Loading...
Loading...
Click here if you don’t see subscription options
A priest elevates the host during a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City in 2020. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — As some American bishops discuss the possibility of denying Communion to Catholic politicians such as President Joe Biden for supporting abortion-rights policies, a senior Vatican prelate said decisions about administering the sacrament rest solely on the bishop giving the Eucharist.

“It’s not up to bishops in general to make these decisions, it’s the bishop of the person,” said Cardinal Michael Czerny, the undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in an interview with Religion News Service on Thursday (May 6).

Bishops in the U.S. are scheduled to vote whether to commission a document on the question of Communion during their annual meeting in June, after conservative bishops such as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco recently argued that elected officials should be barred from receiving the Eucharist for their views on abortion.

Cordileone said public officials who take part “in moral evil,” such as supporting reproductive rights, should be barred from receiving Communion.

In a pastoral letter on Saturday, Cordileone said public officials who take part “in moral evil,” such as supporting reproductive rights, should be barred from receiving Communion.

Other bishops have described a Communion ban as “the wrong step.” In an article published in America Magazine on Wednesday, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego warned of the “destructive consequences” that such a decision might entail for the unity of the United States and Catholics’ understanding of their own worthiness to receive the sacrament.

“The Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare,” he warned. “This must not happen.”

Czerny is the highest-ranking Vatican official to comment on the controversy, and in general Rome has refrained from remarking publicly on the issue. Pope Francis has tended in the past to champion an inclusive policy on Communion, saying in his 2013 apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect.” 

“The Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare,” Bishop McElroy warned. “This must not happen.”

Czerny pointed to the “confusion” surrounding debates on giving Communion to Catholic politicians who hold positions contrary to Catholic teaching, adding that individual bishops have the final say in cases where there is “a clear scandal.”

In cases “where the government is claiming that it has the church’s support for some measure that we really can’t accept at all, that would be an example where the bishop would have to stand up,” the cardinal said, “but it’s up to the bishop.”

In Biden’s home diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, Bishop-elect William E. Koenig has already told reporters he’s hoping to discuss the matter directly with the president.

The confusion over who is authorized to deny Communion has extended to canon lawyers. In a March 3 article in the Brooklyn Tablet, a Catholic publication, Monsignor Jonas Achacoso, a doctor of canon law, explained that the pope alone can decide such matters when it comes to heads of state. “It is solely the right of the Roman Pontiff himself to judge” concerning cases for “those who hold the highest civil office of a state,” Achacoso argued, quoting canon 1405 §1.

But the Rev. John Beal, a professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America, told RNS that Achacoso’s analysis does not hold up because the canon he refers to only applies to judicial matters, such as annulments.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

Pope Francis gives his blessing at the end of the recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 11, 2024. On March 3, he renewed his call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza while while speaking to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)
At the noon prayer on Sunday, Pope Francis called for a cease-fire and for “the continuation of negotiations” to bring about the release of hostages taken by Hamas and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Gerard O’ConnellMarch 03, 2024
Thanks to Jack Serio’s direction and playwright Ruby Thomas’s script, “The Animal Kingdom” falls into the category of a difficult but necessary watch, and the questions we are left with inspire us to think more critically about our mental health and relationships.
Michael O’BrienMarch 01, 2024
A letter criticizing Pope Francis for promoting “ambiguities in matters of faith” and at the same time ruling the Catholic Church with an iron fist, is circulating in the Vatican.
In an exclusive interview with Gerard O’Connell, Archbishop Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva explains why his first three Masses in Buenos Aires were celebrated in a shanty town, prison and cemetery.
Gerard O’ConnellMarch 01, 2024