By Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla
The possibility that President Biden will be refused Holy Communion as a result of the American bishops’ decision to go ahead with writing a document on “Eucharistic coherence” is making headlines in many newspapers, especially those considered “liberal” in today’s understanding of that term. The New York Times last Saturday featured a front-page article titled “Bishops on path to refuse Biden holy communion”. It is significant that the article is written using political terminology. The author frames the division among the bishops in terms of “conservative” and “liberal”. In this framework, those who are “conservative” are out of step with Pope Francis and his understanding of the role of the Catholic Church in today’s world. Those who are “liberal” are in accord with Francis’ agenda. According to the article, it is the “conservative” bishops who are in the majority, and who by means of this document—which has yet to be written and published—are determined to deny President Biden Holy Communion because of his firm governmental support of abortion.
Archbishop Gomez, on Inauguration Day, issued a statement criticizing Biden not only for his pro-abortion stance but also for his support for policies “that would advance moral evils in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender”. But on “the other side”, Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. has, according to the author of the Timesarticle, “made it clear that he does not support denying communion to Mr. Biden”. And so in this way, the author of the article frames the whole debate in terms of a political understanding of the terms “liberal” and “conservative”.
To do so is to advance “fake news”, for those political terms are not applicable to the debate among the bishops. It is probable that some of the bishops who support the writing of the document on “Eucharistic coherence” are politically liberal. And others can be described as politically conservative. That is irrelevant to the bishops’ concern in the current debate, a debate that has the very meaning of the Eucharist at its heart. The framing of this debate in terms of political labels hides what is really at stake for the Church: the recovery by her people of the meaning of the Eucharist and of the Real Presence of Christ.
The terms liberal and conservative have little to do with the American bishops’ debate on Eucharistic coherence, nor with the opera buffa of the Cardinal Marx resignation affair, nor with the circus of the Amazon Synod. The battle for the soul of the Church is between those who embrace the Tradition of the Catholic Church and those who relativize that Tradition in the name of empathy and progress. We must remember what Tradition means in terms of the Catholic Church. Tradition consists of the authority of the truth of Scripture and the authority of the teaching of the Church through its history guided by the Holy Spirit. At the very heart of Catholic Tradition is the person of Jesus Christ as true God and true man. Tradition and truth cannot be separated. The battle is between those who are Traditional and those who are—for lack of a better term—unTraditional. This battle has its beginnings even before the Second Vatican Council, in that diffuse movement called Modernism, which was basically a belief that the Tradition can be adapted to historical movements of society and thought, even when those adaptations are contrary to Catholic Tradition itself.
In many ways the documents of the Second Vatican Council are an expression of the Church deciding to try to become modern—at the same time that the world was moving to post-modernity. Historically, ecumenical councils were called to hammer out doctrinal issues and to counter theological opinions that were not consonant with Tradition. Vatican II is the sole exception. It was at the outset understood as a “pastoral Council” that would address the “world” at a crucial time in its history. The deep crisis facing the Church today is the product of those who used the Council to move beyond Tradition. The results are the crisis in which the Church finds itself today: a crisis of faith that has been ignored for over fifty years.
The battle about “Eucharistic coherence” is not about President Biden. It is not about “weaponizing the Eucharist” as Archbishop McElroy has claimed. (He should ponder St. Paul’s words in I Corinthians 11:27ff.) Neither is it about opinions about how the Church should function in a militantly secular society. The battle is about whether the Catholic Church will remain faithful to the Tradition, at whose heart is the person of Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, or whether it will become one more “denomination”, and, like much of American Protestantism, will dissolve into “mere religion” that is a reflection of the society in which it functions.