In a pastoral letter issued on May 1, the Archbishop of San Francisco, Cardinal Salvatore Cordileone, has spelled out with admirable clarity why no faithful Christian cleric should allow a politician who aids and abets in committing the evils of abortion to take part in Holy Communion.
Having earned a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Cordileone is well qualified to address this issue. To begin with, he recalls the warning by the Apostle Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.”
In one of the earliest Christian commentaries on this text, the second-century theologian Justin Martyr explained: “No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes what we teach is true… and lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.”
Among the foremost of Christian moral principles is the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” — a commandment which the Church has always understood to forbid abortion. As Cordileone notes, the Didache, an anonymous first-century Christian text, explicitly admonishes: “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born.”
On these points, the Protestant reformers fully agreed with the earliest theologians of the Christian Church. Question 173 of the Westminster Larger Catechism of 1647 asks: “May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, be kept from it?” The Calvinist answer: “Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ hath left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.”
The earliest Calvinists also understood that abortion is an unmitigated evil. Thus, John Calvin in his commentary on Exodus 21:22-25 observed: “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”
Alas, like all trendy, but dying Protestant churches over the past 50 years, the United Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States have progressively abandoned the Westminster Larger Catechism and all of their other foundational creeds. Is the Catholic Church about to do the same?
There is reason for serious concern. On May 13, a group of more than 60 United States bishops sent a letter to the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops José Gómez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, urging the Conference to drop plans for even considering a proposal to draft a statement on the worthiness of politicians who support access to the evils of abortion to receive the Holy Eucharist. Among the signers of this letter were several prominent Cardinals including Wilton Gregory of Washington, Blase Cupich of Chicago and Sean O’Malley of Boston.
Cordileone was justifiably outraged. In an interview with The Pillar, an excellent Catholic news agency which first published the May 13 letter, he denounced this attempt by dissident bishops to shut down discussion of this grave issue. “I cannot tell you,” he said, “how aggrieved this makes me feel.”
While the majority of United States Catholic bishops have remained silent on this issue, most still seem to side with Gomez in supporting a statement on Eucharistic coherence. Certainly, that is true of Cordileone. In the conclusion to his pastoral letter, he pleaded with Catholics in public life who practise or promote abortion: “Please, please, please: the killing must stop. God has entrusted you with a prestigious position in society. You have the power to affect societal practices and attitudes…. Please stop the killing.
“And please stop pretending that advocating for or practicing a grave moral evil — one that snuffs out an innocent human life, one that denies a fundamental human right — is somehow compatible with the Catholic faith. It is not,” Cordileone asserted. “Please return home to the fullness of your Catholic faith. We await you with open arms to welcome you back.”
Meanwhile, what have members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops had to say about the clerical duty to withhold the Eucharist from all the prominent Catholics in Canadian public life who scandalize the faithful by promoting abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage? Practically nothing.
This column will appear in the July-August edition of The Interim.