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Catholic Leaders Urge Bishops to Stop Playing Politics with Communion


June 16, 2021


Austin Schuler, aschuler@faithinpubliclife.org, 540-280-3393

John Gehring, jgehring@faithinpubliclife.org, 410-302-3792

Catholic Leaders Urge Bishops to Stop Playing Politics with Communion

Calls to deny President Biden Communion weaponize a holy sacrament  

Washington, D.C. –  As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers for their annual spring meeting this week, they’ll vote on whether to draft a document that could recommend denying Communion to President Biden and other pro-choice Catholic elected officials. In response, Catholic leaders from across the country are urging bishops to stop playing politics with Communion.

“We urge you to follow the pastoral model of Pope Francis and reject turning the altar into a battleground in the culture wars,” reads an open letter signed by over 800 Catholic advocates and theologians. “A holy sacrament should never be weaponized for political ends. After a presidential election when some bishops were cheerleaders for Donald Trump, Catholics want to see our church leaders start acting like pastors and not a partisan choir for any political party.”

The letter, organized by Faith in Public Life, notes that Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who leads the Vatican’s doctrine office, warned in a letter to the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference that using the Eucharist to police pro-choice elected officials would further divide the church, and send the “misleading” message that abortion is the only moral issue addressed by Catholic teaching.

But the most conservative bishops continue to target President Biden, only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, for his support of reproductive rights. Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chair of the bishops’ pro-life committee, has even challenged the president’s right to call himself a Catholic and praised a South Carolina priest who denied Biden Communion during the presidential campaign. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone released a letter to his diocese last month calling for pro-choice Catholic politicians to be barred from Communion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a pro-choice Catholic, resides in the San Francisco archdiocese.

“Instead of playing single-issue politics with Communion, church leaders should stay out of the culture wars, navigate disagreement with civility and find common ground with a Catholic president who can be an ally on many issues,” said John Gehring, Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life. “The fact that urgent moral issues like growing economic inequality, racism and brazen partisan attacks on voting rights are not on the bishops’ agenda this week is both discouraging and telling.” 

“The real scandal is the fact that some bishops are engaging in political stunts that undermine the moral teaching of the church while crudely abusing a precious sacrament,” said Patricia McGuire, President of Trinity Washington University. “The magisterium is a sacred trust that expects our bishops to teach, not to engage in public shaming and spiritual condemnation of any individual. Perhaps the bishops should spend more time examining their own consciences about why so many lay people have grown diffident about their pronouncements.”

“In the face of stark divisions, the Catholic Church in the United States should live up to its divine mandate to be a sacrament of unity,” said David DeCosse, Director of Religious and Catholic Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University. “Some bishops seem determined to go down a rabbit hole by contradicting the pastoral leadership of Pope Francis, ignoring the Vatican doctrine’s office and isolating the church in the United States from bishops’ conferences around the world. By politicizing the sacrament of Communion, bishops would reject the wisdom of Catholic theology and also risk turning the sacred ritual of Mass into a place of partisan fighting.   


Faith in Public Life is a national movement of clergy and faith leaders united in the prophetic pursuit of justice, equality and the common good. Together, with a network of over 50,000 leaders, they are leading the fight to advance just policies at the state and federal level that affirms our values and the human dignity of all.

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