Cutting Throats, Burning at the Stake, and Excommunication: The Pope and Eucharistic Incoherency

Francis
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“No Place for Politics in Biden Communion Flap”
“Pope Says Bishops Should be Pastors, Not Politicians”
“Pope Warns Clergy Against Allowing Political Preferences to Enter Holy Communion Equation”
“Vatican Warns U.S. Bishops About Denying Communion” 

On Wednesday, September 15th, Pope Francis finally weighed in on the issue of denying the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support abortion. The foregoing headlines are just a small sample of how the Pope’s comments were reported. The headlines certainly give the impression that, according to Francis, bishops who seek to deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion Catholics in public office—Biden being at the top of the list—act like politicians themselves rather than true shepherds acting “with God’s style.” 

The Pope’s lengthy comments were made, as the Pope has done numerous times, during an in-flight press conference as he returned to Rome from his trip to Hungary. America magazine Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell asked what advice Francis had to give regarding the debate among American bishops on whether to deny Holy Communion to President Biden and other Catholic politicians “who have supported laws in favor of abortion and the woman’s right to choose.”

At this point in the Francis papacy, it may seem more than a fool’s errand to try and interpret and make sense of the Pope’s off-the-cuff “press conference” remarks so subject to misinterpretation, misapplication, and Left-wing political spin. Nonetheless, after wading through the Pope’s commentary, as this author has done, one must honestly conclude that Francis has at least informally directed the bishops to not deny Holy Communion to those Catholic lawmakers who not only advocate but actually facilitate the legalized murder of the unborn. And as far as the American bishops—or any particular bishop—actually disciplining such politicians, Francis may have driven the final nail in the coffin of such action ever happening, a coffin lid that was already in place but not as yet completely secured. 

I wish to explain how Francis arrived at the advice he gave to the bishops and the Eucharistic incoherency contained in that advice. However, we must first highlight the fact that the Pope’s advice was prefaced by a condemnation of abortion in no uncertain terms—a condemnation not overlooked even by secular media. It bears repeating here: 

Abortion is more than a problem. Abortion is homicide. Abortion…without being ambiguous: whoever has an abortion kills. Take any book on embryology for medical students in medical school. The third week after conception, from the third week, often before the mamma is aware of it, all the organs are already there, even the DNA…. Isn’t that a person? It is a human life, period. And this human life must be respected. This principle is so clear, and to those who cannot understand, I would ask two questions: is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem? Scientifically, it is a human life.

The second question: is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? I said this publically to Jordi Évole when he did it, I said it the other day to COPE, I wanted to repeat it…and that’s enough. Don’t ask strange questions. Scientifically it is a human life. Books teach this. I ask: is it right to throw it out to solve a problem? That is why the Church is so tough on this issue, because it’s a little like if she were to accept it, if she accepts this, it would be like accepting daily murder. 

But it is with this unequivocal condemnation of abortion that the papal Eucharistic incoherency begins. Francis states that “anyone who gets an abortion kills” and abortion is like “accepting daily murder.” It is quite clear Francis recognizes abortion is the murder of innocent human persons. Thus, it is only natural that one should expect that politicians such as Biden and Pelosi who actually protect such murder should be banned from receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord. While Francis condemns abortion, how is it that those who preside over the legal machinery that causes such slaughter not equally be condemned? 

Here is the key to understanding Pope Francis. His thinking is dominated by, and thus his papacy built upon, a disconnection between what the Church teaches and the pastoral application of ecclesial doctrines. The Church has her abstract doctrinal principles, her laws and rules which cannot be denied—but there is the law of mercy according to Francis that takes precedence over the abstract doctrinal principles—and those who insist that the teachings of the Church be followed have been accused by Francis of Pharisaism—the strict application of the Law without regard to mercy and a person’s personal circumstances. In a September 18th speech he delivered on the upcoming two-year universal Church synod he stated, “Rigidity [in the church] is a sin against the patience of God.”

On the denial of Communion, Fr. Sam Sawyer, writing for America magazine, concluded that Francis refused “to settle the question universally and definitively.” Sawyer may fairly come to such a conclusion due to, frankly, the ambiguity of the Pope’s comments. Sawyer correctly observes that the Pope’s advice had a three-part structure: 

1) affirm the moral teaching on the injustice of abortion; 2) affirm that people can place themselves outside of the community of the church and thus make themselves unable to receive Communion worthily; 3) point out that the controversies over whether to deny Communion arise not from disagreements over the theological principles in points one and two but rather as a pastoral problem about how to apply them. Francis spent most of his answer warning that the failure to deal with this pastoral problem as pastors could lead bishops into ‘taking sides about political life,’ which does not end well for the church.

Per point number two, the Pope indeed recognizes that some persons are not in communion with the Church. He stated: 

[Holy]Communion is a gift, a present; the presence of Jesus in his Church and in the community. This is the theology. Then, those who are not in the community cannot receive Communion…Why? Because they are out of the community—ex-comunitate—excommunicated they are called. It is a harsh term, but it means that they are not in the community, either because they do not belong to it, they are not baptized or have drifted away for some reason.

Francis agrees that those outside the community “cannot receive Communion” and that would include those who “have drifted away for some reason.” Well, apparently Biden—who supports gay marriage, officiated at the wedding of two homosexual couples, supports transgenderism, and facilitates legal abortion—has “drifted away for some reason”! Ergo—according to Eucharistic coherence, Biden should be denied Holy Communion. 

Francis, however, characterizes the issues of those outside the community as a “theological problem—that is simple.” The real problem is “pastoral.” Here is where Francis articulates his real advice, beginning with the admonishment: “[I]f we look at the history of the church we will see that every time the bishops have dealt with a problem not as pastors, they have taken a political stance on a political problem.” 

He then cites various instances when bishops did not act as true pastors, namely: “Think of St. Bartholomew’s Night: ‘Oh, heretics, yes. But it’s a serious heresy…let’s cut all their throats….’ No: it is a political matter. Let’s think of Joan of Arc, about that vision, let’s think of the witch-hunt…Let’s think of the Campo de’ Fiori, of Savonarola, of all those people.” Perhaps without intending to do so, the Holy Father essentially equated the denial of Communion to folks like Biden and Pelosi with cutting the throats of heretics and burning them at the stake. Instead, he could have noted famous excommunications, such as those of Emperor Theodosius, Frederick II, Henry VIII, and Martin Luther, which resulted in no bodily harm. 

He reemphasized that “When the church defends a principle in an unpastoral manner, it acts on a political level.” The question needs to be asked: “What does it mean for a bishop to act “in an unpastoral manner”? Here there is no ambiguity: “Be a pastor. Be a pastor and don’t go around condemning, not condemning…. But is he a pastor for the excommunicated too? Yes, he is a pastor and must be a pastor with him, to be a pastor with God’s style. And God’s style is closeness, compassion and tenderness.… A pastor who does not know how to act with God’s style, is slipping and does many things that are not pastoral.” 

It is more than fair to conclude that, for Francis, a bishop who disciplines to the extent of excommunicating pro-abortion Catholic politicians is not acting “with God’s style.” Rather, “if he goes out of the pastoral dimension of the church, he immediately becomes a politician.” This makes the secular headlines quite justified. 

Indeed, Francis pled for those who are potential subjects of ecclesial discipline: “What must the pastor do? Be a pastor. Be a pastor and don’t go around condemning, not condemning…But, always this condemnation, condemnation. An excommunication is enough, please let’s not make more excommunications. The poor people, they are children of God and they want and need our pastoral closeness.”

The Pope appears to back off from making any definitive pronouncement on how the bishops should handle the American situation by stating: “For me, I do not want to specify, since you spoke of the United States, because I do not know the details well of the United States, I will give the principle.” Nonetheless, Francis has effectively pulled the rug from beneath the feet of the American bishops. Any bishop, much less the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops itself, risks opprobrium as they will certainly be accused of “acting as politicians” in defiance of the Pope’s plea: “please let’s not make more excommunications.” 

A few bishops, such as Cordileone of San Francisco, seem poised to act. He wrote a pastoral letter on Eucharistic coherency and recently published an op-ed in The Washington Post that explained why excommunication for pro-abortion Catholic politicians is completely justified. His piece stands in complete contradiction to the in-flight comments of Pope Francis. But even with Cordileone’s strong words, Pelosi, who resides in his diocese, still remains undisciplined. 

By the mere fact that this scandal involves Catholic politicians, Pope Francis has provided them with cover; they are exempt; they are immune—because should the bishops act to deny them Holy Communion they will be accused of meddling in politics and failing to act as pastors “with God’s style.” So, if you plan to be a sinner, run for office—the bishops can’t touch you. 

Of course, a bishop who does deny the Eucharist to those who “have drifted away for some reason,” by the fact that they preside over legalized mass murder, is indeed acting as a true pastor! I have said it many times, and I will say it again: One cannot desecrate the bodies of the unborn and receive the Body of Christ. The incongruity is staggering. The bishops need to say so!

Sinners, and those who are excommunicated, should be treated with “closeness, compassion and tenderness” according to “God’s style,” as we want those who have strayed to be reconciled to God and His Church. The door of repentance is always open. But this is exactly the point. Nowhere in the Pope’s advice to pastors was there any advice to those who “have strayed from the faith for whatever reason.” Only the bishops are admonished. The Bidens, Pelosis, Durbins, Kaines, and Dingells, the Catholic killers of the unborn, were not warned or called to responsibility.  

The Pope’s in-flight comments are consistent with a Eucharistic incoherency already articulated by him in his June 7th Corpus Christi homily. He taught, “The Eucharist is meant to nourish those who are tired and hungry along the journey, let’s not forget this” in a Church where everyone may enter, “righteous and sinners.” We should agree with such sentiments. Regarding the reception of Holy Communion, he even stated, “you cannot eat this bread if you do not give the bread to the hungry, you cannot share this bread if you do not share the sufferings of those in need.” Thus, Francis acknowledges that some, due to their lack of charity, may not be worthy of receiving the Lord’s Body and Blood. Those who advocate legalized killing of the innocent should fall into that category.  

But then the Eucharistic incoherency follows behind when Francis states: 

The Eucharist shows the strength to love those who make mistakes because Jesus gave the world the bread of life on the night he was betrayed. Jesus reacts to the evil of Judas’ betrayal with a greater good, responding to Judas’ ‘no’ with the ‘yes’ of mercy. He does not punish the sinner, but rather gives his life for him, he pays for him. When we receive the Eucharist, Jesus does the same with us: he knows us; he knows we are sinners; he knows we make many mistakes, but he does not give up on joining his life to ours. He knows that we need it, because the Eucharist is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners. This is why he exhorts us: ‘Do not be afraid! Take and eat.’

The Holy Father gave the Eucharist a new name, calling the “Bread of Angels” the “Bread of Sinners.” The Holy Father’s designation of the Eucharist as “Bread of Sinners” is a novelty—without precedent in the spiritual and doctrinal tradition of the Church. Yet, in a certain sense he is correct as it is unworthy sinners who eat the Body of Christ. But the Pope’s “Bread of Sinners” begs for clarification. The Eucharist is the Bread of Repentant Sinners who, by the word of Christ, have their souls healed. Without this nuance, Francis creates a pastoral ambiguity leaving the impression that it doesn’t matter whether one is in a state of grace or not when receiving Holy Communion. 

As the bishops head into their Fall 2021 Assembly, they are set to draft a document on Eucharistic coherency—or at least they were set to do so. To what extent Pope Francis has adversely affected this process remains to be seen. Perhaps the bishops, short of excommunication, may still feel free to at least publicly admonish Catholic pro-abortion politicians and allow their priests the liberty to refuse them Holy Communion. I continue to hope; and there’s still time to pray.

[Photo Credit: Colm Flynn/CNA]

By

Monica Migliorino Miller, Ph.D., is the Director of Citizens for a Pro-life Society. She holds a degree in Theatre Arts from Southern Illinois University and graduate degrees in Theology from Loyola University and Marquette University. She is the author of several books including The Theology of the Passion of the Christ (Alba House) and, most recently, The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church (Emmaus Road) and Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars (St. Benedict Press).

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