Why do pro-abortion politicians receive Communion?
The Church denies Communion to anyone who has been excommunicated. For example, those who have participated in an act of abortion — the mother, the person who paid for it, the medical personnel — incur automatic excommunication and should not present themselves for Communion. Excommunication is a serious penalty, so the Church is generally reluctant to impose it.
Sometimes we see public figures receiving Communion when they seem to be violating the rules: For example, politicians who don’t actively oppose abortion or who make public statements that disagree with Church teaching.
One of the principles of canon law is that penalties are a last resort. If a Catholic is straying from the true path, the Church has the duty to use every means in her power to bring the lost sheep back into the fold. In the case of a public figure, bishops must also consider the public effect of their own actions.
What message will they be sending about the Church by how they react to such provocations? Should they make a statement correcting the public figure’s error but let him continue to receive Communion to show that the Church values mercy and forgiveness? Should they excommunicate him to show how seriously the Church takes her teachings? It’s not an easy decision.
To some bishops, erring on the side of mercy seems like the more Christian thing to do, as well as the course most likely to convey to the world what Christian love is like. Others, however, say that the greater concern should be for the sinner’s scandalous effect on the public, who may grow confused or cynical about Catholic doctrine, devotion and discipline.
Sometimes, if a bishop has met privately with public figures and failed to persuade them to change, the bishop must refuse to admit them to Communion.
MIKE AQUILINA is the author or editor of more than 40 books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion. This column is reprinted with permission from his book Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers (Servant Books, Cincinnati, 2011)
To respond to this invitation, we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. Saint Paul urges us to examine our conscience: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion.