Politicians, Communion and the Bishops’ Meeting
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
In my last column I introduced the current debate over Catholic public figures who openly support evils like abortion and yet also present themselves for Communion when attending Mass. While this has long been discussed, it has recently garnered more attention not only because our current president falls into this category, but also because of recent headlines made by prominent Church leaders who’ve weighed in on the topic leading up to the U.S. Bishop’s General Assembly meeting in mid-June. 
On May 1, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, archbishop of San Francisco, issued a pastoral letter entitled “Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You: A Pastoral Letter on the Human Dignity of the Unborn, Holy Communion and Catholics in Public Life.” (See https://sfarch.org/inthewomb) 
The letter addresses four basic issues: 
 the gravity of abortion and why it is such a “pre-eminent” concern, 
 the fact that with abortion there may be several people who share moral responsibility (anyone who pressures, encourages, pays for, or supports abortion legislation shares moral responsibility),  
 the role of holy Communion for Catholics and what it means to choose to receive it, and finally 
 the unique responsibilities that Catholics in public life have to witness to the truths of the faith and uphold the Church’s teaching. 
The archbishop doesn’t propose a specific plan of action in the letter. Rather, he states general principles that are meant to contribute to, and guide, the ongoing discussion. Nevertheless, he also makes it clear that denying Communion to a Catholic who publicly advocates for a grave moral evil like abortion is a real possibility in certain circumstances, especially if other means of correction have been exhausted. His letter received a lot of attention, both by those who applauded it, and those who were upset by it. 
Adding even more attention to the issue, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican, sent a letter dated May 7 to Archbishop José Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, encouraging the bishops to proceed with caution in discussing or formulating any sort of national policy regarding Catholic public figures and the reception of Communion. 
While the timing may appear related to the release of Archbishop Cordileone’s pastoral letter, the cardinal’s letter was actually a response to communication that Archbishop Gomez sent back in March informing the Vatican that this issue was to be addressed at the bishop’s meeting in June. Thus, it should not be seen as an attempt to counter what Archbishop Cordileone said in his letter. 
Cardinal Ladaria offers the bishops the following guidance as they discuss the issue. Specifically, he says that any national policy would have to include dialogue in two stages — first, among the bishops themselves, and secondly between the bishop and the public figure within his jurisdiction to assess their understanding of Church teaching, etc. 
Cardinal Ladaria also warns against a policy that seeks to usurp a bishop’s authority in his own diocese and stresses that any such policy would require near unanimity among the U.S. bishops. He warns against possibly creating discord or division not only among themselves as bishops, but also among all Catholics in the U.S. 
He also warns against a policy that focuses too narrowly on only certain moral topics while not addressing others. Rather, he suggests that any such discussion should focus on the eligibility to receive Communion in general, not singling out a specific group. 
Finally, he notes that it would be beneficial to include dialogue with other episcopal conferences outside the U.S. to gain insight and input before proceeding.
While at this stage no one knows what, if any, policy will come from these discussions among the U.S. bishops, two things seem relatively certain: we are unlikely to see a dramatic change in the immediate future, and regardless of what is decided, there will still be much controversy ahead.