Bishop McElroy: Some Bishops Making Abortion a Political ‘Litmus Test’
Bishop McElroy spoke at an online event of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The bishop of San Diego on Monday accused “some bishops” of making the issue of abortion a “litmus test” for Catholic politicians during the Biden presidency.
With the inauguration of Joe Biden as just the second Catholic president in United States history, “some bishops want to recast the presence and tone of the conference in the public order,” said Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego at an online event on Monday.
These bishops, he said, “argue that abortion is not merely a ‘preeminent’ issue in Catholic Social Teaching, but rather constitutes the de facto litmus test for determining whether a Catholic public official is a faithful Catholic, and for determining whether the overall policy stances of non-Catholic officials can be considered morally legitimate.”
He added that “if adopted, such a position will reduce the common good to a single issue.”
Bishop McElroy spoke at an online event of Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life; the event focused on how new President Biden, the U.S. bishops, and Pope Francis might work to promote the teachings of the Church in public policy.
Biden has publicly voted pro-abortion during his time in the U.S. Senate, officiated a same-sex wedding while vice president in 2016, and has supported taxpayer-funded abortion while a presidential candidate. On Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, he stated his commitment to codifying Roe.
Biden has also received praise from the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) for executive actions on immigration, fair housing, and stopping federal contracts with private prisons.
At Monday’s event, Bishop McElroy acknowledged that while President Biden is committed to fighting racism and protecting immigrants and the environment, he has not acted to overturn legal abortion.
However, Bishop McElroy added, some bishops are advancing “an overall stance of confrontation” with the new president rather than the conference’s traditional strategy of “engagement, dialogue, and critique.”
In contrast to this confrontational approach, Pope Francis “has placed encounter, dialogue, honesty and collaboration at the heart of his approach to public conversation,” Bishop McElroy said, and is “unlikely to endorse” punitive actions such as withholding Communion from Biden because of his public abortion advocacy.
As in 2004, when Catholic Democrat John Kerry ran for president, the topic of denying Holy Communion to publicly pro-abortion politicians has once again surfaced with the election of Biden.
Under Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, some bishops have previously withheld Holy Communion from publicly pro-abortion politicians because of their “obstinate” support for the grave evil of legal abortion, in the face of admonishment.
However, other bishops — including Bishop William Malooly of Wilmington and Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. —have said recently or in the past that they would not withhold Holy Communion from a politician such as Biden.
As part of the USCCB’s “working group” on dealing with Biden, the group will be drafting a statement on “Eucharistic coherence” of Catholics who publicly oppose Church teaching on grave matters.
When asked by moderator Kim Daniels if teaching about “Eucharistic coherence” in the Biden presidency is a “good idea,” Bishop McElroy replied “No. I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
The matter of Communion for Catholic politicians is a pastoral concern, he said, and should be addressed by Biden’s bishops in D.C. and in his home diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.
“The conference has no pastoral relationship with President Biden,” he said.
“I do not see how depriving the president or other political leaders the Eucharist, based on their public policy stance, can be interpreted in our society as anything other than a weaponization of the Eucharist and an effort not to convince people by argument, and by dialogue and reason, but rather, to pummel them into submission on the issue [of abortion],” he said.
Other bishops have mentioned the topic of Eucharistic coherence in recent days, framing it within the broader teaching of worthiness to receive Holy Communion.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, in an interview with EWTN Pro-Life Weekly last week, said that Communion can be withheld from someone “for the sake of their soul” but only after “private conversations to try to move the person in their conscience” have taken place.
Furthermore, he added, Catholics must recover the “bigger picture” of “worthiness to receive Communion,” and “to be in the state of grace.”
In his homily at the annual Vigil Mass for Life on Jan. 28, the USCCB’s pro-life chair also preached that Catholics should not receive Communion if they are contradicting “fundamental” Church teaching.
Archbishop Joseph Naummann of Kansas City said that “integrity requires that a Catholic not receive the Eucharist while acting in a manner incoherent with fundamental Catholic teaching.” He made that statement after explaining the Church’s teaching on reception of Communion as something neither “inhospitable” nor “exclusive.”
The topic of abortion as a “preeminent” concern of the conference also came up on Monday.
In a Jan. 21 statement on the day of Biden’s inauguration, the USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles issued a statement that the bishops would pray for Biden. He emphasized that bishops “are not partisan players” but are pastors responsible for souls.
While noting areas of agreement between the conference and Biden on issues such as immigration, he said that “the continued injustice of abortion remains the ‘preeminent priority’” of the conference.
“‘Preeminent’ does not mean ‘only’,” Archbishop Gomez said, but “abortion is a direct attack on life that also wounds the woman and undermines the family.”
At the U.S. bishops’ fall meeting in 2019, Bishop McElroy argued against calling abortion the “preeminent” concern of the conference, saying that to do so was “at least discordant with the Pope’s teaching, if not inconsistent.”
“It is not Catholic teaching that abortion is the preeminent issue that we face in the world of Catholic social teaching. It is not,” Bishop McElroy said.