The Return of Courage Among American Catholics

Posted on Wednesday, July 20, 2022
by Seamus Brennan

AMAC Exclusive – By Seamus Brennan

2022 has been a banner year for American Catholics. From the historic overturning of Roe v. Wade to this summer’s Supreme Court victories for school choice and the right to public prayer, U.S. Catholics have in recent months made groundbreaking progress on some of their most hard-fought battles. Thanks to these victories, the Church—and every American who makes common cause with Catholic efforts to defend the dignity of life and human freedom—has reason to be optimistic for the future of the faith.

But the promising state of the Catholic Church in America goes far beyond its latest slate of Court victories. After decades of relentless hostility from the Democratic Party and corporate media entities, the American Church is now showing refreshing signs of moral, spiritual, and political courage—and every American Catholic should rejoice in that fact.

Last November, most notably, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a major letter containing official guidance for Catholic Bishops on offering the Sacrament of the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) to self-professed Catholic politicians who take public policy positions that run contrary to the teachings of the Church.

The Eucharist, as understood by the Church, is “the source and summit of the Christian life” and is believed by Catholics to consist of the physical Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. For all of the Church’s history, reception of the Eucharist by the Catholic faithful has signaled both communion with the Catholic Church and a full acceptance of the Church’s authority to teach on faith and morals. As such, Catholic political leaders who publicly stray from the infallible teachings of the Church are engaged in what the Church defines as scandal—because it causes confusion and doubt among the faithful about what the Church actually teaches about faith and moral. Like abortion itself, the Church considers the causing of scandal to be a mortal sin (a sin that, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law” and “turns man away from God”).

“[Catholic] [l]ay people who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to form their consciences in accord with the Church’s faith and the moral law, and to serve the human family by upholding human life and dignity,” the letter states. “It is the special responsibility of the diocesan bishop,” the letter continues, “to work to remedy situations that involve public actions [by Catholics] at variance with the visible communion of the Church and the moral law. Indeed, he must guard the integrity of the sacrament, the visible communion of the Church, and the salvation of souls.”

Although the guidance was largely perceived to have been issued in response to self-avowed Catholic figures like President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who have continued to advocate for abortion-on-demand—it stopped short of calling out either figure by name.

Following the release of the letter, a handful of American bishops have already begun staking out leadership roles on the matter. The most notable instance of clerical leadership following the letter’s release can be traced, ironically, to the liberal epicenter of San Francisco, where Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone made the courageous decision to disallow Pelosi from receiving Holy Communion on account of her public support for abortion.

“After numerous attempts to speak with her to help her understand the grave evil she is perpetrating, the scandal she is causing, and the danger to her own soul she is risking, I have determined that the point has come in which I must make a public declaration that she is not to be admitted to Holy Communion,” Cordileone wrote in a May statement.

Considering the Church’s longstanding hesitancy to weigh in directly on the problem of politicians who violate the Church’s moral teachings, it is difficult to overstate the significance of Cordileone’s decision to deny Pelosi the sacrament. And just as encouragingly, the decision has received the support of a growing number of bishops throughout the nation—indicating that the desire for a Church that is unafraid to speak the truth openly and confidently is far stronger than it may otherwise appear.

Meanwhile, however, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. has continued to offer President Biden Communion—whose receipt of Communion likely amounts to a far worse instance of scandal given Biden’s high profile position as the only Catholic president in American history who has advocated for the extreme position of abortion-on-demand as a constitutional right. (Gregory’s continued willingness to offer Biden Communion has called his judgement into question among some Catholics, especially given that Gregory did not hesitate to declare as “reprehensible” former President Donald Trump’s June 2, 2020 visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington to honor Pope John Paul’s extraordinary legacy of standing up for religious freedom.)

But fortunately, the Cordileone decision is not the only sign of hope for a revival of fortitude among the American clergy. Other bishops in dioceses throughout the nation have followed Cordileone’s lead and issued similar statements—including the Colorado bishops, who in response to a state-level pro-abortion bill, requested that politicians who voted for the legislation “refrain” from receiving Holy Communion. “The burden from their decision does not rest upon the shoulders of priests, deacons or lay Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. It rests upon the consciences and souls of those politicians who have chosen to support this evil and unjust law,” the bishops wrote.

Moreover, last month, Bishop Robert McManus of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts took the controversial step of revoking the Catholic status of a middle school for flying rainbow and Black Lives Matter flags in front of its building. “The flying of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues,” McManus said in a June 16 statement.

McManus’s actions stand in sharp contrast to other Christian leaders throughout the nation—many of whom permit the flying of such flags at their churches. Biden’s own Catholic parish in Washington, for instance, boasted a Black Lives Matter flag during the week of Biden’s inauguration in 2021.

The scandal proliferated by ostensibly Catholic politicians like Biden and Pelosi has ultimately contributed to previously unimaginable levels of hostility towards unborn life—most clearly seen with figures like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who recently called to shut down crisis pregnancy centers throughout the nation. (Warren’s comments follow weeks of unprecedented acts of violence and vandalism against the very same pregnancy centers.)

Therefore, as political activism among the Catholic faithful continues to intensify, those leading the charge regard it as vital that the American bishops lead the way. Fortunately, they can look to brother bishops like Cordileone, McManus, and others who embody the virtue of fortitude in responding to the moral challenges of the day.

In a powerful November 2021 speech, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles reminded Catholics that—despite the extreme dangers posed by the American left—it is the Gospel, not the left, that ultimately “remains the most powerful force for social change that the world has ever seen.”

Should American Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, take Archbishop Gomez’s reminder to heart, and turn to the Gospels and courageously defend the truths of Christianity—regardless of how much the left may be fighting to resist them—they could spur a momentous spiritual and cultural revival in the United States and an authentic and powerful Christian witness in the world. And in the end, Christians of every stripe should hope for nothing less.