Do our bishops really understand the difference?
Fifty-five years after passing the nation’s first liberalized abortion law, Colorado has shamefully doubled down by approving an Unrestricted Abortion Access Act fraudulently labelled as the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA). Such deliberately misleading terminology has sadly become a staple of modern political discourse. Referring to the grisly process of abortion as “reproductive health” is an utterly absurd twisting of word meanings, intended only to mislead and deceive John Q. Public. Imagine legislators passing a bill to encourage and subsidize smoking called the Healthy Lungs Act! Yet that is precisely what the RHEA designation does. It turns the plain meaning of words upside down. Abortion provides neither a health benefit to an unborn child whose health is utterly destroyed through willful death nor to the mother whose emotional and often physical well being can be compromised by chronic depression, a perforated uterus, or permanent sterility. And where is the “equity” achieved for an aborted unborn child who has been unceremoniously stripped of all legal protections.
RHEA is a heinous and cynical effort to make Colorado a safe-haven for abortionists and a center of “abortion tourism” for surrounding “less progressive” states where life in utero may still be cherished and protected. It allows unrestricted access to abortion from conception right up to the moment of birth, for any reason whatsoever including gender selection. (But wait! I thought that parents no longer had the right to choose their child’s gender once they have reached kindergarten age. Yet before they are born it’s okay to unilaterally make such a choice by pruning out an unwanted gender, thus exposing the current hypocrisy of the leftist political class.
This enactment of the most radically permissive abortion law in the nation brings us to the question of those “Catholic” legislators who supported and voted to enact this shameful, draconian statute. As Catholics are a substantial percentage of Democratic Party representatives in the legislature, one can reasonably infer that this bill would not have passed without their support. In fact only four Catholic legislators voted against this horrid bill, three in the 35 member Senate and only one in the House chamber containing 65 members. One could safely assume that 20% to 25% of those legislators are Catholics meaning as many as 25 representatives of the people identify as Catholic. Where were the other 20 or so Catholic representatives when this noxious bill came to a vote? After all, the Catholic Church is very clear on this point of assisting or promoting the grave sin of abortion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2272 clearly articulates this position. “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.” Helping to enact legislation which expands access to abortion is as close to formal a cooperation as one can humanly be (as opposed to material cooperation which is equally condemned). Such actions merit the penalty of excommunication until publicly repented of.
To their merit, all four Catholic bishops in Colorado immediately posted an open letter to those “Catholic” legislators who voted to enact the RHEA bill and which the bishops confirmed “was participating in a gravely sinful action. Until public repentance takes place and sacramental absolution is received in Confession we ask that those Catholic legislators who live or work in Colorado… to voluntarily refrain from receiving Holy Communion.” Taking a cue from the courageous Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, who has publicly barred House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from taking Communion in that diocese, our Colorado prelates have followed suit but with a critical difference. Our pastors stopped short of the sort of mandate issued on the West Coast which is why faithful Catholics here are bound to be disappointed by their approach. Milk-toast words like “voluntarily refrain” and “we ask that” do not convey the same urgent sense of a definitive command that such a serious flouting of a key moral doctrine, the respect for all human life, deserves.
Cordileone’s prohibition against Ms. Pelosi was clear and decisive ~ “Thou shalt not” ~ whereas the Colorado episcopacy appears to be hedging its bets against any political blow-back. Their hedging became abundantly clear in the very next sentence. “The burden from this decision does not rest upon the shoulders of priests, deacons, or lay ministers of the Eucharist.” In other words, our pastors assume no responsibility for enforcing the edict just laid down. Any Catholic legislator in question is free to cooperate with the bishop’s decision – or not. The bishops’ closing statement immediately reinforces the lameness of their position. “We pray that this letter and our request to refrain from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist spurs sincere reflection and conversion… This request is not one we made lightly but since it is our duty to safeguard the faith and care for the souls of all the faithful – including these politicians – we must make it.”
The very word “request” is tenuous and implies a response from the guilty legislators which is optional at best, hardly a requirement. How serious do our prelates expect these renegade politicians to take their request seriously after the bishops have already admitted, “Efforts have been made to speak with several of these lawmakers but unfortunately, very few of them have accepted the invitation to meet.”? It is incredibly naive to believe that “these lawmakers,” after having done the evil deed are likely to suddenly bend themselves to an episcopal request which lacks any semblance of determined authority. Did Henry VII teach our pastors nothing?
Meanwhile other pressing question arise from this impasse. Why were the bishops afraid to publish the names of the guilty lawmakers yet eager to name those four Catholic legislators who (thankfully) opposed the bill? Why not set the entire record down not just part of it? Were they fearful of looking too mean? What is the duty of bishops and clergy to safeguard the Holy Eucharist from sacrilege and profanation? Is that responsibility solely the obligation of the communicant? Who is ultimately accountable for the scandal to the faithful caused by public figures who make blatantly sacrilegeous Communions? How does such scandal advance a well documented decline among Catholics in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Finally, on a more personal note, why was I refused Communion for wanting to receive on the tongue during Covid but a “Catholic” politician who votes to expand the slaughter of innocent unborn children is permitted to make countless sacrilegeous Communions without any substantive challenge from the clergy? These are serious, not merely rhetorical, questions which need to be answered fully and comprehensively by our prelates.
I do not deny that our Colorado bishops were well intentioned in penning this open letter on Worthily Receiving Communion. They make many excellent points and arguments. But the main drawback to their effort is that their edict has no real teeth. There are no sanctions attached to their plea to those politicians who openly defy basic Church doctrine on human life. The penalty for aiding and abetting the crime of abortion is, as spelled out in the Catechism, excommunication. As my favorite Jesuit priest, long deceased, used to humorously remind us, “God gave us the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions.”
The Church is the soul of the world, and when the soul is sick or suffering the whole world is bound to be afflicted as well. The modern Church seems to be suffering mostly from a true lack of zeal on the part of her pastors and prelates who seem to want to please God without risking the world’s displeasure. But they can hardly have it both ways. “No man can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. (Lk 16:13) The flock today is divided and scattered due to that lack of zeal. I do not mean that our pastors are not zealous for the institutional body of the Church. They are more than so with their countless programs and initiatives. What seems to be lacking most is a holy zeal for the Mystical Body ~ the very soul of the Church which is Christ mystically united to his people through grace (something which the sin of abortion robs the soul of). The soul is being neglected over inordinate concerns for the physical, institutional body attested just two years ago when the entire sacramental life of the Church was shut down at the behest of dictatorial medical bureaucrats in league with the episcopacy.
Today it is bureaucracy, both civil and ecclesial, which is strangling the lifeblood of the Church. There are too few Padre Pios and Fulton Sheens; way too many James Martins and Cardinal Spellmans in the current mix. C.S. Lewis portrayed this new type of cleric with his brilliant depiction of the Episcopal Ghost in the Great Divorce. He cautioned against the love for God being gradually displaced by a love for the clerical state, activism, or some trendy concept. Truth is fixed, real, and eternal. Most of all it can never be the fruit of some political calculation otherwise it ceases to be true.
Francis J. Pierson +a.m.d.g.