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Eucharistic “coherence” or “consistency”

People around the world have heard of the major conflagration here in the States about the matter of personal worthiness to receive Holy Communion. Before sharing details of that battle, permit me to offer some context (which I am sure would reflect the situation of the Church in the UK as well).

In the aftermath of the liturgical changes of the post-Vatican II era, I observed a slow but sure slide into what might be called “Eucharistic irreverence,” instead of the “Eucharistic amazement” which St. John Paul II urged upon us – and this suggests a lack of a proper understanding of the Holy Eucharist. And so, in 1992, I enlisted the services of George Gallup to conduct a national poll to ask Catholics: “Which of the following statements about Holy Communion do you think best reflects your belief?”

Only 30% of the respondents chose the first option: “When receiving Holy Communion, you are really receiving the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, under the appearance of bread and wine.” Twenty-nine percent indicated “you are receiving bread and wine, which symbolize the spirit and teachings of Jesus and in so doing are expressing your attachment to His person and words.”

Twenty-four percent believed that “you are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, which has become that because of your personal belief.” Ten percent said, “You are receiving bread and wine, in which Jesus is really and truly present.” Finally, 8% said, “None of the above”; “Don’t know”; or they refused to answer.

In 1994, the New York Times ran a similar survey. In 2020, the Pew Research Center revisited the issue. All came out with exactly the same results. In other words, over a 28-year period, we have less than one-third of Catholics who attend Holy Mass on a regular basis who believe the full truth regarding the Holy Eucharist. The Pew study set off alarm bells all over the Church.

President Biden

Many bishops called for a Year of the Eucharist in their dioceses, so as to re-catechize or catechize for the first time in decades on the meaning of the Holy Eucharist. An essential element of such a program would necessarily focus on the proper dispositions for a fruitful reception of the Sacrament. Beyond that, the big elephant in the living room of the Church in the US is the scandalous position of many public officials who actively dissent from authentic Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, the nature of marriage, and the meaning and scope of religious freedom. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that two of the highest ranking politicians claim to be Catholic but hold to and actively promote programs diametrically opposed to the Magisterium: President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The doctrine committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was charged with drafting a document laying out the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist, which document would deal with “Eucharistic consistency,” that is, the critical link between the life one lives and its correspondence (or non-correspondence) to the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. Cardinals Joseph Tobin of Newark and Blase Cupich of Chicago hied themselves off to Rome in an attempt to sabotage the process. Some days later, it seemed they had had some success as Cardinal Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a missive to Archbishop José Gomez, president of the USCCB, outlining what he deemed a proper procedure for the fashioning of any statement on the topic. Some of Ladaria’s counsel seems to have been based on faulty, inadequate information about both what bishops have been doing for decades (e.g., having “dialogue” with dissenting Catholic politicos) and what they now intended to do (e.g., they never envisioned issuing a national ban for such officials). And so, the USCCB leadership continued on their path.

Refusing to accept the process, a group of prelates wrote a letter to Archbishop Gomez, asking that the envisioned document be taken off the agenda of the June meeting of the hierarchy. The group of 67 had a questionable membership: a full 20 of them were auxiliary bishops of ordinaries who had signed on (in other words, they were mere puppets of their “bosses”). Much more importantly, however, at least five bishops said they never gave approval for their names as signatories. The conference leadership stood firm, and the discussion took place.

When all was said and done, the overwhelming majority (78%) of the bishops voted to direct the doctrine committee to produce a document for review and debate for the November plenary session.

I have never shied away from criticizing our bishops for their timidity over the years. Fairness now compels me to applaud their
evangelical boldness in staying the course. Aside from Poland, I doubt that another national hierarchy would have withstood the pressure to drop the issue.

Vox populi, vox Dei?

A recent poll indicates that 83% of Catholics who regularly attend Sunday Mass say that public figures who do not adhere to Catholic teaching “create confusion and disunity.” 74% say that such persons ought not present themselves to receive Holy Communion. This is most encouraging. Bishops who have argued that holding Catholic public officials accountable would be divisive within the body of the faithful need to pay attention to this data. Perhaps they are confusing what the lay faithful (with the stress on the word “faithful”) expect with what some of the hierarchy are projecting onto the laity or are taking much too seriously what non-practicing Catholics hold.

When Biden was informed of the bishops’ vote to proceed with a document that could potentially lead to his being denied Holy Communion, he smugly replied: “That’s a private matter and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

The “Nones” and Catholic Schools

I imagine that the Church in the UK has the same concern about the so-called “nones”, that is, those baptized as Catholics (especially those under the age of 40) but who never darken the door of a church. The largest cohort of such persons in the US, it seems to me, corresponds to the period when we experienced the largest fall-off in Catholic schooling. I am trying to pull together some supportive data. So, stay tuned.

Biden as “Good News” for the Church

My long-time friend and colleague, a faithful worker for the Church for more than four decades, Francis X. Maier, delivered an address to the Scarpa Conference on Law, Politics and Culture at Villanova University on 23 April 2021, with the provocative title, “Why Joe Biden Is Good News.” Let me share some of the more salient points he makes, counter-intuitive perhaps, but very important to appreciate.

He begins thus:

I want to start by saying that President Joe Biden is good news. He’s good news for American Catholics, and he’s good news for the Church in the United States. I say that even though my wife and I voted for the other guy, reluctantly in 2016, and more peacefully in 2020. This warrants some explaining, and I’ll be happy to do that. But I need to get there in a roundabout way.

Relating observations of bishops with whom he has been in conversation, he notes:

The common view of Biden’s long-term impact on Church - related matters was strongly negative. One senior bishop compared Biden -- unfavorably -- with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo, he said, makes no claim to being a good Catholic, and thus in some ways is more honest and easier to work with because of it. The problem with Biden, he said, is precisely the appearance -- highlighted by the media -- of his piety.

And then, the final coup de grace:

A lot of American life today is a blend of vanilla spirituality that doesn’t make many demands on our time and attention, and a practical consumer atheism that does. The decline in our Catholic numbers is simply the truth forcing its way to the surface through layers of self-deception that we’ve accumulated as a Church over half a century or more. The truth can be painful, but it’s never bad. The truth makes us free: free to change; free to remember who we are as Catholics and why we’re here; and free to do better.

This is why Joe Biden is good news -- not happy or comfortable news, but good news -- because in his appealing personality; his sunny smile; his reassuring words; and the duplicity of his administration’s actions, heembodiesso much of our American Catholic moment.

What Fran Maier is suggesting is that Biden’s blatant hypocrisy has forced our bishops into a confrontational mode which American bishops, historically, have avoided at all costs. Much of what I have presented in the present article about episcopal behavior bears that out – and that is indeed good news!

The Fighting Nun

That’s the title of the autobiography of Sister Margherita Marchione of the Religious Teachers Filippini (a fine community of Sisters, originally sent to the States to educate the children of Italian immigrants). Sister Margherita, a most impressive scholar and historian, distinguished herself especially by her brave, reasoned and relentless defense of Pope Pius XII in the face of the scurrilous accusations of callous indifference to the plight of Jews during World War II, first surfacing in the calumnious play, The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth in 1963. For a long time, Sister Margherita was nearly a lone voice, but the professionalism of her research, along with her dogged determination, has brought forth many more scholars to refute the unjust allegations.

The lovely nun and dear friend went to God this past May at the age of 99 (she was lecturing to the bitter end). I like to think that Pius XII was the first to greet her at the Pearly Gates.

Do a “google search” for her bibliography and treat yourself to any one of her illuminating works. For a real treat, though, pick up her autobiography to meet a truly feisty nun!

Ad intra

Catholic adoption services

For over 200 years, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been a major provider of adoption services. When Catholic Social Services (CSS) refused to capitulate to the demands of civil bureaucrats that it process applications of gay couples, the City withdrew its contract in 2018, thus eliminating one of the most appreciated and effective agencies for needy children.

Resolutely, the Archdiocese fought the draconian mandate, all the way up to the Supreme Court. On June 17, in an amazing unanimous decision (9-0), the Court ruled that the City had overstepped its bounds: “The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.” Further, “the City’s actions have burdened CSS’s religious exercise by putting it to the
choice of curtailing its mission or approving relationships inconsistent with its beliefs.”

This decision will be critically important as the Biden Administration forges ahead with its efforts to force religious entities to conform to their immoral agenda.

Catholic schoolteacher in same-sex

In 2019, Cathedral High School in Indianapolis fired a teacher, at the direction of the Archdiocese, because he had entered into a same-sex marriage in 2017. The case was complicated by the fact that the school had failed to have a “morals” clause in the teacher contract. It went up to the Supreme Court of the State of Indiana, which directed the lower court to review its decision favoring the teacher. The court reversed its earlier decision in favor of the Archdiocese.

This case underscores the importance for Catholic institutions to have contracts with clear expectations.

Tax-funded abortions

For 45 years, due to an amendment forged by Senator Henry Hyde, Americans’ federal tax money cannot be used to fund abortions. The problem with the legislation is that it must be renewed each year in the annual budget process.

Biden’s proposed budget does not include the Hyde Amendment, thus reversing a near-half-century of a peaceful resolution of this fraught problem.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann, in his capacity as chairman of the episcopal conference’s pro-life committee, urged Catholics to petition their congressional representatives to press for the inclusion of the Hyde Amendment in the final bill. He went on: “I call on all government leaders to work toward a budget that truly builds up the common good of all. This should include the many proposals in the President’s budget submission that seek to protect vulnerable people. And it must also preserve the Hyde Amendment and related provisions which have protected millions of unborn babies, and mothers in difficult circumstances, from the tragedy of abortion.”

US Embassy to Holy See and “Gay Pride”

In a stunning show of arrogant insensitivity, the US Embassy to the Holy See in Rome lew the Gay Pride flag during the month of June as a sign of its solidarity with that agenda. This inflammatory and insensitive gesture had the prior approval of the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. The embassy explained the action thus: “The United States respects the dignity and equality of LGBTQI+ people. LGBTQI+ rights are human rights,”

One wonders what would have happened had an embassy in a Muslim country brandished the “pride” flag.

Covid restrictions on Catholic schools

As noted in a previous column, most Catholic schools in the country were open for in-person classes during the lock-down. A county health official in Wisconsin, however, sought to have Catholic schools follow her oppressive norms. The schools challenged her authority in the courts. In a 4-3 ruling, the state’s high court slapped down the actions and reasoning of Janel
Heinrich, director of Public Health Madison & Dane County, who issued an emergency COVID-19 order in late August 2020 closing schools to in-person learning for grades 3-12. The court ruled local health officers do not have such legal authority, and that the action violated parents’ rights to practice their religion freely.

Key portions of the court decision reflect a profound respect for religious freedom rights:

Indeed, the order did not merely burden academic schooling; it burdened the exercise of religious practices... While Heinrich allowed schools to use their premises for child care and youth recreational activities, the government barred students from attending Mass, receiving Holy Communion at weekly Masses with their classmates and teachers, receiving the sacrament of Confession at school, participating in communal prayer with their peers, and going on retreats and service missions throughout the area... Heinrich’s order not only impeded the petitioners’ religious expression and practice, it outright precluded both from occurring in petitioners’ schools altogether... The petitioners’ exercise of their sincerely held beliefs was unquestionably burdened by the application of the order...

Priest-chaplains’ access to prisons

Joseph Hanneman reports:

For the first time in 15 months, priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will be allowed into Wisconsin’s prisons to offer Holy Mass and administer sacraments to inmates under an order signed Monday by a circuit court judge.

Clergy and other visitors have been barred from Wisconsin correctional facilities since March 2020 under a state policy aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee sued the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and its secretary, Kevin A. Carr, on May 7, 2021 in Jefferson County Circuit Court. Archdiocesan attorneys argued the visitor policy infringes on constitutionally protected religious liberty and runs afoul of state statutes that guarantee clergy access to prisons.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge William F. Hue ruled the Archdiocese of Milwaukee must be given access to state prisons once a week, effective immediately. He signed a provisional writ of mandamus compelling the Department of Corrections to grant the clergy access.

The ruling is only temporary, but a step in the right direction.

Fr. Peter Stravinskas is the President of the Catholic Education Foundation, Editor of The Catholic Response and publisher of Newman House Press.

Faith Magazine

September - October 2021 2021