The American Bishops’ Mitigated Document on the Eucharist

November 29, 2021

Heralded as a controversial document, in particular because of the declared intention to manifest the refusal of communion to politicians in favor of abortion, the American bishops' text on the Eucharist finally turned to consensus.

As early as April, Bishop Jose Horacio Gomez, president of the United States Bishops 'Conference (USCCB) had written to Pope Francis to inform him of the bishops' project to establish a common line in order to refuse, if necessary, sacramental communion to politicians encouraging abortion or euthanasia.

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer then sent him a letter in May, calling for moderation, a letter which may be perplexing on more than one point, but which above all showed Rome's fear of the risk of division within the American episcopate. This is conceivable, but still raises questions: in the end, it is only a question of the application of an obligation enshrined in canon law.

Following this Roman letter, a petition from some sixty bishops asked for a postponement of any discussion on the subject sine die. This did not seem to move Bishop Gomez who supported the planned discussion. The drafting of a text was then voted on in June, but the content continued to fuel discussions between the bishops.

Finally, the text was presented and voted on at the annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, held in Baltimore. It was widely acclaimed with 222 votes in favor, 8 against and 3 abstentions. A two-thirds majority was required for its adoption.

The fruit of several months of debate and revisions, the text avoids any explicit reference to the question of whether bishops and priests should refuse communion to public figures who disagree with Catholic teaching on abortion and other moral issues.

Thus, as foreseen by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Bishop Emeritus of Los Angeles an “advanced” prelate, the text was defused and it became “flat,” according to his expression. He added that it would soon be forgotten.

With the document, the bishops approved a strategic plan for the launce of a three-year Eucharistic revival campaign, which will include the development of new educational materials, the formation of diocesan and parish leaders, the launch of a website dedicated to renewal, and the deployment of a special team of 50 priests to preach on the Eucharist.

The campaign will culminate with a National Eucharistic Congress in July 2024 in Indianapolis. This congress will be the first of its kind in the United States for nearly 50 years.

Although the document does not provide any criteria for denying the sacrament to a person who is not in communion with the teachings of the Church, the text does give some instructions.

“As the Church has consistently taught, a person who receives Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin not only does not receive the grace that the sacrament conveys; he or she commits the sin of sacrilege by failing to show the reverence due to the sacred Body and Blood of Christ.”

The document reaffirms the text of the 2006 Bishops' Document on Catholics in Public Life, then adds: “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church.”

“Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.”