On examining the president’s conscience: Why the US bishops should scrap plans to exclude “pro-choice” politicians from the Eucharist

June 14, 2021

By John O’Loughlin Kennedy | Ireland

Cardinal Luis Ladaria is undoubtedly in order with regards to the agenda of the upcoming meeting of US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which will discuss drafting a document on whether politicians who support legalized abortions should be able to receive Holy Communion. 6/14/2021 On examining the president’s conscience 

Regrettably, the same cannot be said Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, the USCCB president. The cardinal is right for at least two reasons. The archbishop misguided for about a dozen. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the cardinal would have a duty to warn the bishops if they are contemplating an action that could compromise or conflict with Church teaching and could create doubts about the hierarchical unity of the Church. As an ordinary member of the faithful, he is entitled to oppose a stupid action that would discredit the Church among millions of people. Archbishop Gomez is proposing that the US bishops consider refusing Holy Communion to US President Joe Biden because he is a member of the Democratic Party which is “prochoice” on abortion. 

Out of step 

Why is this proposal ill-considered and out of step with the Catholic Church? 

1. Scripture: “Judge not!” The only thing that precludes a baptised Catholic from receiving Holy Communion is an awareness or consciousness of being in a state of mortal sin (1 Cor 11:27-29). Therefore, the archbishop’s proposal amounts to asking the bishops to collectively examine Joe Biden’s conscience. This is not within their competence, and they should not attempt it, more especially in public. Apart from Joe, only God can examine Joe’s conscience. The bishops can preach the law, but they cannot decide whether or not a person has sinned in a particular instance. Assuming that he is creating scandal by presenting himself is to create scandal where no scandal is needed. 

2. In Gaudium et Spes (no.16), the Church teaches that “conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There one is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbour”. Being “alone with God” surely excludes gatecrashers, even episcopal ones. 

3. In Dignitatis Humanae (no. 3) the Church teaches: “It follows that one is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from 6/14/2021 On examining the president’s conscience https://international.la-croix.com/news/religion/on-examining-the-presidents-conscience/14464 3/5 acting in accordance with his conscience”.

4. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no.1800) says: “A human being must always obey the certain judgements of his conscience”. 

5. Our recently canonized saint, John Henry Newman, summed it up: “Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise… [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches us and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ” 

6. A politician’s duty is to legislate for the common good and politics is the art of the possible. As he helps to shape legislation, he tries to anticipate its effects, and is forever estimating and balancing multiple imponderables. He seldom has the luxury of choosing what he thinks is best. More often it the least objectionable of several compromises. Outsiders seldom have access to the background information and expert advice that is available to legislators. Ideological, single issue politicians with simplistic solutions can win elections but are not notable for pursuing the common good. While Church authorities are as entitled as anyone else to make their opinions felt on political issues, their appraisal of the common good may also be inspired by narrow criteria. When they weaponize the sacraments to enforce their political preferences, they are abusing religion and freedom of religion. If the bishops try to coerce conscience, they attack the very basis of morality. 

7. Ironically, the USCCB has designated the week following their summer meeting as “Religious Freedom Week” in which the faithful will be asked to pray, reflect and act on issues of religious freedom all around the world. Coercing President Biden with religious sanctions, would be a hollow victory —a gesture that would earn brownie points with the faction in the Roman Curia that is obsessed with abortion, but it would achieve nothing positive. On the negative side it would alienate Catholics who do not think that non-Catholics should be forced to abide by Catholic standards, and it would further reduce the Church’s status in society. The bishops’ Religious Freedom Week would be seen as dubious, if not downright hypocritical. 

8. President Biden leads a political party that is democratic, both in name and in its ways of working.

He is not a dictator, de jure or de facto. He does not control the individual legislators. He needs the support of the party in what he attempts, and the party needs the support of the electorate. He does not have monarchical control over the policies that the bishops condemn. 

9. The policy label “pro-choice” is misleading. The word choice has overtones of preference or selecting something desirable. Typically, abortion is not something a woman chooses. More often she is driven to it—in desperation, fear, panic, by poverty or by mental or physical health issues or social or economic pressures. The issue for politicians is not whether one approves of abortion. The issue is whether to legislate to put these unfortunate women behind bars. If they already have children, do we punish these also by depriving them of their mothers and breaking up families? We can hate the sin. But does not Jesus, and Pope Francis, call on us always to be compassionate and merciful; to love and care for the sinner? Punishing them is not following Christ. “Anti-incarceration” would be a more exact title for the policy. It would avoid the inference of approving or abetting the evil. 

10. If the bishops classify the reluctance of the Democratic Party to incarcerate people who commit sin as a case of aiding and abetting evil, they would be confusing two distinctly different things. 

1. Legislators must avoid bringing the law into disrepute and must therefore consider what the culture will tolerate. Laws are ineffective when a sizable proportion of the populace reject them. The American bishops would do well to remember that Prohibition did not stop the evils associated with alcohol and gambling. It just drove them underground for fifteen years and boosted the growth and influence of organised crime, against which law enforcement is still battling. 

2. Catholics believe that lived example, preaching, prayer, the sacraments, forgiveness and the grace of God are the ways to make people more moral and more loving. Not so, imprisonment. Doubtless, the list above is incomplete. While there is some overlapping between the items, there is no conflict. They all point in one direction. In loyalty to Church teaching, the US bishops should not so much as discuss Archbishop Gómez’s proposal but should begin their meeting by adopting a revised agenda that omits it. 6/14/2021 On examining the president’s conscience 

John O’Loughlin Kennedy is a retired economist and serial social entrepreneur. With his wife, Kay, he founded Concern in Ireland in 1968 and guided it for its first ten years. In addition to responding to humanitarian crises, Concern currently employs 3,500 people on agricultural development and educational and medical projects in 23 of the world’s poorest countries, helping 37 million people in year 2020. His recent book, The Curia is the Pope, is published by Mount Salus Press.

Read more at: https://international.la-croix.com/news/religion/on-examining-the-presidents-conscience/14464

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
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