CNA Staff, May 7, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).
Dissenting Catholic politicians abuse and politicize the Eucharist when they receive the sacrament while promoting policies and actions contrary to the faith, such as legal abortion, according to theologian Father Thomas Weinandy.
Catholic politicians who reject Church teaching but then present themselves for Holy Communion “are using – and so abusing – the Eucharist for seemingly political purposes – to present themselves as ‘devout’ Catholics,” Fr. Weinandy, a Capuchin Franciscan, said in a May 1 essay for The Catholic Thing, “Politicizing the Eucharist”.
“What should most concern the Church is that such Catholic politicians do not simply hold many things that are in opposition to the Catholic faith, but they also actively attack, through the laws they propose and enact, the Catholic Church, the very church to which they claim devotion,” he said.
Fr. Weinandy is a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, a 30-member body which advises the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Holy See on doctrinal questions.
While some critics have said it politicizes the Eucharist when clergy suggest denying it to politicians who reject aspects of the faith, Fr. Weinandy countered that the politicians themselves are responsible.
“The politicizing of the Eucharist occurs in the act of the Catholic politician presenting himself or herself to receive Communion even though he or she is well aware that to do so is contrary to what the Church teaches,” he said. “Those who are objectively in the state of mortal sin, or who dissent from or promote contrary positions to the Church’s fundamental dogmatic or moral teaching are forbidden to receive the body and blood of Jesus, for they have made themselves unworthy to do so.”
“Some bishops argue that such Catholic politicians should not be refused Communion, for to do so would politicize the Eucharist. The refusal on the part of bishops or priests would indeed cause a political and media fuss, and prudence may suggest, in certain circumstances, that Communion should not be refused,” Fr. Weinandy added. “An argument could easily be made, however, that refusal should be made so as to avoid scandal and protect the integrity of the sacrament.”
The dispute has been long a question in Catholicism in America, where legal abortion often breaks along partisan lines. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision mandated nationwide permissive abortion laws, leading to millions of unborn children legally killed.
Fr. Weinandy reflected on Catholics who present themselves as devout. Devout Catholics, he said, don’t need to identify themselves as such because “it is evident to all that they are.”
“Everyone knows that they believe and uphold, and even promote, all that the Church teaches. When they sin against God’s commandments as taught by the Church, they go to Confession, resolve to amend their lives, and so obtain sacramental absolution. Such Catholics are devout without needing to trumpet it,” he said.
In Fr. Weinandy’s view, when a dissenting Catholic politician declares him or herself as a devout Catholic, “one immediately perceives that something is awry.” They and their supporters emphasize this “because there is something about their behavior that is suspect.”
Fr. Weinandy said that defenders of such politicians say that receiving Communion is a sign of “devoutness” despite the contradictions between professed Catholicism and promoting abortion, same-sex relation ships or other causes.
“Ironically, such Catholic politicians do the very thing that no truly devout Catholic would ever do,” he said. “The very ‘devout’ action they perform, that of receiving Holy Communion, is an enacted declaration that they lack authentic Catholic devotion.”
Fr. Weinandy added “no one is fooled by this charade, except maybe the self-deluded politician.”
“Faithful Catholics know that there is an irreconcilable disconnect between what is being held by such Catholic politicians and their receiving Communion. And they see that it’s the dissenting Catholic politician who is politicizing the Eucharist,” he said.
He suggested that politicians seek to benefit from being religious and also by “holding and promoting non-Catholic policies.”
“Of course, these stances are contradictory, but then politicians are not known for consistency,” said Fr. Weinandy.
He acknowledged that for a Catholic leader who promotes matters contrary to the Catholic faith, there may still be a deep and inerasable belief in Christ and the Catholic Church.
“Thus, one claims to be a devout Catholic and receives Communion in the hope that, somehow, someday, it will all work out. This comes dangerously close to a sentimental ‘Catholic’ superstition – which is the most charitable interpretation of why dissident Catholic politicians insist on receiving Holy Communion,” said Weinandy.
He encouraged Catholics to pray for the conversions of Catholic politicians and also for God’s protection of his Church.
Fr. Weinandy also summarized an exchange between Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver and Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago. Archbishop Aquila, writing in America Magazine last month, said that those who receive Holy Communion, including politicians, must adhere to Catholic doctrinal and moral teaching. Otherwise, they would go against St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians that whoever eats and drinks unworthily will be “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” and bring “judgment upon himself.”
For his part, Cardinal Cupich suggested that Archbishop Aquila’s essay violated Catholic sacramental principles like the idea that the sacraments are based on the power of God, and cannot be diminished by either the celebrant or recipient. Archbishop Aquila, citing authorities like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, responded in Catholic World Report that the benefit of the sacrament of the Eucharist depends on the subjective disposition of the person receiving it.
Fr. Weinandy said Cardinal Cupich’s critique was “in no way relevant to what Archbishop Aquila wrote” but allowed Archbishop Aquila to clarify any ambiguity and “develop his point even more strongly.”
Fr. Weinandy previously served as executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Doctrine. He resigned his position as a consultant to the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine in 2017 after he published a letter to Pope Francis asking him to correct the “chronic fusion” of his pontificate, which Fr. Weinandy said “fosters within the faithful a growing unease.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix have both issued recent documents that discuss the importance of the worthy reception of Holy Communion.
Bishop McElroy of San Diego wrote an essay in America Magazine arguing that refusing Holy Communion to pro-abortion rights politicians is an act that politicizes the Eucharist.