Catholic Lawmakers Push Back Against “Weaponizing” Communion

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of the Archdiocese of Denver.

Last week, several Catholic bishops along the Front Range issued a controversial opinion that Catholic Colorado lawmakers who support the Reproductive Health Equity Act, this year’s codification of abortion rights into state statute ahead of the anticipated repeal of Roe v. Wade, should not take part in the sacrament of Communion–an extremely harsh penalty only a step short of excommunication.

Since last week’s dramatic announcement, there’s been little local follow-up press, but as Kathryn Post at the Religious News Service reports, Colorado’s Catholic Democrats are pushing back hard against the local bishops, rejecting meddling by the clergy in their work making laws to protect everyone:

But Rep. David Ortiz, one of the Catholic lawmakers in question, said the bishops were confusing spirituality and politics. “Writing this open letter is a very political statement,” said Ortiz. “It is not stewarding people’s souls, it’s being a politician. If they want to be politicians, they should run for office.”

Some of the lawmakers say they will comply and stay away from the Communion rail, while others say the letter, signed by four Catholic bishops, including the Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, the archbishop of Denver, will not deter them from receiving the sacrament…

Rep. Monica Duran, who is Catholic, said she supported the legislation because lack of access to abortion care disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities and people of color. She rejected the bishops’ letter, saying “it sends the wrong message” to practicing Catholics.

State Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis (D).

What could be the real problem for Denver’s politically active Archbishop Samuel Aquila and his fellow Front Range Bishops is that Pope Francis, whose apostolic authority (we’re pretty sure that’s what you call it) trumps that of a mere bishop, has already taken a dim view of the similar call last year for President Joe Biden to be refused Communion over his support for abortion rights:

State Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, who was raised Catholic but no longer considers herself a member of the church, told Religion News Service she was shocked to hear of the bishops’ letter, especially in light of the Vatican’s instruction to U.S. bishops to tread carefully when they considered withholding Communion from President Joe Biden over his support for abortion rights last fall.

Pope Francis told reporters at the time that “every time the bishops have not managed a problem as pastors, they have taken a political stance on a political problem.” [Pols emphasis]

Last October, President Biden was told by the Pope to keep receiving Communion despite a call by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (which includes Denver’s Archbishop Aquila) for politicians who support abortion rights to abstain. There’s an unresolved conflict at work here between American bishops who want to impose religious penalties on politicians and the supposedly infallible head of the Catholic Church who seems to want to steer the Church clear of overheated American politics.

Perhaps it will be necessary for the Holy Father to lay down the law in Colorado’s case, too.

13 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. MichaelBowman says:

    Pope Francis says traditionalist Catholics are ‘gagging’ the reforms of Vatican II

    Pope Francis has complained that traditionalist Catholics, particularly in the United States, are “gagging” the church’s modernizing reforms and insisted that there was no turning back.

    Francis told a gathering of Jesuit editors in comments published Tuesday that he was convinced that some Catholics simply have never accepted the Second Vatican Council, the meetings of the 1960s that led to Mass being celebrated in the vernacular rather than Latin and revolutionized the church’s relations with people of other faiths, among other things.

    I'm pretty sure the brown-skinned, Jewish immigrant would much rather the Church focus on ideas to soften the misery hiding in plain site outside the front doors of the Basilica. 

  2. davebarnes says:

    The correct response to Catholic Church management is always: so, how is that child molestation going?

  3. JohnInDenver says:

    A correction — unless I missed something, SOME Catholic Bishops started a discussion about withholding Communiion, then carefully slunk away when consequences became a greater part of the conversation.

    Washington Post: After controversy, U.S. Catholic bishops say there will be ‘no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians’

    dozens of bishops debated the fact that the proposal for the document was a response to the election of Biden, a weekly Mass-attending Catholic who supports abortion rights. [75% voted for the process of developing such a document to go forward.]….

    Four days after the vote, on June 21, the USCCB released a Q&A excising past mention of Biden, a national policy or a focus on abortion. “There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us,” the Q&A said.

    Second — church polity allows a Conference to advise, but the actual decisions are made by the hierarchy.  Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops & Bishops have realms of responsibility.  And those responsible for Delaware and Washington DC had already made it clear that President Biden would not be excluded from the sacrament in their jurisdiction.

    • Colorado Pols says:

      We stand by this as written. They did vote for this policy, but then decided not to enforce it.

      And now it looks like it is being enforced in Colorado.

      Thanks for the additional context though, it's useful.

      • JohnInDenver says:

        Those attending the meeting of the Conference voted (overwhelmingly) for a statement to be written. The debate preceding that vote made it clear WHY the statement was needed (Biden’s added prominence) and who they expected to be included (politicians supporting abortion rights legislation).

        The process did continue, the document was presented and voted on in the fall of 2021. WAPO said at the time “The text called the Eucharist the most profound way God accompanies Catholics and called people back to church, saying “we miss you and we love you.” It also emphasized the “special responsibility” of Catholic public figures to shape their own views based on “the Church’s faith and moral law.” It said bishops are responsible “to work to remedy situations that involve public actions at variance with the visible communion of the Church and the moral law.” It didn’t take the controversial step of calling for a communion ban.

        Bishops and Archbishops already had the authority to set the standard. A few already have: Among them: “Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco last month called on his highest-profile parishioner, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, to refrain from receiving Communion as long as she continues to support legal abortion.” Others showed support. A list at

    • JohnNorthofDenver says:

      Only thing I remember about it: The the priest running the U.S. bishops' conference was found using Grindr, a gay dating app. 

  4. Thorntonite says:

    Meh.  Their club, their rules.

    Having said that, as soon as a club starts putting invitations requirements to the meal they are serving, it is no longer the "Lord's Table"…its theirs.  Jesus didn't turn anyone away from receiving the meal and the promise it represents. 

    What the guys in the magenta dresses are serving isn't "communion", its a crappy meal of, to borrow Trump's description, "a little cracker and a little juice" that has lost all meaning.

  5. Conserv. Head Banger says:

    How to serve mammon instead of Jesus, a primer, sponsored by the Catholic bishops of Colorado.

  6. Meiner49er says:

    Hey, people have been thrown out of windows for less. I say good on Ortiz, Duran, and Jaquez-Lewis.

  7. So if the bishops are ignoring the Pope, does that put them in violation of their calling? Should they then also be refused Communion?

    • JohnInDenver says:

      "the Pope" is also a bishop of Rome.  As I understand it, kinda "first among equals" in many ways.  Only the formally released encyclicals and papal bulls are "authoritative."  Beyond that, he can advise and set a tone.   For example,

      Interviewing Pope Francis in July, Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli asked the pope how he might act as a confessor to a gay person in light of his now famous remarks in a press conference in 2013, when he asked: "Who am I to judge?"

      Francis' reply appears in a new book The Name of God is Mercy to be released Tuesday.

      "On that occasion I said this: If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?" the pope says. "I was paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized."

      There is no new Catholic position on homosexuality just because the Pope is tolerant.


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