Jesuit priest responds to statement of pro-abortion Catholic members of Congress

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), one of the signers of the "Statement of Principles" of Catholic House Democrats | ev radin/Shutterstock

A Jesuit priest and radio host on Thursday critiqued a recent statement by Catholic House Democrats, who had asked not to be denied Communion for their pro-abortion policy stances.

In a column published Thursday in the National Catholic Register, Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ, host and producer of the radio show “The Catholic Current,” argued that appeals to “conscience” and the “common good” by pro-abortion Catholic members of Congress were faulty.

Key to this debate, he said, was a discussion of the U.S. bishops last week on “Eucharistic consistency,” the Church’s teaching on worthiness to receive Communion. At their annual spring meeting, held virtually this year, the bishops voted decisively to approve the drafting of a teaching document on the Eucharist.

Included in a proposed outline of the document was a subsection on Eucharistic consistency; the bishops’ doctrine committee, which proposed drafting the document, has said it would also include a “special call for those Catholics who are cultural, political, or parochial leaders to witness to the faith” and uphold Church teaching in public life.

“What the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops debated last week, and what the advocates of the Statement hold, touch upon human dignity and divine sovereignty.  There really is a truly Catholic way of getting this right, and no one can afford to get this wrong,” Fr. McTeigue wrote.

Fr. McTeigue is a priest in the Eastern Province of the Society of Jesus. His radio show airs through The Station of the Cross radio network and on the iCatholicRadio app. He is also a member of the National Ethics Board of the Catholic Medical Association.

Last week, 60 House Democrats published a “Statement of Principles” during the meeting of the U.S. bishops, asking not to be denied Communion because of their stances on abortion. While the bishops discussed worthiness to receive Communion at their meeting, they voted simply to begin drafting a document on the Eucharist that would include a subsection on Eucharistic consistency. They did not vote on any national policy of denying Communion.

The Catholic members last Friday stated their commitment to a “living Catholic tradition,” the common good, and the “primacy of conscience,” while asking that politicians not be denied Communion because of support for “a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion.”

Fr. McTeigue responded to their statement in his column.

Citing the members’ professed commitment to the “common good,” he warned against a “utilitarian” view of the common good, and said that abortion can never be a part of the common good.

“All of our striving — and all of our individual, communal, public and private actions — ought to facilitate virtue and holiness in this life so that we may enjoy beatitude in the next,” he wrote. “Properly understood, the common good cannot possibly tolerate, much less advocate abortion.”

He quoted the members’ appeal to conscience: “In all these issues, we seek the Church's guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience.” 

In response, Fr. McTeigue wrote, “A careful placing of the word ‘but’ in the statement above makes the loophole a six-lane highway aimed away from the Church. “

“The work of conscience is primarily the work of reason,” he said, and is supposed to operate prior to emotion and in accord with Church teaching.

“Reason (rightly exercised) and faith (rightly understood) do have primacy, inasmuch as one can’t do good and avoid evil consistently without them,” he wrote. “At the same time, right reason and true faith preclude the use of the word ‘but,’ when that word is used to separate the conscience from sacred Revelation entrusted by Christ to the Church he founded.”

Noting the members’ professed membership in the “living Catholic tradition,” Fr. McTeigue offered a critique of that phrase.

The phrase “connotes that we aren’t bound to honor or preserve tradition, but that we’ll do what we want while keeping only the name of the tradition,” he wrote. “The ‘living’ part is expedient change; the ‘tradition’ part is we’re keeping the brand name.”

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He invited signers of the statement onto his radio show on Friday.

“Let’s talk about it.  In the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15, write to to set up an on-air conversation with me,” he wrote. “I promise to be fair, polite, and charitable.”

In their statement, the 60 Catholic House Democrats urged not to be denied Communion.

“We solemnly urge you to not move forward and deny this most holy of all sacraments, the source and the summit of the whole work of the gospel over one issue,” they stated, addressing the “Church” in their statement.

They said to deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians amounted to a “weaponization of the Eucharist,” and said that to do so “would indeed grieve the Holy Spirit and deny the evolution of that individual, a Christian person who is never perfect, but living in the struggle to get there.”

The members stated that their faith informs their actions, through “helping the poor, disadvantaged, and the oppressed, protecting the least among us, and ensuring that all Americans of every faith are given meaningful opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country.” They added that “we have a claim on the Church's bearing as it does on ours.”

Individual bishops have spoken out recently about the issue of Communion for pro-abortion politicians.

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Regarding claims that issuing a statement on worthiness to receive Communion might be controversial and imperil the unity of Catholics, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois said this week that “There should be no unity with iniquity.”  

Eucharistic consistency isn’t simply about “abortion and euthanasia,” he said, but the problem of grave sin “of any kind.”

“It has been the constant teaching of the Catholic Church for the past two thousand years that those persons conscious of grave sin must first repent, confess their sins to a priest, and receive sacramental absolution before receiving holy Communion,” Paprocki said.

“This teaching is reflected in the Church’s canon law and sacramental discipline,” he noted.