Ethics Heroes: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops


It is unusual to call an organization’s decision to follow its own rules heroic, but I have low expectations of the Roman Catholic Church. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops voted 168-55 to draft a document on “Eucharistic coherence,” because the Church has been anything but coherent regarding the status of allegedly devout Catholics who support abortion.

Catholics are forbidden from participating in the ritual of the Eucharist if they are in a state of sin. Abortion is considered a very serious sin in the Catholic Church, which holds that life begins at conception. Thus a public figure, indeed an elected official, indeed a President, who openly supports abortion cannot take holy communion, because he is endorsing and enabling a serious sin. This isn’t hard. The much publicized “controversy” over the Bishops’ decision to follow their own Church’s ancient rules ( and those of the New Testament: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” — 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 ) resembles the current controversy in baseball over the MLB decision to enforce the hundred-year-old rule against pitchers doctoring the ball.

I know, everything reminds me of baseball, which has played a much greater role in my life than religion. But this is the same situation at its essence. The Catholic Church ducked, weaved and looked the other way while many U.S. politicians professed their belief in Catholicism as they openly and directly contradicted and actively undermined the Church’s core beliefs. They sought to have the benefit of appealing to the religious while simultaneously advocating a practice that their own Church condemns.

The New York Times—my wife keeps asking me why we pay 80 bucks a month for this shameless propaganda device, and I am running out of reasons—says that the Bishops’ vote is a “move to target a president, who regularly attends Mass and has spent a lifetime steeped in Christian rituals and practices, is striking coming from leaders of the president’s own faith, particularly after many conservative Catholics turned a blind eye to the sexual improprieties of former President Donald J. Trump because they supported his political agenda.”

Utter and inexcusable bu–what’s Latin for “bullshit”? The decision isn’t political, it is a necessary act of institutional integrity, made urgent by the election of the second Catholic President, and one who has used his alleged religious devotion as a cynical campaign tool. The flagrant “Whataboutism” of the Trump reference is low even for the Times. Donald Trump isn’t a Catholic. He never took communion. Supporting him politically is a completely different issue from holding a high profile Catholic who defies the core values of the Church to its rules.

Jon Gabriel explains the issue clearly:

“If a person is in a state of sin, he should not walk up to receive Communion. If a priest knows that a communicant is in a state of sin, it is his responsibility to deny Communion. As the chief of sinners, I have experience in this. I’m tougher on myself than any priest, so when in doubt, I remain in the pew as the Eucharist is celebrated. I did the same for the two years I attended an Orthodox church before I was a member… In the first few centuries of the church, non-members were not even allowed to witness the Lord’s Supper and banished to the narthex outside. After about three years of instruction, they would be baptized and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ only after promising not to speak of it to enemies of the church. This is memorialized in the prayer I have to say every time before Communion:

“I believe, O Lord, and I confess, that thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. And I believe that this is truly Thine own immaculate Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Wherefore, I pray Thee, have mercy on me, and forgive my transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance; and make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thine immaculate Mysteries, unto remission of my sins and unto life everlasting. Amen. Of thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to thine enemies, neither will I give thee a kiss as did Judas, but like a thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy kingdom. Not unto judgment nor unto condemnation be my partaking of thy Holy Mysteries, O Lord, but unto the healing of soul and body.”

“In both Catholic and Orthodox churches, priests are required not to serve Communion to known unrepentant sinners. If Father Jim sees I spent Saturday night Instagramming selfies snorting coke off a stripper’s hindquarters and I show up wearing the girlie bar’s T-shirt, he’ll kindly tell me to sit this Sunday out. If you aggressively disagree with any church’s main doctrines, you probably shouldn’t be a member.

But Joe has always trumpeted his religious faith, all while encouraging what his Church regards as murder. In this he joined two other national politicians who excelled at this hypocrisy: the late Mario Cuomo, father of Andrew and Fredo, and John Kerry. I wrote a post about Kerry’s hypocrisy in 2004, when Kerry was running for President. I could repost the essay with Joe Biden’s name replacing Kerry’s and only have to make a few other edits. Those who defend Biden’s hypocrisy, as in this rationalization-stuffed essay in NBC’s ironically named “Think,” reject the concept of integrity, in addition to morality.

—-It’s OK for Joe to defy his Church because the Church’s beliefs are wrong. Then join another church. This argument is no different than endorsing law-breaking when it feels right.

—-Most American Catholics support reproductive choice. Then most American Catholics don’t accept their Church’s values: it’s an “Everybody does it” argument.

—-Banning abortion harms the poor, so Catholics should regard the condemnation of abortion as less important than the duty to help the unfortunate. Well, start your own church then, like Henry the Eighth.

The Times writes that Biden is “perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief since Jimmy Carter…a President “who regularly attends Mass and has spent a lifetime steeped in Christian rituals and practices.” That’s as good a definition of a Sunday Catholic as you will ever see: he take part in all the rituals, but when the Church’s edicts are inconvenient, he just ignores them. Most religious Americans are like that, I guess, but Biden is President. If the Catholic Church endorses that kind of religious practice, what does it stand for?

That’s a different issue, of course. Apparently the Vatican cautioned the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops against being too hard on Joe because the Church is losing members already—so the remedy is to defy the values of the Church so as not to be unpopular? I believe a Catholic Saint, Sir Thomas More, gave his life to stand for the opposite principle. Indeed principles that an individual or an institution will only insist upon when it is easy and popular are not principles at all.

As always, abortion advocates are engaging in rhetorical deceit to argue their position. In all of the mainstream media articles, the fact that Biden supports abortion rights is emphasized, rather than the fact that he supports, endorses and facilitates abortion. If I say everyone has the right to rape any woman, I’m endorsing rape. The Bishops’ vote also evoked predictable idiocy, like from the always risible Rep. Ted Lieu, who wrote,

“Dear @USCCB: I’m Catholic and I support: -Contraception -A woman’s right to choose -Treatments for infertility -The right for people to get a divorce -The right of same sex marriage Next time I go to Church, I dare you to deny me Communion.”

Then you’re not a Catholic, you idiot. You continue to call yourself a Catholic, but you refuse to follow the Church’s rules. The Episcopalians are right down the street.

This reaction is even dumber, from Democratic Congressional hopeful Mark Judson:

“Oh?! US Catholic Bishops are involved in Politics? Welp – under Federal Law, you can’t be “Tax Exempt” in that case. I guess it’s time to revoke that Tax Exempt status going back to 1776 – you can re-file ALL your returns as C Corps and pay the taxes plus interest.’

Announcing that political figures are not immune from their Church’s rules is not “practicing politics.” It’s called integrity. But with thinking like that, Mark, I bet you get elected.

“It’s their religion and they make the rules,” concludes Gabriel (the blogger, not the Angel). “If I strolled into a mosque chomping on a BLT, the Imam would give me the boot. I wouldn’t respond by asserting my rights and demand taxation.”


20 thoughts on “Ethics Heroes: The US Conference of Catholic Bishops

  1. Excellent analysis, Jack. I wish more Catholics could stand up for their faith on this. I wish our bishops long ago had said, “Taxes be damned, we’re not compromising the faith with worldly expectations.” And the worry of upsetting people so that they leave the church is, and has always been, a pusillanimous excuse. The Church thrives when it is authentic. Why would anyone want to be Catholic, if it is just a slightly more ascetic version of the world at large?

  2. I left the church as soon as I got my drivers license and could just beat it when I was supposed to be going to mass. I couldn’t live up to its requirements, so a bailed. Of course, guitar masses in English didn’t help much.

    I just can’t figure out why abortion is the primary article of faith of the current church of the Left? Why is that?

    • “I just can’t figure out why abortion is the primary article of faith of the current church of the Left? Why is that?”

      I think it’s because abortion is a direct attack on the Bible and on God as creator, sustainer, and sanctifier of life. Non-Christians may tend to see life simply as a secular, natural product of male/female copulation. If that is the case, then pregnancy, as Man’s highest power (to re-create life) can – and should be – controlled by Man. If God is out of the picture, then Man is the highest authority, and he is free to allow or terminate life as he sees fit.

      However, if God is creator, then life is more than natural. It is supernatural and it is sacred. God miraculously allows an egg and sperm to join, creating a life that simply gets bigger. In this scenario, Man comes under the higher authority of God, and he is accountable to God for how he creates, births, and cultivates life.

  3. I’m sure I’m missing something here, because — some 1500 words to frame an ethical issue on top of the usual gobbledygook from a religious organization confuses my simple mind.
    So – the Bishops voted 168-55 to draft a document on “Eucharistic Coherence”? They’re ethics heroes because a majority agreed to write a draft?
    If the lead-in statements are accurate (I’m a lapsed Catholic for what I consider good reasons, so I don’t know for sure that they are), then it already is wrong for anyone in a state of sin to take the Eucharist and it is wrong for any priest to serve the Eucharist to known sinners. So, the point of a new draft about this is, what?
    One guess (and the leading assumption from what I can decipher) – to make it clear that Joe Biden cannot receive the Eucharist.
    Another — to create an exception for a U.S. Catholic (so he says) president who must serve two masters?
    A third — to leave some wiggle room for special circumstances?
    Whatever. We’ll see if they’re ethics heroes when a document is issued and agreed to.

    • I dunno…what’s the mystery? The Bishops are defying the usual weenie Vatican politics under this Pope to reaffirm core principles, knowing that by doing so they will get exactly the kinds of threats and cretinous reactions that have already received. Since the President is the most visible Catholic supporting abortions, he is the obvious one with which to send a general message: yes, the Church still regards abortion as a serious sin, no, you can’t fudge the Eucharist if you are like him, or worse, and yes, “everybody does it” doesn’t fly with a credible religious organization.

      • So the USCCB got a stern letter from Cardinal Ladaria in the Vatican saying think and act carefully before drafting anything, and the USCCB voted to proceed. Good. But, I’ll withhold judgment until I see what the USCCB actually produces.
        An interesting question for me is why Pope Francis would want to shade important Catholic doctrine to accommodate the likes of Biden?

        • Pope Francis is not a communist. He even condemns socialism (as does the entire Catholic Church) as a grave evil. (As a note, I do not personally care much for the Pope, but will defend at least this for him.)

          As for why he would “shade important Catholic doctrine”, Pope Francis is the latest personification of one side of an age old debate in the Catholic Church, doctrine vs pastoral response. This debate deals with the trouble of how to get sinners to deal with the consequences of their sin without driving them away from the church and the path to heaven. I firmly fall on the doctrinaire side of the debate, so my explanation will certainly be biased, no matter how fair I try to make this explanation, but I will try my best. On one hand, if you are too harsh on sinners, you drive them away from the faith. On the other, if you are too lenient, you risk diminishing the realization of the evil they have done, and bringing scandal (definition below) upon the church. Permitting people to receive the Eucharist after having committed grave matter is, in most minds, far too lenient. However, if we look back to history, there was a time when penances for sin were so extreme, most people refused to get baptized until their deathbed to avoid such penances. When one considers that the Catholic Church believes in both justice AND mercy for any action, it also compounds the issue.

          The main argument, as I understand it from the pastoral response side, is that in today’s society, people do not understand grave matter or even what is required to turn grave matter to mortal sin. We have had many years of too much poor catechesis and society does not see what is wrong with many of the things that are gravely disordered. People have also heard about the primacy of conscience (which is true, if understood correctly, but rarely is) and believe that if they don’t feel that something is wrong, it shouldn’t be, which is NOT what that means in the slightest. (Like lawyers, Church explanations use very specific language with firmly established definitions, sometimes established centuries ago that are not in the common vernacular.) Finally, people don’t often believe in the Transubstantiation or the Real Presence, which lessens their understanding of the mortality of taking the Eucharist unworthily. Therefore, we need to treat them with charity, not judgement. They need the Grace that the Sacrament of the Eucharist gives to help them live a better life. Indeed, chasing them away is chasing them to damnation, which is not acting with love. This, then is our sin, to drive them away. This seems to be Pope Francis’s position. He, I think, believes that should there be a question between justice and mercy, one should fall on the side of mercy. I also believe he wants a more “feel-good” approach to gentleness.

          The doctrinaire side has a main argument that says that grave matter is grave matter and while you may not have committed a mortal sin because you don’t meet all the requirements (specifically knowledge of grave matter), you have still acted against God’s law in a serious manner. Indeed, if you were permitted to still go to Communion, you would be an occasion for scandal. (Scandal defined here as leading others to sin, often by teaching that something is not sinful, or only a minor transgression.). Thus sinners who dabble with grave matter must be denied Communion, both for their own salvation and for the eventual salvation of others. Therefore, for your own salvation as well as for the salvation of all who see you, you must be denied communion out of love. If being denied the Eucharist would drive you away fromthe church, then that too is your own sin, but letting you influence others would be a greater evil, and thus would be a greater sin on oursleves. This position, which is far closer to the one I hold, tends to lean more toward justice than mercy, and believes that gentleness, like love, sometimes must be applied in a tough manner.

          • His version of Christianity is indistinguishable from Communism. The defense employed is that Marxism didn’t exist when Christianity posited shared property and “to each according to his needs.” Jesus often sounded like a Communist, of course. Francis comes from a nation steeped in socialism and communism, and his attacks on private property would make Marx smile. He looks like the duck and quacks like the duck.

            (He’s a communist.)

            • Actually Jesus was anything but a socialist. Modern interpretation of the “community” sharing according to need is a gross misreading of what He said and preached. Jesus e as concerned with reconciling God and mankind. His teachings are very apolitical.


              • Of course. But to those who believe whatever “should” take place must be made to take place by the government, it doesn’t matter. When the Pope condemns Capitalism and extols distribution of wealth using Jesus as authority, it’s political. In practical terms, what the Pope is advancing is Communist ideology—and based on his background, it is reasonable to assume he knows it.

  4. Can a Catholoc support freedom of religion.

    Remember that our Lord God HaShem authorized secular authorities to execute those who worship other gods. See also Numbers 25, where Moses commanded the judges of Israel slay those who joined themselves to Baal-Peor.

    • Same god just different approaches and interpretations. The authorities that claimed god authorized them to execute others are simply lying blasphemers.

  5. It would be interesting to know if SloJo does confession (if so, it would be really interesting to know how his priest deals with weekly repetition of the same serious sin), or just participates in enough church-related theater for photo ops and good press.

    • Deuteronomy 17:2-7 is Catholic teaching. Must Catholic politicians make Deuteronomy 17:2-7 law?

      The passage begins “If there is found among you, within any of your towns which the Lord your God gives you…” It then proceeds to say that anyone caught in idolatry will be put to death.

      Scripture has to be read as a whole. Picking out passages in isolation can lead to all kinds of confusion. So first some context:

      Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Bible, and its contents are essentially Moses promulgating the Law to the new generation of Israelites that were about to enter into Canaan and take possession of it. The Israelites had been brought of slavery in Egypt, and we have to remember that their deliverance was not simply to set them free from slavery, but to set them free to accomplish their mission, namely to bring worldwide blessing, fulfilling one of the three promises made to Abraham back in Genesis 12. When the Israelites reached Sinai, they agreed to enter into a covenant with God, but quickly fell into idolatry. A nation that was intended to be a kingdom of priests was effectively laicized, and given a great many rules that would insulate them from the world. It was easy to take the Israelites out of Egypt, but it was hard to take the Egypt out of the Israelites. The point here is that the Law was, as St. Paul later describes, a caretaker until the heir had come of age, and we see why it was put in place: Israel was not yet ready to bring worldwide blessing to the world. They were so weak in their faith and so accustomed to pagan practices that they were easily (as the rest of the Old Testament shows) led into idolatry. This was a dire threat to the very identity of Israel.

      When Jesus came, he fulfilled the Old Law in a number of ways. He was faithful where Israel was unfaithful, but he also took upon himself all the curses in the Old Law that were due to breaking the covenant. Finally, when Jesus died on the cross, he freed Israel to enter into a new covenant. As St. Paul points out, a spouse cannot enter into a new covenantal relationship until her spouse dies. Israel was espoused to God; when God died, that freed Israel to enter into the New Covenant that Jesus established. So Jesus fulfilled the law and opened up Israel, and the whole world, to enter into a new law. This was so stunning a fact that St. Paul had to write numerous letters explaining how the Jews are no longer bound by the Mosaic law, and that Gentile Christians did not have enter into the Mosaic covenant before becoming Christians.

      So, let’s look at Deuteronomy 17:2-7. This command was to Israelites under the Old Covenant, who were to execute fellow Israelites for breaking the Old Covenant provisions against idolatry, if they are found WITHIN the cities God gave them, namely the cities of Canaan.

      Would a Catholic politician be obligated to try to craft Deuteronomy 17:2-7 into law? Absolutely not, and the first and foremost reason would be that it would have no application. Outside of Israel, the law would be completely worthless, because everyone outside of Israel is not within the cities that God gave to the Israelites. What about within Israel? Here we hit the second reason: the Old Law has been fulfilled, and the new Law commands going out into the world to make disciples of all nations. Ancient Israel had to be protected from the world, lest the world’s idolatry pollute them. The New Israel, the Church, is now sent forth into the world to bless it, so the need to isolate it from exposure to idolatry has ended. So not only would a Catholic politician not be obliged to make Deuteronomy 17:2-7 into law, he would be in the wrong to even try.

  6. I think your point about institutional integrity is a solid one. Sometimes, you can make the case for something better than people who actually believe in the thing.

    I know you don’t want to get into abortion specifically, but there’s a lot of underlying assumptions going on with the debate, and some of those are simply about what we were even created to be. If you are a Christian like I am, you believe that God created women with the unique ability to get pregnant. That/s not something men are designed to do. The ability to get pregnant in a general sense is part of what makes a woman a woman (barring medical issues or natural infertility), just like part of what makes a man a man is the ability to get a woman pregnant. We are creatures designed for a specific purpose.

    So, for people who support abortion for convenience or “life is difficult” reasons, they are going against how God has designed us to me. For Christians, people are also misusing their sexuality. Sex is for people who are married, not for one night stands. So, there’s sort of a double aspect to all of this, Not only is sexuality being misused by both sides (the man and the woman), but the woman specifically has the power to get or not get an abortion, and that’s why a lot of the debates center on the woman. A man can’t generally legally stop a woman (that I know of anyway) from getting an abortion.

    To support abortion then means you indirectly support people misusing their sexuality and you support people having the right to almost literally go against how we were created to be. It’s at fundamental odds with how God has structured the world.

    This doesn’t even include more secular arguments about the moral status of the fetus. There’s a strong case against abortion that doesn’t rely on being of a particular religious persuasion.

    So, yes, institutional integrity would be on the line. I’m not Catholic, but I don’t believe Joe Biden is an actual Christian, or at least he is a highly confused one. His positions continually don’t line up with the faith. As a President, because of his position, the church has an even higher responsibility to deny him Communion because he claims to represent Catholics in general and he is the head of a state.

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