Pro-Life Catholic Democrat Dan Lipinski Supports Clarity From US Bishops on ‘Eucharistic Coherence’
In an interview with the Register, the former co-chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus also warns that both the Democratic and Republican parties are becoming ‘fundamentalist religions.’
Former U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Catholic pro-life Democrat from Illinois, is calling for clarity from the U.S. bishops in their upcoming document on the Eucharist that will include a section on worthiness to receive Communion.
Lipinski, an eight-term congressman who lost his 2020 primary to pro-abortion challenger Marie Newman after abortion groups backed her with substantial funding, believes this clarity is urgently needed amid attempts to “sow confusion” for Catholic Democratic politicians who break with Church teaching on abortion.
In a commentary he wrote for First Things magazine, Lipinski responded to a “statement of principles” 60 Catholic Democrats released following the bishops’ approval on moving forward with a document on the Eucharist, where they argued against denying the Eucharist to politicians like themselves who support “legal access to abortion.”
He spoke with the Register Tuesday about where these members of Congress were coming from and where they went wrong. He also discussed his belief that the Democratic and Republican parties have become “fundamentalist religions” in a way that is dangerous for Catholics and for the country.
What did you make of the U.S. bishops’ passionate debate on “Eucharistic coherence”? What are you hoping to see in the document that they are planning to draft?
I am very happy that they voted to go ahead to draft the document because I think that it is really needed, not just for Catholic politicians, but for all Catholics. Obviously, when 70% of Catholics say they don’t believe in the Real Presence, there is a real issue with Catholics understanding the Eucharist and reception of Holy Communion. I think it’s understandable that this got caught up into the whole political debate and people started looking at this completely as being about the politics. Everyone was looking at “Should Joe Biden be denied Communion?” But it’s much bigger and broader than that, and so it was disappointing that there is as much controversy over it as there is. But I think that it’s a teaching document, and I think it’s really needed right now.
In First Things, you mention how “poor catechesis” has led to Catholic politicians who are confused about Church teaching and abortion. How much of the Catholic Democrats’ “statement of principles,” and reactions like the tweet from California Rep. Ted Lieu “daring” the bishops to deny him Communion over abortion support, was genuine confusion about Church teaching on the matter?
I wanted to make clear in my First Things piece that you have to look at where these members are coming from and all the political pressures — all the reward, punishment on this issue, if you are a Democrat, is going to be coming from the other side.
There are rewards if you declare your support for what now has become a doctrine of the Democratic Party, an extreme pro-abortion position. If you support that, you get the benefits; and if you don’t support it, you’re risking your political career if you are a Democrat. I understood this risk. But I couldn’t give up what I truly believe is right and true and one of the things that I will be judged on in the end.
What do we have, what do the bishops have? The bishops don’t have money for campaigns or workers for campaigns, they don’t have that much influence in that way, but the bishops, the Catholic Church has the truth.
I don’t believe that anyone is choosing a political office and really wants to trade their soul. I don’t think that’s something people want. To me, it’s just a confusion over why it is that it is important as an elected official to protect life. ... There’s a lot of people that like to sow that confusion and say, “Look at Catholic social teaching. It mentions a lot of other things, caring for the poor and the hungry and immigrants.” I heard it many times — that if you take care of most of those things, then you’re good. And I just always understood that I need to protect the life of the unborn and need to protect all innocent life and the other issues are very important. I know that I will be judged also on how I cared for the poor, the hungry, but when it comes to government policy, the exact amount of money that the federal government should be spending for food assistance, for example, that’s not clear [in Catholic social teaching]. But it is clear that we should be protecting unborn children in the womb and caring for their mothers.
For years as a member of Congress, I heard people talking all the time about “these are all important issues,” as they are, but I’m not exactly sure how the bishops can get across that it’s not an issue of prudential judgment whether or not we should be protecting the unborn. Prudential judgment comes down to how do we best take care of the poor, and I would have debates with colleagues of mine in Congress, Catholic colleagues, disagreements over the level of funding for some of these government programs. We didn’t agree, but I believe that these other members of Congress were coming at it from a place of really caring for the poor; but we had a different prudential judgment on how much funding should be in the budget for these programs. But just trying to continue to get across that there’s a clear line that we need to protect the unborn: There’s no question about that. It’s a Catholic doctrine of understanding that this is a human person that deserves protection.
I ran for Congress in 2004; first time I ran for political office. I ran as a Democrat, and I knew being pro-life was going to be a minority position in the party, but I knew I was always going to be pro-life and I was going to be pro-life because I truly believe that the baby in the womb is a human person who deserves protection. I learned that first as a kid when I was in Catholic school and at church, but then I also came to understand that science shows us that is a child. I never saw that I had a choice if I was going to support laws to protect that child.
In what way have the Democratic and Republican parties become their own “religions,” and how will this affect how our country operates?
It’s something that I experienced, and since I’ve lost the primary and have left office, I’ve done some writing on this topic from a couple different perspectives. From one perspective, what it means for Catholics, that Americans are now being told they have to choose either the left way, the Democratic way, or the right way, the Republican way. There’s only two ways to think [this thinking goes] — all the issues are laid out, the position that you’re supposed to take, and you need to choose one of these — and you have to subscribe to every single policy, every doctrine of these parties. That’s why the parties are becoming fundamentalist religions, and what we have is a sectarian battle going on.
From the Catholic perspective, it is dangerous because Catholics don’t fit neatly into either of these two. Catholics need to have the courage to be Catholic first and to hold on to what they have learned, what they know, as a Catholic, and to live out all of Catholic social teaching, not choose certain parts of it.
Now, when we look to the government, our system doesn’t work; our American system set up in the Constitution does not work when you have two sectarian parties. We have two parties where the two sides say, “The other side is evil; we can’t work with them, so it’s either our way or no way.” ... I used to teach this all the time: Our government was set up to try to force deliberation and really talking through issues and compromise in order to come up with solutions to come up with the laws that govern our country. Right now, we don’t see any deliberation; we don’t see compromise.
Our country cannot continue on that way. We’re a very evenly divided country. I think there are a lot of issues that are not being addressed. Every once in a while, one party gets enough control to force some something through, but I don’t think it’s the best policies that are getting done when anything does get done. And like I said, a lot of things are not getting addressed. I think, for those reasons, it’s very dangerous for our country, but it’s also very dangerous for Catholics to hold on to their beliefs, their understanding of the world as a Catholic and standing up for the values that we have as Catholics, the true understanding of what justice is.
What did you make of the claim that denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians would be “weaponizing the Eucharist” on a single issue?
I understand those who have that concern, and I’ve been very careful not to try to tell the bishops what they should do and how they should teach. As a former college professor, I know that there are different methods of teaching. They need to determine here what the best method to teach Catholics about the Eucharist is. I think it’s important for everyone to go back to needing to be in a state of grace in order to receive Holy Communion. Most Catholics don’t understand that.
There’s not going to be a blanket denial. There never will be a blanket denial of Holy Communion. This document is going to be teaching Catholics, and also the bishops teaching each other, probably, about the best way to get Catholics to understand the Eucharist and what they need to be doing in order to be in a state of grace to receive Communion. I think a lot of people are looking at this through a political lens.
I believe the bishops are coming from, at least most of the bishops are coming from, the place of feeling like they need to better catechize Catholics about the Eucharist and receiving Holy Communion, and it’s not just political. And we all as Catholics need to look at what do we believe; and how do we prepare ourselves to receive Communion? It’s an issue for all of us.
President Biden has said in the past that he’s prepared to accept “on faith” that life begins at conception, but he’s not prepared to “say that” to others with a different view. What do you think of this argument?
Having come to that conclusion, I don’t see how I don’t work to protect that life if I believe that is a life, and I also believe science shows us that is a life, then it’s deserving of protection. I could not come to a different conclusion from that. Anyone else is going to have to come up with their own explanation of how they do that, but I couldn’t.
What methods do you recommend, in order to better communicate Church teachings on fundamental moral issues to Catholic politicians who break with those teachings? In your own personal experience, did you find anything to be particularly useful in changing the hearts and minds of other Catholics with whom you worked during your years of political service?
I couldn’t tell you anything that I can say I’ve seen really change hearts and minds on this. I wish I had the answer. I just think it’s always important to be clear and consistent, but there’s no guarantee. There’s nothing that I could say definitely works, but it’s important not to have anyone out there confusing the issue of abortion for Catholics.
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