishop McElroy claims that the proposal to exclude pro-abortion politicians from Holy Communion is an “unprecedented action.” However, the Didache, which was written sometime in the late first or early second century, makes very clear that those who are unworthy of Holy Communion must first repent:
If any man is holy, let him come; if any man is not holy, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.
Furthermore, regarding the question “Whether the priest ought to deny the body of Christ to the sinner seeking it?” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa:
Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it. Hence Cyprian writes to someone (Ep. lxi): “You were so kind as to consider that I ought to be consulted regarding actors, end that magician who continues to practice his disgraceful arts among you; as to whether I thought that Holy Communion ought to be given to such with the other Christians. I think that it is beseeming neither the Divine majesty, nor Christian discipline, for the Church’s modesty and honor to be defiled by such shameful and infamous contagion.”
And in accord with Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, Canon 855 of the 1917 Code said this:
Canon 855 § 1. All those publicly unworthy are to be barred from the Eucharist, such as excommunicates, those interdicted, and those manifestly infamous, unless their penitence and emendation are shown and they have satisfied beforehand the public scandal [they caused].
Clearly, the “policy” to deny Holy Communion to publicly manifest and unrepentant sinners is not “unprecedented,” as Bp. McElroy claims.
But after claiming that a policy of denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians should not be implemented, and that such a notion is “unprecedented,” Bp. McElroy attempts to flip the situation around by suggesting that Communion should be denied to those guilty of “racism.” He wrote:
[W]hy hasn’t racism been included in the call for eucharistic sanctions against political leaders? Racism was enumerated as a compelling intrinsic evil by St. John Paul II in “Veritatis Splendor” and by the Second Vatican Council … the intrinsic evil of racism is not a grounds for eucharistic exclusion in the proposals that have been brought this year to our conference of bishops for action.
Racism cannot be found specifically by name in Veritatis Splendor, though murder based on race is implied in Veritatis Splendor’s list of evils as genocide. Any person guilty of mortally sinful hatred and violence based on race or any other unjust motive should not present himself to Holy Communion as they are in violation of the Fifth Commandment.
But, if “racism” is to be a matter for canonical exclusion from Holy Communion, it is a sin which must be fully defined and codified. Without a proper definition of the canonical crime of racism, and the specific parameters by which it can be recognized and identified as such, there can be no proposal for a law against it.
Bishop McElroy then incoherently cites Cardinal Ratzinger in defense of his contention against the universal application of Canon 915 for pro-abortion politicians. He wrote:
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” warned bishops against just such a pathway. “The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine.”
Ironically, Cardinal Ratzinger was writing about the impossibility of politicians and voters to “vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals,” specifically mentioning abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex so-called “marriage.” What Bishop McElroy leaves out of this cherry-picked quote is what Cardinal Ratzinger further wrote:
When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility.
But the truth of the matter is that Cardinal Ratzinger, in no way, ever warned against implementing a policy of denying Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians. In fact, quite the opposite. In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a memo to then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick on the Worthiness of Receiving Holy Communion. He wrote:
5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
6. When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” , nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.
At the end of his article, Bishop McElroy made one last effort to justify giving Holy Communion to obstinate, notorious sinners. He wrote:
As Pope Francis made so clear in “Evangelii Gaudium,” the Eucharist is “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (No. 47).
While it is true that Holy Communion is both medicine and nourishment for the weak, one cannot medicate or feed the dead. When people commit a mortal sin, they kill the life of the soul and cut themselves off from Sanctifying Grace. The Sacrament of Resurrection, which is the Sacrament of Confession, must precede the Sacrament of nourishment and medicine. This perennial teaching of the Catholic Church was codified in Canon 11 of the Council of Trent:
And lest so great a sacrament be received unworthily and hence unto death and condemnation, this holy council ordains and declares that sacramental confession, when a confessor can be had, must necessarily be made beforehand by those whose conscience is burdened with mortal sin, however contrite they may consider themselves. Moreover, if anyone shall presume to teach, preach or obstinately assert, or in public disputation defend the contrary, he shall be
In full response to Bishop McElroy’s proposal that “it would be particularly wounding to embrace and emphasize a theology of unworthiness and exclusion rather than a theology that emphasizes Christ’s unrelenting invitation to all,” I will close with the sublime words of Fr. Michael Muller (1825-1899), who in his book “The Blessed Eucharist” wrote the following in a chapter titled, On Unworthy Communion:
Herod concealed a wicked and cruel design. He was determined to destroy the new-born King of the Jews, and when he found that he had been disappointed, he slew, in his fury, all the children of Bethlehem and the neighborhood thereof. He did not, however, succeed in destroying the Divine Infant. St. Joseph, in obedience to the command of God, carried Him into Egypt. There he remained until the Angel of the Lord appeared again to St. Joseph and said: “Take the Child and His Mother, and return to thy country, for those that sought the life of the Child are dead.”
O Angel of God! What dost thou say? They are dead who sought the life of the Child? Ah! Would that it were true! Are not those wicked Christians who outrage their Saviour in the true Bethlehem, the house of bread, that is to say, at the very foot of the Sacred Altar, are they not so many Herods? They present themselves at the table of the Lord in the attitude of adoration; they strike their breasts as if in sorrow for their sins; they fold their hands as if in deep devotion, and they open those lips defiled by sin; they receive the innocent Lamb of God and make Him a prisoner in a sinful and polluted heart. Mortal sin is so opposed to God that, if He could die, sin would destroy Him. To receive our Lord into a heart that is defiled by mortal sin is to bring Him into the power of His greatest enemy – it is to treat Him with even greater cruelty than Herod. Herod was an unbelieving Jew; but those who receive Him unworthily are Christians and Catholics. They know whom they maltreat; Herod did not know Him. Our Lord does not work a miracle to deliver Himself out of their hands as He did to free Himself from the hands of Herod; He does not send an Angel to inform the priest who, among the throng that presses to the altar, are in the state of mortal sin; and even if He were to do so, the priest is not at liberty to make use of this knowledge, at least not unless the criminal should be a notorious sinner, so tender is Jesus of the reputation of those very men who are heaping outrages upon Him.