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Editors’ note: America has received scores of responses to the interview by Jim McDermott, S.J., with Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and to Gloria Purvis’s interview with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, both of which address the issue of admitting to Communion Catholic politicians who support legal abortion. These responses can be found by scrolling to the ends of the two articles linked to above.

The Most Rev. Thomas John Paprocki, the bishop of Springfield in Illinois, and the Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, the bishop of Orange in California and a former priest of the Springfield Diocese, also requested a chance to respond to the interview with Senator Durbin with a formal letter to the editor. Senator Durbin was raised in the Springfield Diocese. 

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In an interview published by America on Nov. 8, Senator Dick Durbin comments about his disagreements with church teaching on abortion and other matters. He also discusses the background of his being asked not to present himself for Communion in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. In his comments, the senator misconstrues the reasons for the latter and sows confusion regarding the former. Both matters demand correction.

First, we would like to acknowledge Senator Durbin’s lifelong dedication to public service and his commitment to advancing many policies and programs that recognize the underprivileged and marginalized. In these areas, we are grateful for his contributions to causes that are of great importance to the church and her faithful. However, Senator Durbin’s comments in the America interview must be corrected, out of concern for his soul and out of concern for the confusion and scandal his words and actions present to the faithful of the church.

Senator Durbin suggests that many Catholic faithful agree with his position on abortion, and he claims that he is being unfairly singled out because he expresses his opinion publicly. This is untrue. In fact, it was due to the senator’s concrete, consistent actions to promote abortion in our country that, as his pastor, Bishop Kevin Vann (then Monsignor Vann)—when asked by a newspaper reporter how he would respond if Senator Durbin presented himself for holy Communion—expressed that he would be reticent to give holy Communion to Senator Durbin. Archbishop George Lucas, who was then bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, publicly supported that position. Subsequently, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki spoke directly with Senator Durbin and clarified that unless the senator ceased his promotion of abortion, the position held by Father Vann and Archbishop Lucas would have to be sustained. Senator Durbin affirmed his ongoing commitment to promoting legal abortion and has since publicly persisted in actions opposed to God’s law in the grave matter of the taking of innocent human life.

In the section of the church’s law governing the Eucharist, Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law prescribes that, “people who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Senator Durbin’s public support and promotion of policies—clear and concrete actions, not mere opinions—that advance abortion are “manifest grave sin.” He has persevered obstinately in these actions despite repeated correction. According to the church’s law, he should not be admitted to holy Communion, and Senator Durbin alone has the power to change this reality.

Senator Durbin suggests that the standard for worthy reception of the Eucharist is a “well-formed conscience.” This is also untrue. Rationalizing one’s actions does not equate to a well-formed conscience, and one’s own self-assessment does not erase the objective reality of one being outside of communion with God and the church. Pope Francis recently affirmed this reality. Noting that there is no theological ambiguity in the matter of pro-abortion politicians, the Holy Father said, “Those people who are not in the community cannot take Communion, because they are out of the community. It is not a punishment: Communion is linked to the community.”

Senator Durbin has been fully informed of this reality, yet he persists in active promotion of abortion. For example, on September 1 of this year, Senator Durbin published a Twitter post boasting of his support for “#ActforAbortionAccess” as a “critical step towards ensuring people across the U.S. have access to safe, legal abortion.” The senator’s active support and promotion of abortion is clear, consistent and unambiguous. His obstinate persistence in promoting the grave sin of abortion is an objective reality, not a subjective interpretation.

Echoing the Holy Father’s words, as shepherds of souls, we must clarify that Senator Durbin’s sustained promotion of pro-abortion policies places him objectively outside of communion with the church, and we offer this additional correction in hopes of his conversion and return. St. Paul cautions against the danger of such unworthy reception, writing, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:29). Asking Senator Durbin not to present himself for holy Communion reflects the next, necessary pastoral measure after dialogue has failed to facilitate conversion, and it is a measure intended to bring about repentance and a restoration of communion. It is not a punishment. It is a pastoral measure with the ultimate good of salvation and communion with Christ as its aim.

Last, the senator rightly acknowledges the church’s concern for immigration policies that promote human dignity, but he is wrong to imply that abortion and immigration are morally equivalent. They are not. Immigration policies involve many prudential decisions and various means of promoting charity and justice. Abortion, by contrast, is an intrinsic evil that is never permissible. In suggesting their moral equivalency, the senator implies that the church should celebrate Catholic leaders whose policies agree with the church’s concerns for immigrants while turning a blind eye to their promotion of other policies that lead to the murder of millions of innocent lives. This approach is incoherent and unjust. If the dignity of defenseless persons in the womb is disregarded, there can be no justice or human rights.

As our church in this country prepares for a eucharistic revival, we will seek to grow in understanding and reverence of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We hope that the senator will experience a renewal of mind and conversion of heart in this grave matter so that he may be admitted to holy Communion again and receive the many graces that come with its worthy reception.

At a minimum, we hope that he will more honestly acknowledge the reality of his disagreement with the truths of our faith and desist from leading other members of the faithful astray. We remain open to dialogue with Senator Durbin on these matters and welcome that discussion.

Most Rev. Thomas John Paprocki
Bishop of Springfield in Illinois

Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann
Bishop of Orange in California

Correction, Nov. 16: Senator Dick Durbin’s current home diocese is the Archdiocese of Chicago, not the Diocese of Springfield, as originally stated in the Editor’s Note.

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