The bishops’ proposal to refuse communion from Biden reflects the divisions in the Catholic Church, says one historian


Should holy communion be denied to Catholic politicians like President Joe Biden who support abortion rights? Should be Catholic judges withdraw from cases in which Church teaching would require that its judgments adhere to these teaching? Can a Catholic, in good conscience, make a moral choice that contradicts Church teachings?

These are not new issues within the Catholic Church, but have emerged for the U.S. Bishops Conference with the election of Biden, who almost 50 years ago made the right to abortion as a legalized right under Roe v. Wade supports. Some bishops have spoken out to refuse communion to Biden, a decision that is ultimately up to each diocesan bishop, while others disagree, calling it “Armament“The Eucharist.

“There are deep divisions not just among bishops but in the community as a whole,” said David J. O’Brien, who, at 83, is a lifelong Catholic and the oldest and most respected historian of American Catholicism.

“We are suffering within the church from the polarization and politicization that is so harsh in the country now. It’s not just partisan differences, but things have gotten very personal and passionate and at times religious. It went a lot further than I thought it would go. “

The Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, President of the USCCB, issued a opinion to Biden, the visits the fair regularly on the day of inauguration. Biden’s support for abortion rights was said to “fuel moral evils and threaten human life” and called combating the “ongoing injustice of abortion” the “overriding priority” of bishops, although not all bishops agree to such a single issue approach.

The Vatican warned the USCCB on May 7 that its preparation of a new document on the subject could prove to be “a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States.”

“The bishops in earlier decades have valued their own unity and the unity of the Church. Now they’re very divided, ”said O’Brien. “I think the recent Vatican letter to the American bishops was an attempt to remind them of their obligation to stay united and together. You are advised by Rome to take a deep breath, talk to one another and remember that you are there for unity in the Church and not for division. “

He added: “You are encouraged to think before speaking and try not to contribute further to the deep divisions in our country.”

“It’s a little scary to study the politics of the American Church and the Universal Church and where we are going,” said O’Brien, who sees decades of development in the church away from dialogue inside and outside of its walls on issues that Have an impact on society as a whole.

He noted how bishops respond to issues such as abortion, which the USCCB describes as “a grave moral evil at all stages,” has implications for a secular society in which many Catholics now hold influential legislative, executive and judicial positions.

“If we think about going beyond politicization to regain a sense of a culture of encounter and a culture of common good, we need to find a way to add more value to the kind of dialogue, negotiation and compromise that politics requires “Said O’Brien.

“If you study peacebuilding these days, you will study conflict resolution as a set of skills to deal with a potentially violent situation and ways in which people can turn it into a situation in which they can negotiate and discuss.”

He added, “There was a term we used in the pastoral days of the 1980s and that was a ‘community of conscience.’

“Our church was a fellowship of conscience where we helped each other shape our consciences,” said O’Brien, who feels that the language and the American Catholic Church’s approach to confronting problems such as same-sex marriage has alienated many young people raised in Catholics.

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame with a PhD in history from the University of Rochester, O’Brien is Faculty Emeritus and Loyola Professor of Catholic Studies at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, and Trustee Emeritus at Elms College, Chicopee. Where is he spoke recently.

His correspondence, book manuscripts and other papers are archived in Notre Dame, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1960 after graduating from the now closed St. Joseph High School in Pittsfield. The Berkshire Eagle there continues to publish opinion pieces from O’Brien, who lives outside Worcester.

O’Brien, the one with the US bishops in their 1976 call to action In response to Vatican II reforms that called for greater lay participation in the Church, he supports Pope Francis’ efforts to “create a culture of care in which we find ways to talk to one another about how our common values ​​unfold Let the difficult decisions be passed on to politics. ”

“I have written on a number of things about abortion and the subject is so difficult for us to deal with because it is politicized and connected with these terribly deep divisions within our own community and with an erosion of faith among young people. “Said O’Brien.

“In general, abortion is not a good thing and should be rejected. Babies used to be much more viable than they used to be, and yet we are dealing with the dignity and autonomy of the mother. We need to find a way back to a common ground where we love both mothers and babies. We need to find a way to work together to reduce the number of abortions and the conditions that encourage abortions. “

O’Brien said the weapon of the Eucharist happened in the 2004 election when then Massachusetts Senator John Kerry was a Democratic presidential candidate and an advocate of abortion law. Several bishops said they would withhold communion because of his demeanor. The bishops ultimately confirmed with 183 to 6 votes to leave such a decision to each diocesan bishop.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, in whose diocese Kerry lived, said at the time that Catholic politicians who support abortion laws should not voluntarily receive Holy Communion.

The US Supreme Court announced on May 17 that it would investigate a case involving federal law banning abortions after 15 weeks. As the court decides that this case is the landmark decision of the court in Roe v. Wade from 1973 that legalized abortion during the first 24 months of pregnancy. Taking on this case raises a theoretically posed question debated In Catholic legal circles – should the six Catholic judges withdraw from the court?

O’Brien said the US bishops never looked specifically at this issue, but it is one that the newest US Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett did have addressed when she was at the faculty of Notre Dame, her alma mater, for the execution of the death penalty by Catholic judges, which the Catholic Church rejects.

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