I was going to refrain from commenting on the latest piece about this issue on the theory that we have a few readers who aren’t Catholics and may not care about this question quite as much as I do. But I’m writing about it anyway because: 1) While the theology of communion in the Catholic church is obviously specific to it, people of other faiths or none have to wrestle with some of the same questions of justice and moral standards. 2) The resolution of the issue may have some political effects, so non-Catholic readers may be interested in it. 3) I just can’t help myself.
We’re given, in the linked piece, two arguments for why the bishops should offer communion to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion. First: “How many of us Catholics are completely worthy every Sunday of receiving what we believe to be the body and blood of Jesus? The church understands this and has long left it up to the individual to wrestle with his or her conscience as to whether going to Communion is appropriate. To turn the tables and make the giving of Communion contingent on a public, political litmus test would politicize a sacred ritual that is and always should be beyond politics.”
Actually, none of us are worthy to receive the Lord, and we even say so beforehand. If legislators voted on abortion by secret ballot and did not disclose their positions to the public, it would indeed be appropriate to handle the issue in the confessional rather than in public. But the sin under discussion–that of unjustly denying the unborn legal protections that everyone else has–is committed in public. A public denial of communion is thus necessary to prevent people from reaching the false conclusion that persisting in this sin is compatible with staying in communion with the church.
Second, the denial of communion would make the church seem to be allied with the Republican party. The article ignores the existence of two to three dozen pro-life House Democrats, which is not an insignificant faction of the entire caucus even if it gets little public attention. But leave that aside. The argument boils down to this: The bishops are supposed to let members of their flock endanger their souls without doing much to help them, because of a political calculation about the effects of this pastoral care. You don’t have to be familiar with canon law to see that the bishops just can’t follow this advice.