Renee Schafer Horton: With latest stance, bishops demonstrate their cluelessness

Arizona Daily Star [Tucson AZ]

June 27, 2021

By Renee Schafer Horton

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

I have a Catholic friend who can’t receive Eucharist.

This isn’t because she’s a sinner; far from it. Rather it is because ever since the decadeslong, thought-it-was-over clergy sex abuse crisis reappeared in a horrific August 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, she fears no priest is worthy of handling Jesus in Communion.

Her stance came to mind after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ decision June 18 to draft a “teaching document” on the Eucharist.

The document’s outline, as reported in various media outlets, would emphasize church teachings on the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and, according to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, “how participation in the Eucharist compels us to conversion.” Rhoades is chairman of the USCCB’s doctrine committee.

The controversial part is a subset of this conversion paragraph that addresses “Eucharistic consistency,” which is theological language for “Don’t be in a state of mortal sin when receiving Communion.”

There’s no doubt many Catholics need Eucharistic education. There’s also no doubt this document is aimed at Catholic politicians, in particular the first U.S. Catholic president in more than 60 years: Joe Biden.

Chatter about the need for Eucharistic clarification began shortly after Biden was elected because he stated that, despite his personal objection to abortion, as president he would support U.S. law, which allows legal abortion.

The measure passed 168-55, with six abstentions, demonstrating that the USCCB is in full thrall of traditionalist bishops and that abortion — not the Eucharist — has become the source and summit of their teaching office. The document will be presented, debated and acted upon at the bishops’ November meeting.

Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium #47 that “the Eucharist, although it is the fulness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. … The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone with all their problems.”

Apparently, the majority of U.S. bishops disagree.

There are times I am not worthy to receive Communion and, believe you me, I know it when it happens. The Holy Spirit won’t let me near the Eucharist until I’m on my knees in confession.

I’m 99.9% positive the same thing happens to Biden and any other religiously observant, religiously aware Catholic. The communication about our worthiness does not come from a pastor or bishop, but rather loud and clear from God.

The bishops claim this document is needed for many reasons, but a primary one is “public dissent.” Politicians must govern for a country with people from all faiths and no faiths, despite their own faith. A Catholic president has to govern as a president, not a Catholic.

But this can put bishops in a difficult teaching position because small but mighty #radtrads in the pews are pushing bishops to be “firm” with Catholic politicians.

I was exceedingly disappointed that Biden performed political calculus and said he affirmed the legal right to abortion despite his personal stance against it. He could have just refused to dive into the culture wars.

But I also know Biden was trying to save the country from Donald Trump. He was willing to give certain things to get the most unqualified, dangerous president in a century out of the White House. I didn’t like it, but I understood he was thinking of the greater good.

That greater good has shown in everything else Biden has done since in office. His anti-poverty proposals are near-miracle-level ideas pushed for decades by the church. But the USCCB has drawn the red line on abortion because they believe public dissent on this issue undermines the bishops’ authority on faith and morals.

This was demonstrated when San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said, as quoted by LifeSiteNews, “If we fail now and do not act courageously in presenting … this teaching clearly and convincingly, on this core Catholic value, how can we expect to be taken seriously when speaking on any other topic?”

I spit out my coffee reading that line. Two-thirds of the USCCB still believes the majority of Catholics take them seriously? After Pennsylvania? After the revelations about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick? No. We. Don’t.

(Note to USCCB: If you still don’t understand what Catholics wanted you to do after the sex abuse crisis and why a good number still think you’re hiding something, feel free to call me because I’ve kept a list as my friends have abandoned the faith.)

For a decade, I was an opinion writer for the Catholic newspaper in the Dallas Diocese. In one column, I condemned Catholic pro-lifers for un-Christlike (and possibly illegal) behavior toward a doctor who performed abortions in my town.

Some parishioners went to my pastor and demanded he deny me Communion. Lucky for me, those Catholics knew me only through my writing, whereas my pastor knew me through my life.

He knew I came to Mass more than once a week, taught religious education, housed a seminarian in our four-child-crowded home when no one else in the parish (including those condemning me) would volunteer for the seven-month assignment, decorated and cleaned the church, helped new moms in crisis, played guitar for Mass and always said “yes” when he called with a request. Plus, he heard my confessions, so he knew my heart and my faith. He did not deny me Communion.

It is no doubt the same with Biden. His pastor knows him. His bishop knows him. No matter what is decided by the USCCB, Biden won’t be denied Jesus at the altar because there are only two people who can keep a Catholic from the Eucharist: his bishop and the pope, both of whom have said they will not do that to Biden.

The only thing this document will do is demonstrate — again! — the USCCB’s cluelessness about how many Catholics see the bishops, not themselves, as unworthy.

After the meeting, Lexington, Kentucky, Bishop John Stowe took to Twitter and said, “There’s a reason the longstanding pastoral practice of the church is to presume people present themselves for Communion in good conscience. Jesus is at work in their lives in ways we will never know.”

Amen, brother. If only your fellow bishops will listen to you.