Catholics and Communion
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
Over the last several decades in our country there has been increasing attention paid to Catholics in public life — be they politicians or celebrities — who participate in, or openly support, practices which are inimical to the faith they profess. 
Now that Joe Biden, a Catholic, is president of the United States and unapologetically supports grave moral evils like abortion, it is to be expected that these concerns, and the debate they engender, have become more acute and are not going away any time soon. Rather, there seems to be a growing consensus that they must be addressed authoritatively by the bishops sooner rather than later. 
The basic moral concerns are relatively obvious, not only that some Catholic public figures support moral evils, but especially that some will then present themselves for holy Communion and be allowed to receive it. Herein lies the heart of the concern and the debate surrounding it. 
How can any Catholic who vocally disagrees with or actively works against the most consistent and ancient of Christian moral teachings receive Communion openly and unencumbered? Many Catholics find this situation confusing and troubling, if not outright scandalous. 
The basic question for public figures is essentially the same as it is for any Catholic who attends Mass, “Should I receive communion or not?” Catholics are encouraged to receive the Eucharist often — usually whenever they attend Mass so long as they’re prepared to do so. 
Being prepared means more than simply recognizing Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. It also means that when I examine my conscience, I don’t discover any unrepented mortal sins there. If my conscience tells me that I do have serious sin to account for, then it means I need to avail myself of God’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation before receiving Communion again. This is a teaching that many, if not most of us, are already very familiar with. And this teaching gets to the heart of the controversy over prominent Catholics who publicly go against the moral teaching of the Church while expecting to receive Communion. In most cases it can be safely assumed that those in question are familiar with this teaching as well. 
So, what is to be done?
Typically, there are three basic responses to this dilemma. Some would say that it is the responsibility of the person receiving Communion to make that determination and if they present themselves for Communion, they should be able to receive. Some would say that they should be denied reception. And some would say it’s more complicated than either of those responses. 
So, what does the Church say? Well, the Church says that no one who is conscious of a mortal sin should receive. Is a Catholic politician who supports abortion (or other intrinsically evil action) guilty of a mortal sin? Supporting, encouraging, or enabling a grave moral evil — even if one is not the primary perpetrator — constitutes a serious sin in and of itself. So, presuming that all of the criteria for a mortal sin are present, such a person could be in a state of mortal sin. 
As a reminder, those three conditions for a sin to be mortal are that the act in question is seriously evil, the person does it with full knowledge that it’s seriously evil and gives their full consent to doing it. While it’s relatively easy to establish whether or not that first criteria is met, the other two are more difficult without the person in question revealing them. This would require, at the very least, a frank conversation.
Recently, there have been some prominent prelates in the Church who have weighed in on this issue and have found themselves in the headlines leading up to the next meeting of all the U.S. bishops in June. 
In my next article, we’ll take a look at some of the recent statements which have garnered so much attention.