Just a quick follow up to MisterMix’s earlier post, The NY Times has reported that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has voted to advance their plan to draft guidance on which public figures can and cannot receive communion based on their political positions. Specifically whether they do or do not support female reproductive rights, doing business ass abortion.
In May, as this plan was being circulated by the revanchist members of the USCCB, Cardinal Ladaria, SJ, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent them a letter with official guidance on how to proceed.
In the letter from Cardinal Ladaria, a copy of which was seen by America, he recalls that the issue of a U.S.C.C.B. document on Catholic pro-choice politicians and worthiness for reception of Communion, had been raised during the 2019-20 ad limina visits of the U.S. bishops to Pope Francis. He said the C.D.F. had then “advised that dialogue among the bishops be undertaken to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreements over this controversial topic.”
Furthermore, the cardinal said, “the formulation of a national policy was suggested during the ad limina visits only if this would help the bishops to maintain unity.” He added, “The congregation notes that such a policy, given its possibly contentious nature, could have the opposite effect and become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”
Cardinal Ladaria said the C.D.F. had then advised the U.S. bishops to take certain important steps before drafting any document, including engaging in “extensive and serene dialogue” in two stages. It said such dialogue should take place first among the bishops with the aim of reaching agreement on the doctrinal issues so as “to maintain unity” in the conference and in the church in the United States.
After doing that, it said the bishops should conduct a similar dialogue with the Catholic politicians “within their jurisdiction who adopt a pro-choice position regarding abortion legislation, euthanasia, or other moral evils, as a means of understanding the nature of their positions and their comprehension of Catholic teaching.”
Once these two stages of dialogue have been completed, Cardinal Ladaria said the bishops’ conference “would then face the difficult task of discerning the best way forward for the church in the United States to witness to the grave moral responsibility of Catholic public officials to protect human life at all stages.”
The C.D.F. letter also lays down important markers if the bishops choose to go in this direction. First, it said that if the conference decides “to formulate a national policy on worthiness for Communion,” that “such a statement would need to express a true consensus of the bishops on the matter, while observing the prerequisite that any provision of the conference in this area would respect the rights of individual ordinaries in their dioceses and the prerogatives of the Holy See.”
Cardinal Ladaria said the C.D.F. “advises” the U.S.C.C.B. that “any statement of the conference regarding Catholic political leaders would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholics, reflecting their obligation to conform their lives to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they prepare to receive the sacrament.”
Significantly, in a comment that challenges the U.S.C.C.B. position that abortion is “the pre-eminent” moral issue, Cardinal Ladaria told the conference’s president that “it would be misleading if such a statement were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”
Cardinal Ladaria concluded by telling Archbishop Gomez that as they draft the statement the U.S. bishops should make “every effort…to dialogue with other episcopal conferences [in other countries] as this policy is formulated in order both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the Universal Church.”
Basically Cardinal Ladaria’s letter was a polite attempt to save the USCCB from itself. The USCCB is top heavy with senior bishops and archbishops who entered the seminary and advanced through the Church hierarchy during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is far, far, far more conservative, if not outright reactionary, than the majority of American Catholics. And it is certainly far, far, far more conservative, if not reactionary, than Pope Francis. This conservatism is largely built around one issue, the one issue that Jerry Falwell, Sr hoped would prevail when he partnered with C. Everett Koop to build an alliance with the leadership of the Catholic Church in the US to create Christian religious opposition to Federal actions on civil rights. The issue he used was abortion and reproductive rights, which, until that point, was not a significant issue for evangelical Christians.
Pope Francis’s papacy, however, has been an attempt to reestablish some sense of institutional equilibrium and balance back into Catholicism after the very, very conservative papacy of John Paul II and the reactionary papacy of Benedict XVI. Especially in regard to Catholicism in the US. He has been challenged, however, by a group of traditionalist Catholic leaders whose political, social, and religious views mirror, and are in some cases more extreme than, those of the popes who selected them. Some of these clerics have been weaponized by Steve Bannon in his attempts to either overthrow Pope Francis in pursuit of his neo-fascist national populism or to create a new schism and split the Church.
The actions taken today by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops cannot be understood outside of these political activities. Steve Bannon works off of Andrew Breitbart’s only actual accurate insight: politics is down stream of culture. More aptly put, politics, like economics, and religion, is bounded and framed by culture. If you can figure out the cultural context and design the inputs to make sense within it, to not cut across it, you can be successful in your endeavors. This, of course, for the anthropologists in attendance is dependent on an understanding of culture as defined by Tyler, not Fanon. As I type this, Bannon’s financiers from Falun Gong are already providing their own slant on this in their Epoch Times website. Tomorrow, millions of free copies of their “news” paper will be delivered to older Americans all over the US to reinforce their agitprop and demonstrate that politics is down stream of culture.
While everyone has suddenly focused on President Biden as the ultimate target of today’s actions, the reality is that the most visible target of these efforts has long been Speaker Pelosi. She has long pushed all the right buttons to be the boogeywoman of the Christian right in the US just by being Nancy Pelosi. Today’s actions are not the end of this dispute and controversy, but just one important step towards advancing it. The next step is for the USCCB to vote on the measure in November, just as the 2022 midterm election cycle is beginning. And even if they do vote to put this into action, it cannot prevent any specific bishop from providing President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, or any other Catholic politician or public figure who tries to separate their faith from public policy from receiving communion. Frankly, denying them communion isn’t really the goal. The goal is to create controversy, because to quote the old professional wrestling adage, controversy creates cash. It also creates attention and political opportunity. The real fight her is not over whether President Biden or Speaker can or cannot take communion. The real fight is whether Pope Francis is legitimate if his papacy is not focused on the exceedingly conservative and revanchist pet issues of the Church’s reactionary episcopate.