The signers of a May 13 letter which pressed the U.S. bishops’ conference to suspend its conversation on “Eucharistic coherence” include 47 diocesan bishops, five of whom are cardinals, along with 21 auxiliary bishops.
The letter and signatory list, sent May 13 to bishops’ conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez, urged that “all Conference wide discussion and committee work on the topic of Eucharistic worthiness and other issues raised by the Holy See be postponed until the full body of bishops is able to meet in person.”
“The serious nature of these issues — especially the imperative to forgo substantive unity — makes it impossible to address them productively in the fractured and isolated setting of a distance meeting,” the letter’s signatories wrote.
The text of the letter, obtained by The Pillar, together with the list of signatories, was independently confirmed by sources at the Vatican Secretariat of State and in the chanceries of several U.S. dioceses. It was transmitted to Gomez by email.
The letter addressed a vote scheduled for the USCCB’s upcoming June virtual assembly on the possibility of drafting a teaching document on “Eucharistic coherence.” If the bishops vote that a committee should draft the document, its actual text would be up for a vote of approval at a future meeting of the USCCB, at the earliest in November 2021.
The document has been expected to address, among other things, the question of whether Catholic politicians who support abortion and other policies at odds with Catholic doctrine should receive the Eucharist. That issue has long been the subject of public debate and controversy among the U.S. bishops, which has heated up since the election as U.S. president of Catholic Joe Biden, who supports expanded legal protection and public funding for abortion.
The letter was sent to Gomez on letterhead from the Archdiocese of Washington. Washington’s archbishop, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, is reportedly among the letter’s principal authors, as is Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. All seven of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s auxiliary bishops are identified as signatories to the letter, as are both of the auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Washington.
While some have said the letter is an effort to ensure a full and open discussion on a controversial issue, others have criticized the letter as an attempt to stall a conversation its signatories oppose.
If the bishops do not vote this month that a document should be drafted, any eventual document is unlikely to be released before late 2022 or early 2023, and only then if a motion to draft a text comes up at a future meeting — most likely in November — for a vote.
Archbishop Gomez has given no indication that he intends to withdraw the vote from the agenda of the bishops’ June 16-18 agenda. In fact, in a May 22 memo to bishops, Gomez emphasized that the question was placed on the agenda through the ordinary process of approval by the conference’s administrative committee.
In the same memo, Gomez also emphasized that he envisions the document on “Eucharistic coherence” as a broad text, addressing the role of the Eucharist as the “source and summit of the Christian life, and urging greater faith in Catholic doctrine that the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus Christ. The archbishop included a working outline of the proposed text with his memo.
While the Gomez memo indicated that questions about appropriate reception of Holy Communion would be included, they were not framed as the focus of the document.
Nevertheless, because the idea of a statement on “Eucharistic coherence” began to germinate within a USCCB working group on the Biden presidential administration, it has been framed mostly as a referendum on whether politicians who support legal protection for abortion should receive the Eucharist.
U.S. bishops have published dueling essays on that subject ahead of the June meeting, and after the May 13 letter was reported last month by The Pillar, some bishops criticized the effort to remove the discussion from the June agenda.
“The administrative committee voted overwhelmingly to put this on the agenda for the June meeting,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Franciso told The Pillar in May. “I know Archbishop Gomez is committed to following the procedures as we agreed on them. I think this is totally unacceptable.”
Some bishops and conference staffers have told The Pillar in recent weeks they expect there could be a floor motion during the June virtual meeting to suspend discussion of the issue, or to move the discussion into the conference’s executive session, which is not open to the public or the media. It is unclear how many bishops would support such motions.
The May 13 letter made reference to a letter from Cardinal Louis Ladaria to Archbishop Gomez
Ladaria is head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In his May 7 letter, the prefect of the Vatican’s doctrinal office responded to previous communications from Gomez regarding the bishops’ plans to discuss Eucharistic coherence, and referenced several documents which the bishops should use to guide their discussions, including a 2002 “Doctrinal Note” on the subject, and a 2004 memo from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington.
Ladaria urged the U.S. bishops to hold a “serene and exhaustive” discussion on the subject, and encouraged them to ensure that the subject of Eucharistic coherence was treated as a whole, and the debate was not allowed to focus on one topic or class of person, like politicians.
Addressing the controversial issue of admitting to Communion pro-abortion politicians, Ladaria advised Gomez “that dialogue among the bishops be undertaken to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreements over this controversial topic.”
“The effective development of a policy in this area requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”
Ladaria’s May 7 letter urged that “dialogue...take place among the bishops so that they could agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.”
But the bishops who signed the May 13 letter said that “high standard of consensus among ourselves and of maintaining unity with the Holy See and the Universal Church as set forth by Cardinal Ladaria is far from being achieved in the present moment.”
There are 196 archdioceses, dioceses, ordinariates, and Eastern Catholic eparchies in the United States, 34 of which are led by metropolitan archbishops or archeparchs
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was initially identified as a signatory to the letter, and his name appears on the letter’s list of signatories . But a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York told The Pillar in May that Dolan eventually requested that his name be removed as a signer. The spokesman declined to answer additional questions about Dolan’s involvement in the matter.
After The Pillar obtained the letter’s complete list of signatories, Bishop William Joensen of Des Moines issued a statement to The Pillar saying that “In my internal communication among bishops, I want to ensure that a well-considered process is pursued that will advance our communal commitment to the Eucharist and all it entails as well as strengthen our unity among our episcopal conference on this vital subject—and also respect the counsel from Cardinal Ladaria of CDF.”
“I support the process by which the Committee on Doctrine will continue to draft a document that will be taken up by bishops in plenary, in-person meeting this November,” Joensen said.
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May 13 letter’s list of signatories
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago
Cardinal Timothy Dolan* of New York
Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap., of Boston
Cardinal Joseph Tobin, CSsR, of Newark
Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, CM, of Anchorage-Juneau
Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, MSpS of SAn Antonio
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of St. Louis
Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati
Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe
Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton
Bishop Mark Bartchak of Altoona-Johnstown
Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne
Bishop John Michael Botean of St. George in Canton for the Romanians
Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport
Bishop Randolph Calvo of Reno
Bishop Brendan Cahill of Victoria
Bishop Robert Coerver of Lubbock
Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn
Bishop Timothy Doherty of Lafayette, IN
Bishop Ronald Hicks of Joliet
Bishop William Joensen of Des Moines
Bishop Donald Kettler of St. Cloud
Bishop Joseph Kopacz of Jackson
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego
Bishop Michael McGovern of Belleville
Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City
Bishop William Medley of Ownesboro
Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi
Bishop David O’Connell, CM of Trenton
Bishop Richard Pates, Apostolic Administrator of Crookston
Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie
Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso
Bishop Michael Sis of San Angelo
Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., of Lexington
Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock
Bishop David Toups of Beaumont
Bishop Geroge Thomas of Las Vegas
Bishop Louis Tylka, Coadjutor Bishop of Peoria
Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima
Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin
Bishop Michael Warfel of Great Falls-Billings
Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson
Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport
Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo
Bishop Mark Bartosic, Auxiliary of Chicago
Bishop Ramon Bejarano, Auxiliary of San Diego
Bishop Kevin Birmingham, Auxiliary of Chicago
Bishop Michael Boulette, Auxiliary of San Antonio
Bishop Roy Campbell Jr., Auxiliary of Washington
Bishop Robert Casey, Auxiliary of Chicago
Bishop Manuel Cruz, Auxiliary of Newark
Bishop John Dolan, Auxiliary of San Diego
Bishop Mario Dorsonville-Rodriguez, Auxiliary of Washington
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, MSpS, Auxiliary of Seattle
Bishop Jeffrey Grob, Auxiliary of Chicago
Bishop Gary Janak, Auxiliary of San Antonio
Bishop J. Gregory Kelly, Auxiliary of Dallas
Bishop Elias Lorenzo, OSB, Auxiliary of Newark
Bishop Robert Lombardo, CFR, Auxiliary of Chicago
Bishop John Manz, Auxiliary of Chicago
Bishop Joseph Perry, Auxiliary of Chicago
Bishop Mark Rivituso, Auxiliary of St. Louis
Bishop Michael Saportio, Auxiliary of Newark
Bishop Gregory Studerus, Auxiliary of Newark
Bishop Andrew Wypych, Auxiliary of Chicago