NEW YORK – Two U.S. archbishops responded in dismay Tuesday night to a report that a number of their contemporaries sent a letter to Archbishop José Gomez in an effort to suspend discussion of the subject of “Eucharistic coherence” at the U.S. bishops’ June meeting.
The debate around giving communion to pro-choice public figures has grown ever since President Joe Biden, the country’s second Catholic president and a pro-choice Democrat, took office in January.
It’s intensified in recent weeks after Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone advocated barring Catholic public figures that support abortion rights from communion in a pastoral letter, followed by subsequent letter from the Vatican’s urging bishops to proceed with caution on the topic.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego has called the idea of barring pro-choice Catholic public figures from communion a “weaponization” of the Eucharist.
In the latest chapter of the debate, the Catholic news website The Pillar reported more than 60 U.S. bishops signed Tuesday’s letter to Gomez, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“I’m deeply grieved by the rising public acrimony among bishops and the adoption of behind-closed-doors maneuvers to interfere with the accepted, normal, agreed-upon procedures of the USCCB,” Cordileone said in response to the letter.
“Those who do not want to issue a document on Eucharistic coherence should be open to debating the question objectively and fairly with their brother bishops, rather than attempting to derail the process,” he continued.
In a statement, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver said he wanted to keep the discussion as scheduled for the June meeting.
“As I have previously written, the issue of Eucharistic coherence is primarily ‘a question of love, a question of charity toward our neighbor. St. Paul is clear that there is danger to one’s soul if he or she receives the body and blood of our Lord in an unworthy manner’,” he said.
“As bishops, we are failing in our duty as shepherds if we ignore this truth and how it is manifesting itself in today’s society, especially with regards to those in prominent positions who reject fundamental teachings of the Church and insist that they be allowed to receive communion,” Aquila said.
Later in the night, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville threw in his “two cents” on social media, saying that “it is imperative that the bishops of the United States have the ability to discuss the reception by public Catholic officials, the Eucharist.”
“These officials, like President Biden, control life through law,” he wrote.
The exact contents of the letter, who signed it, and who knew about it is still unclear. However, Crux confirmed Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston was one of the signatories. Crux also confirmed that several other bishops, including Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, did not know about the letter.
In their statements, Cordileone and Aquila also expressed support for Gomez.
“I thank Archbishop Gomez for his integrity in assuring that the procedures of our bishops’ conference are followed, which is the only way to ensure respect and equality for all,” Cordileone said.
Aquila added that “Archbishop Gomez has my full support that we move forward as planned, and I call on my brother bishops to have faith that the Holy Spirit will guide and lead us in this moment.”
The USCCB did not immediately respond to Crux’s request for comment.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg
An earlier version of this story said Cordileone had not seen the letter to Gomez. He had seen the letter before issuing his statement. We regret the error.