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500 Years of Christianity: Battle of the Sword and Cross in Mactan, Part 12

“Communion is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners. This is why [Jesus] exhorts us: ‘Do not be afraid! Take and eat.’” – Pope Francis

The brouhaha that precipitated consequent to the vote of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to explore a Church policy to deny the Holy Communion to certain politicians who support abortion. The vote to create guidelines on the meaning of the Eucharist was suspicious for its timing and was clearly aimed at Joe Biden, the current president and Speaker Nancy Pelosi – both Democrats who support abortion rights.

The timing is suspect because the overwhelming number of bishops who voted for it stayed silent during the whole duration of the Trump administration. The twice divorced, thrice married former, adulterous former president was cruel to immigrants and was chummy with Evangelicals who lorded it over Trump. Trump by fiat, separated families at the border.

When John Kerry ran for president, the issue was again resurrected. Joe Biden was denied communion in 2019 from his hometown Scranton, Pennsylvania. Governor Gray Davis was also denied similarly for his support of abortion rights. Consequently, Democratic politicians end up attending service in churches where they know they will not be embarrassed by such high profile denial.

So, what gives? Why are so many Catholic bishops in the United States so bent on lowering the boom on such politicians knowing that abortion is a constitutional right in the United States? And no Democratic president worth his salt will condemn a constitutional right just to receive communion – even if it means losing the food to eternal life!

One of the main reasons why the separation of church and state clause was inserted in the U.S. Constitution was precisely because of the experiences of Founding Fathers who fled Europe on the meddling of the Catholic Church in the affairs of the state. The American bishops’ move to embarrass the second American Catholic president is unprecedented and clearly pastoral politicking!

And the bishops are not alone. Many Filipino American Catholics who supported Trump are equally supportive of the bishop’s moves. To them, abortion is immoral and a mortal sin for these “baby killers.” Such is the influence of the Catholic teachings in the Philippines who rank number one among Catholic countries on opposing abortion on moral grounds.

When the Council of Trent reaffirmed the sacraments of initiation, they emphasized the teaching that Holy Orders gave priests power to celebrate Eucharist and forgive sins in Christ's name. Such power is now on display with the issue of denying the communion to Democratic politicians. Similarly, the Council’s enjoining bishops to live in their diocesan jurisdictions empowered them to act more independently. Thus, the differences of opinion among the bishops.

Pope Francis indirectly chastised these conservative bishops when he said that communion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners” – a reward for penance. That while the Church is against abortion, it is also cognizant of those already born. Clearly, this issue (and gay marriage) are dividing the Catholic community along partisan politics and these bishops are fanning it.

As a Filipino American Catholic, perhaps it will be instructive to know the meaning of the Eucharist as part of the sacraments of initiation. These sacramental moments include baptism, confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the Holy Grail, the source and summit of the Christian life. Taking part in the Holy Communion in the course of a Catholic life, then, is a moment that nourishes such spirit. Conversely, without it, the soul dies.

For a devout Catholic like Joe Biden, such denial would starve the spirit in him. The Church teaches transubstantiation, the moment when the bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. In context, denying Eucharist to President Biden means that supporting the exercise of a Constitutional right (akin to owning a gun as a right) is a mortal sin or an interdict offense. Is it?

Abortion laws are complex. Abortion is abhorrent but it is the law of the land. It is also nothing new to fret about. Since the beginning of Christianity, abortion has always been a hotly debated issue. From the ancient laws before Christ (B.C.) to the Roman Laws after Christ (A.D.), abortion was always viewed by the Catholic Church as immoral and has recognized human life in the fetus.

The Didache (80-100 A.D.) forbade killing the child by abortion. The Apostolic Constitutions (400 A.D.) added that “the formed fetus possesses a soul.” These became parts of the Church’s Canon Laws but were not necessarily grounded in the gospel. Before the American’s landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade, there was Rex vs. Bourne in England. That particular case open the door for liberalized abortion including in the United States.

By Church doctrine, abortion of the unborn is murder. But the millions of born and unborn who were killed in the name of religion were not. That a “just war” does not violate God’s “thou shall not kill” commandment. From the 100 years wars in Europe (Catholics versus Protestants vs. Islam), to the wars in the Middle East (Christianity versus Islam), the clash of civilizations continues. It seems abortion is a continuing saga between Protestants and Roman Catholics but instead of vying for religious supremacy in western civilization, abortion has become a unifying issue and the Catholic president is caught in between.

If a non-animated fetus has no soul that the Council of Trent called an embryonic clump of cells and not a person, then where is the murder? Accordingly, it declared that the clump of cells were part of the mother and therefore is part of the mother’s soul. This is an important distinction because it was Trent that reaffirmed the sacraments of initiation. The battle for the soul begins after birth and baptism gives the child a clean slate because humans are prone to sin.

Sin as defined by the Church is a “transgression against God, it is an offense against reason and the natural law.” Mortal sin, in particular, has three conditions to exist. Grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. Abortion in particular, is a grave sin because the Church supports the idea that human life starts at conception. So, whether you are the perpetrator or supporter, both are guilty in the eyes of the Church. Only bishops had the final say whether a priest can grant absolution for abortion.

When Pope Francis came along, in his Misericordia et Misera (Mercy with Misery) letter in 2016, he changed the canon law to also allow priests the ability to grant forgiveness for abortion. Are the bishops in the United States’ threat of a possible ecclesiastical censure an effort to subvert the infallibility of the Pope’s decree? Or, are they aborting the sickly pope for a successor in the traditional mold of resigned pope, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI?


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