US bishop statements on Eucharistic coherence

At their meeting next month, members of the U.S. bishops’ conference are expected to discuss a proposed document on “Eucharistic coherence,” on the worthy reception of Holy Communion by Catholics.

Such a document was first proposed by a short-term working group on the Biden administration, launched in November by conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez. The idea has since been passed on to the conference committee on doctrine and the administrative committee.

After a letter this morning from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the direction discussions will take during June’s U.S. bishops’ meeting is unclear. But a number of bishops have weighed in recently on Holy Communion and public life.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, delivers a homily at the 2016 Steubenville Conference. Credit: Steubenville Conferences (CC_BY_3.0).

The Pillar has compiled their statements here, and will continue to do so: 

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver: (excerpt, April 14 essay in America magazine) “The Eucharist is a gift, not an entitlement, and the sanctity of that gift is only diminished by unworthy reception. Because of the public scandal caused, this is especially true in the case of public officials who persistently govern in violation of the natural law, particularly the pre-eminent issues of abortion and euthanasia, the taking of innocent life, as well as other actions that fail to uphold the church's teaching regarding the dignity of life.” 

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago: (excerpt, letter responding to Aquila’s essay)

“To claim that we can do anything to diminish the Eucharist, or its effects, is contrary to the church’s longstanding teaching…Owing to the nature of God, Christ and his works can never be diminished by any act on our part.”

Aquila: (excerpt, April 18 Catholic World Report article responding to Cupich’s letter)

“[N]either the minister of the sacrament or the person partaking of the sacrament can dimmish the grace of the sacrament. However, how it is received (ex opere operantis), that is, the benefit of receiving the sacrament, is dependent upon the condition of the subject’s spiritual disposition.…When one partakes of the Eucharist, one is stating by one’s very action that one is in communion with Christ and his Church. However, if one is in mortal sin when receiving Communion, one is telling a lie, for, in being in a state of mortal sin, one is neither in communion with Christ nor his Church.”

Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington: (December 2020 RNS interview on why he will not deny Joe Biden communion)

“I want to begin a relationship with [Biden] that allows us to have a serious conversation, knowing full well that there are issues that he and I will be diametrically opposed to, but hopefully also being able to capitalize on issues that we can advance together. I don’t want to go to the table with a gun on the table first.”

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland:

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas: (May 3 statement)

“I commend and thank Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for his Pastoral Letter, Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You.  Archbishop Cordileone correctly identifies legalized abortion as “... the axe laid to the roots of the tree of human rights…” and as a symptom of “…severely disordered society…”  Archbishop Cordileone makes a compelling argument for: 1) the legal and scientific case for the protection of the unborn child as the foundation for all other human rights; 2) legislators and public figures who advocate and promote abortion’s availability share in the moral culpability for the evil of abortion; 3) the reception of Holy Communion while rejecting one of the Church’s most fundamental moral teaching is dishonest; 4) Catholics in public life who advocate for abortion create scandal by encouraging others to do evil. The tone of Archbishop Cordileone’s Pastoral Letter makes clear his earnest desire for the immediate and eternal welfare of all those entrusted to his care.  Archbishop Cordileone provides a tightly reasoned rationale why the protection of the unborn remains a pre-eminent priority amongst many other important concerns for upholding the dignity of each and every human person.  I urge the people of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to read prayerfully Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco: (excerpt, May 1 pastoral letter Before I Formed You in the Womb, I Knew You)

“When public figures identify themselves as Catholics and yet actively oppose one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Church —  the inherent dignity of each and every human being and therefore the absolute prohibition of taking innocent human life — we pastors have a responsibility both to them and to the rest of our people. Our responsibility to them is to call them to conversion and to warn them that if they do not amend their lives they must answer before the tribunal of God for the innocent blood that has been shed. Our responsibility to the rest of the Catholic community is to assure them that the Church of Jesus Christ does take most seriously her mission to care for “the least of these,” as Our Lord has commanded us, and to correct Catholics who erroneously, and sometimes stubbornly, promote abortion.This correction takes several forms, and rightly begins with private conversations between the erring Catholic and his or her parish priest or bishop. The experience of some of us in Church leadership over many years demonstrates the sad truth that often such interventions can be fruitless. It can happen that the conversations tend to go nowhere, thus leaving it easy for the individual to continue participating fully in the life of the Church. Such a situation is a cause of scandal to many of the faithful. Because we are dealing with public figures and public examples of cooperation in moral evil, this correction can also take the public form of exclusion from the reception of Holy Communion.”

Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay: (excerpt, May 14 article The Compass News)

“To express the teaching of the church very clearly about the obligation to protect every human life, especially the most defenseless and helpless of all human life, the child in the womb, is a grave responsibility which is constantly met with clouds of willful unknowing and fortresses of denial. This is not just a Catholic issue, this is a human issue, the most fundamental of all human issues; the right to be born and the right to live… When a Catholic assumes a public office, he or she cannot use the excuse that “personally I am opposed to abortion, publicly my party allows it.”…Now, some Catholics in very high positions are not only “passively allowing” abortion, but actively and aggressively promoting it. This is very dangerous because so often abortion providers prey on the fears and anxieties of vulnerable women. When Catholics in public positions of authority and trust provide active or passive approval, it contradicts the eternal truth that every life is sacred from the moment of conception and gives scandal to the people. Their willingness to deny this truth not only harms the unborn and the women and other family members impacted by an abortion, it puts their own souls in eternal jeopardy.” 

Bishop Donald Hying of Madison: (excerpt, May 7 statement)

“Almost fifty years after Roe v. Wade, 66 million lives have been snuffed out at the very beginning of their existence and countless individuals have been spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically damaged by this profound violence; we still have legal abortion in the United States, with many of our national leaders embracing a pro-abortion position, including self-professed Catholics. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the Archbishop of San Francisco, issued a pastoral letter on May 1, entitled, “Before I Formed You in the Womb, I Knew You.” A timely reflection on the moral evil of abortion, the need to challenge political leaders who are pro-abortion — especially those who profess Catholicism — and the linkage between the Eucharist and communion with the Church in her doctrinal and moral teaching, “Before I Formed You in the Womb, I Knew You” invites us to reflect on these important issues and to deepen our commitment to building a culture of life in our country and world.”

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Bishop James Conley of Lincoln:

Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette:

Bishop Liam Cary of Baker, Oregon: (excerpt, May 6 statement)

“President Joseph Biden’s coupling of Catholicism with public promotion of abortion has provoked a spirited debate among the bishops of the United States. As I prepare to publish my own thoughts on the question, I wish here to endorse the pastoral letter of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and two articles by Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver. In Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You, Archbishop Cordileone sets forth perennial Catholic teaching on the wrongfulness of abortion and on the moral responsibility of those who help to make it happen. Against this backdrop he then goes on to consider the worthy reception of Holy Communion…To be faithful to their office, therefore, bishops must ‘correct Catholics who erroneously…promote abortion,’ even if that correction leads to ‘the public medicine of temporary exclusion from the Lord’s Table.’”

Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland:

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego: (Feb. 1 Georgetown University online forum)

“I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders of Eucharist based on their public policy stance can be interpreted in our society as anything other than the weaponization of Eucharist and an effort not to convince people by argument and by dialogue and by reason, but, rather, to pummel them into submission on the issue.”

Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa: (excerpt, May 4 statement) 

“I join [Archbishop Cordileone] in asking that those who participate in or support this grotesque industry to actually look at the evil that is being done and open their hearts to God converting grace. I, too, call upon those in public life, especially Catholics, to recognize that the killing involved in an abortion is not in any way justifiable or defensible. They cannot support such evil and expect no spiritual consequences. The Archbishop makes it clear that we hate the evil of murder which abortion perpetrates but do not condemn the women or others who have been misled into choosing this evil. Finally, there is a call to all men and women of good will to persevere in respecting and affirming the goodness of every human life, born and unborn.” 

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix: (excerpt, May 6 statement)

“It is a false compassion that treats the killing of an innocent child in the womb as “help” for a mother in need. It is a false courage that condemns the sins of the past while the gravest evil of the present is treated as an “issue” of legitimate disagreement among Catholics. And it is a false patience and pastoral concern that, year after year, stays silent or speaks in abstractions while the slaughter continues with the full endorsement of Catholic politicians under our spiritual care as bishops. Such “patience” is false because it is bereft of love and truth, and thus unmasks rather a deadly apathy towards one who professes the Catholic faith but whose public embrace of abortion puts his or her eternal soul at risk of damnation, and risks dragging untold numbers into hell by their example. No, abortion is not the “only issue,” but it is, as Pope Francis told my brother bishops, the “preeminent issue.” Woe to us bishops if we do not speak clearly about the grave evil of abortion, and the consequences of any Catholic who participates in the act or publicly supports it by word or action.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence: