A guide for bishops talking to pro-abortion politicians

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 10, 2014

Speaking with John Allen of Crux about the question of whether pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be denied the Eucharist, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that the American bishops have left that argument behind. “Most don’t think it’s something for which we have to go to the mat,” he said.

That interview with Cardinal Dolan appeared online last week. Then on Sunday, American Catholics went to Mass and heard the Gospel reading from St. Matthew (18: 15-20).

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Don’t those words of our Lord provide a simple guide for pastors in approaching public figures who flout the teachings of the Church?

The American bishops have issued many public statements indicating that support for unrestricted legal abortion is morally indefensible. How many bishops have made a point of visiting offending politicians and speaking with them privately, admonishing them, trying to help them understand that they are in grave spiritual danger? We don’t know, and that’s appropriate. A private conversation should remain private.

But we do know that if those private conversations have taken place, they have not produced the desired effect. So we move to the next step suggested by the Lord: a conversation with “two or three witnesses.” At this point the private admonition would become a matter of public record—not as an abstract public statement, but as a rebuke to a specific individual. This, to my knowledge, has never happened to an American Catholic politician.

Finally, if the public rebuke does not do the trick, Jesus tells his disciples to treat the offender “as a Gentile”—that is, as one who is not in communion with the Church, and therefore someone who should not receive Communion. Thus Canon 915.

For lay Catholics (like myself) who have been arguing for years that the bishops should enforce Canon 915, this passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel might offer a fresh new approach. We have evidently failed to persuade our bishops of their duty; Cardinal Dolan says that they are no longer actively discussing the question. For that matter it might be argued, following the logic of that Gospel passage, that withholding Communion should come only after private and then public admonitions.

So let’s take a different tack, and ask our bishops to move forward just one small step at a time. If you aren’t prepared to safeguard the Blessed Sacrament, are you at least willing to admonish the sinner?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: nix898049 - Sep. 15, 2014 3:43 PM ET USA

    That 'IT' Cardinal Dolan refers to is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, the way I read his statement. Can this mean (and I can hardly comprehend how it could) that Cardinals Dolan, Wuerle, etc. no longer believe in this sacrament?

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Sep. 10, 2014 4:53 PM ET USA

    How can we not be wiiling to "go to the mat" over the "source and summit" of our faith, the entire spiritual treasure of the Church, Jesus! in the Holy Eucharist??? Heaven Help Us!

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Sep. 10, 2014 11:02 AM ET USA

    Those bishops who decry the "war at the Communion rail" (never mind the fact that they've removed the rails from their churches) don't appear to know that those who do implement c. 915 do it according to the norms of Matt. 18. That's why it's only folks like Sebelius or Kerry that we've heard about on this issue.

  • Posted by: Defender - Sep. 10, 2014 10:49 AM ET USA

    I think you should send your guide to all the bishops and add a few other items that the bishops seem to ignore, too. “'Most don’t think it’s something for which we have to go to the mat,' he said." The cardinal should have used "want" instead of "have." How bishops can pick and choose what they want to do, instead of what they have to do (obey Canon Law) makes the laity question what else do they not do. It's been obvious for years that they also have forgotten what "scandal" means anymore.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 10, 2014 10:21 AM ET USA

    So a Cardinal of the Church, in the largest, most prestigious diocese in the U.S., thinks that wholesale slaughter of innocent life "is not something for which (American bishops) have to go to the mat." I can't imagine him displaying a more perfect example of how lost he truly is.