Francis, US bishops and defending Communion from political manipulation

By Austen Ivereigh, 27 May 2021
Pope Francis presides over Mass at the Casa Santa Marta. Image: Vatican News/YouTube.


What Pope Francis thinks of the bid by a group of U.S. bishops to ban pro-choice Catholic politicians from Communion could only be second-guessed until the Vatican sent a firm reminder of certain home truths.

Unlike its legalistic and poorly framed document in March in response to a bishop’s query about the blessing of same-sex unions, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s letter of May 7 to the bishops was clear, reasoned, reflective of Francis’ own thinking, and obviously issued at his behest.

The key point by Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria was that any statement by the U.S. bishops should not single out Catholic political leaders but be directed at churchgoing Catholics in general, reminding them of what the church teaches about their worthiness to receive Communion. In other words, it shouldn’t be a power play, a means of coercion, designed to put pressure on certain public figures, for that is to press what is pure divine gift into political service.

To protect the Eucharist as a sign of God’s radical self-gift could — in theory, and in law — mean denying it publicly to people who wish publicly to use it for their own ends.

But for the same reason, it cannot be used as a blanket measure to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who choose for whatever reasons — and there are many — not to vote to make abortion a criminal offence. Rather than protecting the church’s identity as a sacrament for humanity that embodies God’s radical self-gift in the cross, such a blanket ban risks undermining that identity.

Just as the true meaning of the Eucharist needs to be defended from those who would use it for publicity, it needs to be defended from those who would use it to divide the worthy from the unworthy.

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Austen Ivereigh is a British Catholic journalist. He has written two biographies of Pope Francis, The Great Reformer and Wounded Shepherd, and collaborated with the pontiff on the 2020 volume Let Is Dream: The Path to a Better Future.

With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Austen Ivereigh, where this article originally appeared.


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