Recent reports that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops may at their spring general assembly press pro-abortion Catholic politicians not to receive Communion are unfounded, and at best ignorant of ecclesial structure, a source close to the conference has told CNA.

A source close to the USCCB told CNA April 29 that they believe such reports from the AP and the Washington Post are either “just totally ignorant of the Church's structure,” or meant “to pressure the bishops into silence” regarding the Equality Act.

The Equality Act would amend federal civil rights law and create protected classes for sexual orientation and gender identity, extending those protections to all areas where race is currently protected.

The USCCB has said the bill is “well-intentioned but ultimately misguided,” that its language “discriminates against people of faith and threatens unborn life,” and that it would force “novel and divisive viewpoints regarding ‘gender’ on individuals and organizations.”

At the US bishops’ spring general assembly, either the doctrine committee will present a “broad document” on fitness for reception of Communion, or there will be a vote to consider such a document at the next meeting, in November, the source said.

One bishop is expected to issue a document on Communion early next month.

At the closing of the USCCB’s November 2020 general assembly its president, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, announced the creation of a bishops’ working group to deal with President Joe Biden, who as a prominent Catholic in public life has taken public stances against Church teaching.

“The president-elect has given us reason to believe that his faith commitments will move him to support some good policies. This includes policies of immigration reform, refugees and the poor, and against racism, the death penalty, and climate change,” Archbishop Gomez said Nov. 17.

“He has also given us reason to believe that he will support policies that are against some fundamental values that we hold dear as Catholics. These policies include: the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the preservation of Roe vs. Wade. Both of these policies undermine our preeminent priority of the elimination of abortion,” said the archbishop.

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“This is a difficult and complex situation,” Archbishop Gomez told his fellow bishops. “In order to help us to navigate it, [the conference] will appoint a working group, chaired by Archbishop Vigneron and consisting of the chairmen of the committees responsible for the policy areas at stake, as well as the committee on doctrine and communications.”

In February, a source at the USCCB told CNA that the working group, which was meant to be temporary, had reportedly accomplished its assignment. Archbishop Vigneron “has made a proposal that the full body of bishops issue a pastoral statement later this year on the general issue of worthiness for communion.”

The group advised Archbishop Gomez to send an open letter to Biden before his inauguration outlining areas of policy agreement and disagreement with the conference and presenting the Church’s teachings on those matters. The letter should clarify that not all policy issues share the same gravity, and that some issues are more important than others, the group noted.

Those concerns were included in Archbishop Gomez’s Jan. 20 statement on behalf of the conference. That statement was initially withheld, and then released later in the day around the time Pope Francis issued his statement.

The USCCB working group also called for a teaching document on the Eucharist, CNA had confirmed.

The document should instruct the faithful about worthy reception of Holy Communion, the working group said, and it should also clarify that Catholic politicians have a special responsibility to uphold the Church’s teachings in public life. Catholic holders of public office should not present themselves for Communion if they contradict Church teaching on grave moral issues, and have been warned already by a pastor, the working group stressed.

According to the USCCB source, that “pastoral statement” will be accompanied by “individual bishops” who “are going to issue their own statements on eucharistic coherence.”

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In March, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois told a regional conference of the Canon Law Society of America that Catholics who publicly and obstinately advocate for abortion, including politicians, can and should be denied Communion: “I'm talking about their external actions. If they're living in a way or holding positions that are contrary to church teaching, then the Minister of Communion has to deny them the sacrament,” he said.

Earlier this month Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix released Veneremur Cernui, an apostolic exhortation on the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It says that “Holy Communion is reserved for those, who with God’s grace make a sincere effort to live this union with Christ and His Church by adhering to all that the Catholic Church believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

This is why the Church “requires Catholic leaders who have publicly supported gravely immoral laws such as abortion and euthanasia to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they publicly repent and receive the Sacrament of Penance,” Bishop Olmsted taught.

In an April 14 column on Eucharistic coherence, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver wrote that “the Eucharist is a gift, not an entitlement, and the sanctity of that gift is only diminished by unworthy reception. Because of the public scandal caused, this is especially true in the case of public officials who persistently govern in violation of the natural law, particularly the pre-eminent issues of abortion and euthanasia, the taking of innocent life, as well as other actions that fail to uphold the church's teaching regarding the dignity of life.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, in a January interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, said that Communion could be withheld “for the sake” of someone’s soul, but only after “private conversations” had taken place between the pastor and the Catholic “to try to move the person in their conscience.”

During his homily at the Vigil Mass for Life in January, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas taught that Catholics should not receive Communion if they are contradicting “fundamental” Church teaching.

In 2004 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told US bishops in a memo that a Catholic politician “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” is engaged in “manifest” and “formal cooperation” in grave sin.

In such a case, the politician’s “pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.”

If the Catholic perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

The CDF memo was an application of canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Both Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, and Bishop William Malooly of Wilmington have said they would not deny Communion to a politician who consistently works toward permissive abortion laws or policies.

In October 2019, while campaigning for president, Biden was denied Communion at a parish in the Diocese of Charleston. 

A Charleston diocesan policy states that “Catholic public officials who consistently support abortion on demand are cooperating with evil in a public manner. By supporting pro-abortion legislation they participate in manifest grave sin, a condition which excludes them from admission to Holy Communion as long as they persist in the pro-abortion stance.”