In his letter, Bishop O’Connell laid out several reasons why he voted against drafting the document in June. He said he believed the discussion ought to have taken place in person rather than during a virtual meeting.
O’Connell elaborated to CNA that he did not feel comfortable expressing his concerns during the virtual meeting, and that he felt the discussion that took place was not adequate.
While some bishops had moved to change the parliamentary rules of the meeting to allow for unlimited debate time on the motion of the Eucharistic document, that effort failed in a vote on Wednesday. Nevertheless, while debating the motion to draft the Eucharistic document, bishops were allowed to speak in their normal five-minute time slots long after the conference meeting was scheduled to wrap up on July 17.
“If we need to speak with each other about how individual bishops should approach public figures in their dioceses we should do that directly and in person and over time - not just make some vague reference to it in a document on the Eucharist,” Bishop O’Connell told CNA.
“To me, putting this into the document distracts from anything else in the document and is a roundabout way of not having a serious discussion on this critical issue,” he said.
A proposed outline of the Eucharistic document, made available to bishops in advance of the spring meeting, made no mention of public figures and Communion. However, the conference’s doctrine committee - charged with drafting the document - included a letter with the proposed outline, saying the document would include a “special call for those Catholics who are cultural, parochial, or political leaders to witness to the faith.”
O’Connell wrote in his letter that he has “no faith that the document finally produced would be read except for the section on Eucharistic Consistency and then, as with most things, through the lens of the politics of the media on either side of the question.”
The bishop did not lay out his own opinion of whether or not Biden should be admitted to Holy Communion, instead noting that “Canon Law leaves it to his individual bishop and pastor to speak with him and that is a private conversation.”
Bishop O’Connell said he wished to refocus the conversation away from “who should be denied” the Eucharist, and toward “who should receive” the Eucharist.
“As a priest and a bishop giving Holy Communion, I accept the humble ‘Amen’ of our Catholics as they approach the Altar and I leave judgement on specific individuals to the private conversations with their pastors,” he concluded.
The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, and as such must be received worthily.
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Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states that those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
The Catholic Church has always taught that abortion is a grave sin. In a 2004 memo to then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that a politician consistently campaigning for and voting for permissive abortion laws constitutes formal cooperation with evil. Biden has publicly advocated for protection of abortion in law, including the codification of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which mandated permissive abortion laws nationwide.
The next canon, 916, exhorts the individual receiving Communion to be aware of his own worthiness, and to go to confession if conscious of grave sin.
“I think we should further explore that Canon which applies to everyone including the President and take it out of politics,” Bishop O’Connell told CNA.
“We are all unworthy to receive, let that unworthiness be the source of our unity,” he said.
Other bishops, such as canon lawyer Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, have also emphasized the importance of personal discernment and examination of conscience on the part of all Catholics before they approach Holy Communion.