Is it correct to withhold communion from pro-abortion Catholic politicians? Giving Holy Communion to these anti-life politicians is an extremely serious thing to do, for many reasons. The question is, is it ever a truly good thing to do? Given the confusion over the issue and the many questions people have, I’ve put together a list of seven reasons why I think it’s wrong to ignore or choose not to enforce Canon 915.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
2 February 2020
Earlier I made a video about Fr. Morey’s denial of Holy Communion to Joe Biden. Not long ago LifeSite News reported in a video interview with Tom McKenna, Founder and President of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, that Cardinal Raymond Burke supported Fr. Morey’s denial of Holy Communion to Joe Biden. Although Biden claims to be Catholic, he has long been known as a public supporter of abortion on demand. He also officiated at a same-sex “marriage.”
Cardinal Raymond Burke—whom I greatly respect for his virtuous and courageous dedication to the truth—noted that withholding Holy Communion from Catholic politicians who are in a state of public manifest grave sin is not an option, but rather is an obligation on the part of the priest.
As reported by LifeSite News, Cardinal Burke stated:
When there’s a member of the faithful who is publicly committing a grave [sin] as, for instance, is Mr. Biden by his support among other things of the practice of procured abortion, the priest is obliged to counsel the person not to approach to receive Holy Communion. And if the person approaches to receive Holy Communion, [the priest] is to refuse it.
Cardinal Burke is not alone in his thinking. Cardinal Antonio Canizares, Cardinal Francis Arinze, and Benedict XVI have taught the same. Prior to his election as Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger, while prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated in a letter titled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion” that a Catholic politician who holds a stance that is “permissive” of “abortion and euthanasia laws” must be denied Holy Communion if, after being warned not to receive, continues to attempt to do so.
Benedict XVI confirmed this same position more than once as pope. On an in-flight press conference in 2007, Pope Benedict addressed a question from a reporter in terms of Mexican bishops excommunicating politicians who support legalizing abortion. “Yes,” said Benedict, “this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon law which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving communion, which is receiving the body of Christ.”
Many bishops and priests seem to think it’s their personal decision whether to withhold Communion from anti-life politicians, perhaps thinking it’s their prerogative to weigh whether there’s any pastoral benefit to be found in denying a person in such a state from receiving our Lord in the Eucharist. Some suggest that denying communion to these politicians “politicizes” the Eucharist, as if the sanctity of the Eucharist, the moral law, and the potential consequences for a person’s soul can be set aside whenever it concerns a public figure.
I don’t see how that kind of thinking stands up to the test of reason. It goes against canon law. It also contradicts what the Church believes and what sacred scripture divinely reveals, which is one and the same thing, of course.
Canon 915 states: Those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”
Giving Holy Communion to anti-life politicians is an extremely serious thing to do, for many reasons. The question is, is it ever a truly good thing to do? Given the confusion over the issue and the many questions people have, I’ve put together a list of seven reasons why I think it’s wrong to ignore or choose not to enforce Canon 915 in terms of Catholic politicians who are permissive of abortion. I think it’s important for people to voice their concerns about this issue because of the potential grave consequences of receiving Communion in a state of manifest, public grave sin.
Please note that I’m doing this out of love for Christ in the Eucharist, the entire Church, and those who may be endangering their souls by receiving the body and blood of the Lord unworthily. Ultimately, my motive is charity, which is to speak what is true for the love of Christ and the true benefit of the souls of others.
So, here’s my list of seven reasons why I think it’s wrong to ignore or choose not to enforce Canon 915:
One: Canon law is not optional for Catholics or clergy.
For example, a priest or bishop who decides to give Holy Communion to an anti-life politician who publicly supports abortion is rewriting the law for himself. It’s like telling a Catholic he can ignore the canon law requiring him to marry in the Church, according to the proper form of the sacrament. Why is it that Catholics are required to comply with Canon Law in terms of marriage, but not in terms of receiving Holy Communion? When a member of the clergy decides to ignore canon 915, he is essentially remaking canon law. I don’t see how it could be helpful to anyone. It’s not helpful to the priest’s soul nor is it helpful to the politician who is in need of interior and exterior, public repentance. On top of that, bishops and priests of themselves do not have the authority to arbitrarily ignore or make changes to canon law.
Two: It’s Contrary to Divine Revelation
When priests or bishops give Holy Communion to anti-life Catholic politicians they are committing an act contrary to the warning given by the Word of God in First Corinthians 11:27-30 and thus endangering the souls of these politicians:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.(1 Cor 11:27-30)
Three: It Causes Grave Scandal
When anti-life politicians are allowed to receive Holy Communion it causes grave scandal. Relativizing the belief of the Church, it leads Catholics, other Christians, and people all over the world into thinking that the Eucharist is to be given to anyone, regardless of their public views in support of intentionally killing children in their mother’s womb.
Four: Catholics May Be Led Into Thinking They Can Support Abortion
This scandal may lead Catholics into thinking they can support abortion and still receive the Eucharist. This, of course, would amount to receiving the Eucharist unworthily, provided they know that supporting abortion is gravely sinful and they deliberately receive the Eucharist with an understanding that their beliefs are contrary to the teaching of Christ. Knowingly and deliberately receiving the Eucharist unworthily is itself a mortal sin. As St. Paul teaches, it profanes the body and blood of the Lord.
Five: Catholics May Be Led Into Thinking They Can Easily Vote for Anti-Life Politicians
It can also lead Catholics into thinking they can support anti-life politicians and be in agreement with their views on abortion. While Cardinal Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, prior to his election as Pope Benedict XVI, he noted that supporting these politicians with one’s vote because one agreed with their support of abortion constituted formal cooperation in evil. That’s a very dangerous position for anyone to place themselves in. When a person is guilty of formal cooperation in evil, they are morally culpable for the evil that ensues as a result of their cooperation with it.
Six: It Promotes a False Moral Equivalency
It can also lead Catholics into thinking it’s morally permissible to vote for these anti-life politicians so long as they disagree with their position on abortion and vote for them for any other reason, such as giving them the nod in the voting booth because they like what they have to say about shoring up the economy. In other words, giving Holy Communion to these politicians tends to promote a false moral equivalency in the minds of voters. Is this one of the reasons why so many Catholics support anti-life candidates with their vote? Is this one of the reasons why Roe v. Wade has not been rescinded? And how many millions of unborn children have died as a result?
Seven: It Teaches People The Eucharist Is Just A Symbol
Giving Holy Communion to anti-life Catholic politicians teaches people that the Eucharist is just a symbol. It instills the idea that it’s nothing more than bread and wine which symbolizes some kind of desire to commune with Christ. This is likely one of the reasons why so many Catholics today disbelieve in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist and we find an increasing level of disrespect for the divine sacrament.
I happen to agree with Cardinal Burke. Both clergy and laity need to follow Canon Law. It’s there for a reason. Withholding the Eucharist from Catholic politicians who openly support abortion is not at all about politics. It’s about the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist. It’s about safeguarding the souls of these individuals. It’s about charity. It’s the right thing to do.
Cardinal Burke stated:
We’re dealing here not with a question of politics. We’re dealing with a question of the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist, and with a question of a politician who by his very nature is a public person who has made himself unworthy to receive the Most Blessed Sacrament because he promotes legislation and policies that are egregiously contrary to moral law.
It’s About Charity in Truth
I want to again emphasize that my goal in writing this, and producing its associated YouTube video, is not to be condemnatory or harshly judgmental of the decisions of some bishops and priests on the matter. On the contrary, it’s my aim to put forth what I think are valid concerns over the tendency of late to grant anti-life Catholic politicians access to the Eucharist, as if their public support of abortion is of little or no concern. It’s my view that this practice is extremely scandalous and harmful. I believe it perpetuates a number of grave problems. For these reasons and others, my aim is charity in truth. My intention is the true benefit of the souls of others.
While it’s certainly a matter of disagreement among bishops and priests and, I’m sure, some deacons as well, it shouldn’t be. After all, Canon 915 provides for a standard, clear procedure to be carefully followed, just as Canon Law does for Catholics in terms of the sacrament of matrimony. If marrying outside the Church and living as husband and wife constitutes fornication for Catholics, since it involves a relationship very close to cohabitation, which is objectively mortally sinful, and thus prevents the Catholic parties involved from receiving the Eucharist, why is it that open and public support of abortion, which is also objectively mortally sinful, is dismissed as a situation that would disqualify a person from receiving the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ? Given the fact that a politician’s support for legalized abortion has the potential for doing far greater damage than does those Catholic couples who cohabit, considering the vast number of unborn children who are intentionally and directly killed through abortion each year, one has to wonder how the former is viewed as something which doesn’t disqualify a person from reception of the Eucharist yet the latter does.
Having said all of that, are there any good reasons for giving Holy Communion to anti-life Catholic politicians? Is there any benefit to be obtained temporally or spiritually from this practice?
Try as I might, I can’t think of any. If the divinely inspired teaching of St. Paul is true—and it absolutely is—then allowing Catholic politicians who persevere in the public and manifest grave sin of supporting abortion to receive Holy Communion amounts to helping them destroy their souls and the souls of others. I don’t see how that could ever be construed as a good thing.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.