The response to the Texas Heartbeat Act going into effect earlier this month by progressive Catholic politicians and bishops illustrates how divided Catholics are on an issue about which Church teaching is clear.
After the Texas law that banned abortions after an unborn child’s heartbeat can be detected went into effect on September 1, Catholic politicians President Joe Biden and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) railed against the new law in separate statements.
Biden released a statement on September 2 stating,
“One reason I became the first president in history to create a Gender Policy Council was to be prepared to react to such assaults on women’s rights. Hence I am directing that council and the office of the White House Counsel to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision [the Supreme Court’s] …”
Similarly, Pelosi released a statement on the Supreme Court’s decision declining to block the Texas law from going into effect. Pelosi denounced “SB8 is the most extreme, dangerous abortion ban in half a century…This ban necessitates codifying Roe v. Wade.”
It is bad enough that two of the most important Catholic federal politicians not only don’t use their wide-reaching platforms to defend the unborn but use those platforms to actively harm the unborn.
What is almost worse is that Lexington Kentucky Bishop John Stowe criticized Pro-Life people whom he alleged “don’t really ‘respect life’” because they don’t advocate for free healthcare for all. Stowe also tweeted,
“Those who vehemently fight legal abortion but are uninterested in providing basic healthcare for pregnant mothers or needy children… can’t really claim to respect life.”
In contrast, Providence, Rhode Island Bishop Joseph Tobin, who has stated in the past that he wouldn’t give communion to pro-abortion politicians, tweeted in response to a tweet by Biden: “Devout ‘Catholic’ Joe Biden continues to fervently support and promote the death of unborn children in abortion.”
Chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-life Activities Archbishop Joseph Naumann released a statement praising the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops’ announcement pointing to Texas’s recent expansion of the state’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program. This program provides financial as well as other forms of assistance to mothers with crisis pregnancies.
There is clearly a divide in the Church on an issue about which the Church has been clear since its inception (CCC 2271). Support for abortion entails denying the dignity that God bestowed on all of those He created (Gen 1:26-27, RSV).
To bridge the divide in the Church, clergy need to continue to share the teachings of the Church as they have been and stand for the dignity of the unborn. And Pope Francis needs to lead and affirm American bishops like Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop Tobin. These U.S. bishops have been spreading the good news about the pro-life movement’s continued commitment to helping both mother and child, and to promote the Church’s pro-life teaching.
In a recent interview with the Pope, an American Vatican correspondent asked the Pontiff about withholding communion from politicians who support abortion. Francis doubled down on his condemnation of abortion saying, “abortion is homicide.” However, when pressed on the issue of denying communion to pro-abortion politicians, he responded that “bishops must take a pastoral approach rather than wade into the political sphere.”
Elaborating on that approach, Francis called for bishops to be “shepherds” saying, “And what should a shepherd do? Be a shepherd. Not going around condemning. They must be a shepherd, in God’s style, which is closeness, compassion, and tenderness.”
Allowing people to advocate public sin and still receive the Eucharist is neither kind nor compassionate. Jesus continually called for righteous anger when confronting evil.
It is time for the Pope to do the same and lead on this issue, back up those bishops standing for the truth, and lovingly correct those like Bishop Stowe who make unfair comparisons. It is far past time, as Cordileone noted in a recent op-ed, to deny communion to those with responsibility who publicly reject church teaching and the teachings of the One who died so that the faithful could receive His flesh and blood.