Ecclesiastical Incoherence

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We are at a time of grave crisis for the Catholic Church in America—steep declines in attendance, lost moral authority, and significant public scandal regarding pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians, just to name a few issues. So in the midst of this mess, what were our shepherds, the successors to the Apostles, doing when they (virtually) gathered together last week? Well, debating for almost an hour how long they should be allowed to debate, for one. Perhaps nothing sums up better the incoherence and irrelevance that is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). 

From June 16-18, the USCCB held its semi-annual meeting to discuss various topics, including a potential draft of a document on “Eucharistic coherence” (more on that in a minute); amendments to a draft pastoral framework on marriage and family life; a report from the lay advisory group focused on sexual abuse prevention; and a statement on Native American and Alaska Native ministry. It’s not known if they also considered a revision to how TPS reports should be submitted.

The most controversial part of the meeting was the debate over “Eucharistic coherence.” This recently-invented buzzword refers to the debate over whether pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians should be allowed to receive the Eucharist. In the words of Bishop Thomas Olmstead, “Eucharistic coherence means that our ‘Amen’ at Holy Communion includes not only the recognition of the Real Presence but also a communion bound together by embracing and living Christ’s entire teaching handed down to us through the Church.” In other words, is it consistent—and therefore coherent—for someone who publicly and obstinately rejects Church teaching on some matter to receive the Sacrament par excellence of that same Church?

The battle line in this debate among the American bishops is a familiar one. On one side, you have Cardinals Blase Cupich (Chicago) and Wilton Gregory (Washington, DC), as well as  bishops Robert McElroy (San Diego) and John Stowe (Lexington, KY). These bishops argue that a politician who supports the murder of unborn children (but also coincidently happens to espouse all the liberal programs these bishops support) should not be denied Communion, ever. Doing so would be “weaponizing the Eucharist” and would make Communion “only for the perfect.” It’s unclear how this attitude can be reconciled with the Apostle Paul’s warning that anyone who improperly receives the Eucharist “eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor. 11:29).

The other side includes hierarchs such as Cardinal Daniel DiNardo (Houston), Archbishops Salvatore Cordileone (San Francisco) and Alexander Sample (Portland), and Bishops Michael Olson (Ft. Worth) and Kevin Rhoades (Fort Wayne-South Bend). They argue that there must be limits to who should be allowed access to the Eucharist and that it’s not unreasonable to believe that rabid pro-child-killing politicians might not be eligible.

It’s a fierce debate, and it highlights the division that exists among the American bishops. And of course, the liberal side is using this division as a means to squash any debate regarding the Eucharistic reception. We hear continued calls for “unity” among the bishops, as if unity—and not the Truth—is the ultimate good. Even if it were, this call for unity is not about unity at all, but a means of muzzling the opposition. 

Unity is a virtue to be desired among the bishops, but it must be a unity in truth. After all, weren’t the bishops united for decades in hiding the abuse scandal? That unity was diabolical. If certain bishops desire something contrary to the truth (such as the lie that one can support killing unborn children and still receive Communion), then dividing against them is the proper Catholic response. 

Even though the proposal for a “Eucharistic coherence” draft document passed overwhelmingly, it’s hard not to see the whole debate as full of sound and fury; signifying nothing. After all, Archbishop Cordileone, whom many consider the strongest proponent for withholding the Eucharist from pro-abortion politicians, admitted to me in a recent Crisis Point podcast that he was still in the “dialogue” stage with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi about her reception of the Eucharist (Pelosi is a member of Cordileone’s archdiocese). 

If after nine years at the helm in San Francisco—and decades of enthusiastic pro-abortion advocacy by Pelosi—Archbishop Cordileone is still allowing Pelosi to receive the Eucharist, then what really will another document produced by the USCCB bureaucracy do? It’s easy to see why most Catholics tune out this ecclesial body.

This gets to the essence of the fundamental problem with the USCCB. Gatherings of bishops have a long and storied history over the past 2,000 years, and many of these gatherings have led to advancements of the Gospel message, and better ways to reach the lost for Christ. Yet in recent decades the USCCB has become the worst stereotype of an overgrown bureaucracy. It spawns documents that are quickly forgotten, debates that don’t address practical issues, endless committee meetings, and pointless offspring-bureaucracies. Quiz: Can you name one thing the USCCB has done in the past decade that has advanced the cause of Christ in this country? 

The USCCB claims to want “coherence” in its Eucharistic teaching, yet its entire mission has become an incoherent mess that most people rightly ignore. During a time when millions of Catholics are leaving the Church, it’s reasonable to wonder if the bishops even care. If they can’t even be bothered to protect the sanctity of the Eucharist—falling into straw-man debates like “It’s not a Church for the perfect!”—then can we count on them to right the ship and turn it back toward Christ? Sadly, the answer should be obvious. Of course, an individual bishop does not need permission from the USCCB to enforce Canon Law or to fearlessly proclaim the Gospel. He has authority from Christ himself to do so. But until at least a few individual bishops take that stand, it will be up to the laity, along with faithful priests, to be salt and light in the world, and help lead souls back to Christ.

[Photo Credit: USCCB Youtube. Clockwise from top-left: Archbishop José Gomez (Los Angeles), USCCB President; Cardinal Blase Cupich (Chicago); Archbishop Christoph Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone (San Francisco)] 

By

Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. His most recent book Deadly Indifference (May 2021) examines the rise of religious indifference and how it has led the Church to lose her missionary zeal.

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