Andrew M. Haines

Andrew M. Haines is the Editor of Ethika Politika and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

Pope Denies Communion to Pro-Abortion Politicians

By | May 8, 2013

Communion at a Papal MassBig news from the Vatican—this time because of Pope Francis’s recent letter to South American bishops denouncing communion for pro-abortion politicians. Here’s the lead from an article published by LifeNews.com:

A letter Pope Francis sent to the bishops of Argentina in late March is encouraging pro-life advocates because it says pro-abortion politicians should not be eligible for communion in the Catholic Church.

Simple, straight-forward, and possibly game changing. (Certainly more than most lackey American bishops are doing.) Incidentally, this is also the snippet that appears when LifeNews’s article is linked via social media. As expected, the story is prompting much resentment toward the popular media for its failure to cover the story—not to mention harsh rebuke directed at local bishops for not ordering the letter to be read in their own dioceses.

What LifeNews doesn’t offer is a link to the letter. (Here it is.) They also don’t mention that the letter includes nothing specific about abortion, communion, or politicians. What the pope’s letter does reference is the 2007 Aparecida Document (English translation here) that “states, in part,”

[people] cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals.

To state “in part,” though—to use LifeNews’s language—deserves a bit more context: the line above occurs in paragraph 436 of the 554 Aparecida Document—hardly with much prominence (and, I would argue, without much strong language of a relevant juridical nature). “A letter Pope Francis sent [...] says pro-abortion politicians should not be eligible for communion in the Catholic Church.” More than a bit of a stretch.

And all this from a “responsible” source of Catholic news with (they tell us) over 500,000 readers—one that aims to reject popular media bias on things like the Gosnell trial, but is more than happy to stoke the fires of blissful ignorance when it comes to “pro-life” spin (actions that are roughly the right-wing equivalent of HuffPo Catholic reactionism.) In a word, arming advocates of truth and justice with just enough information to rile them up, knowingly omitting the full story, and sending them on their (now probably less) merry way.

If there’s one thing Pope Francis wouldn’t want, I think it’s clear from his character and actions, it is that he would be intentionally misrepresented—especially in a way that would lead to divisions among the faithful and uninformed criticism of pastors.

Another paragraph from the Aparecida Document is worth noting, here (namely number 38):

[W]e must admit that [our] precious tradition is beginning to erode. Most of the mass media now present us with new, attractive, fantasy-filled images, which, although everyone knows that they cannot show the unifying meaning of all aspects of reality, at least offer the consolation of being transmitted in real time, live and direct, and with up to date information. Far from filling the void produced in our consciousness by the lack of a unifying sense of life, the information transmitted by the media often only distracts us. Lack of information is only remedied with more information, reinforcing the anxiety of those who feel that they are in an opaque world that they do not understand.

LifeNews’s article, like so much else, hardly avoids this breach between the transmission of information and true education. What’s more, the bishops—who are indeed to be commended for their position on “eucharistic coherence”—remind us that such dishonest behavior reinforces anxiety, and leads to the very sort of intellectual dissonance that underlies so much social ill (like, for example, the shortsighted and pragmatic politics of abortion).

As it happens, Pope Francis hasn’t written the Argentine bishops to refuse communion for pro-abortion politicians. But he has taken measures to ensure that his own actions don’t contradict that practice. In doing so, he has made careful, prudential decisions about the exercise of his ministry that lead not only to stricter adherence to certain neglected teachings of the Church, but also to a clarification of the “unifying sense of life” that must, and always has underlain the fullness of the Catholic tradition.

When we sensationalize aspirations to orthodoxy, we succumb to the very disease we fight: namely, cheap belief and an uncritical profession of faith. And of one thing we can be certain, that nothing will guarantee its metastasis more surely than those who profess to know its symptoms overlooking and embracing them, since examining them carefully would prove too exhausting and unrewarding.

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  • http://LifeNews Steven Ertelt

    Interesting analysis. Never mind that it omits how most of the article is a reaction from American Life League, a respected pro-life Catholic group. They see the document diffierently.

  • Cecilia Gzz

    we need this to be extended to all nations! Priests should stop encouraging pro-abortion, pro-choice leaders and “Catholics”

  • http://everydayasceticism.com Dylan Pahman

    @Steven – Doesn’t that just reflect even more poorly upon LifeNews? Shouldn’t they be checking their sources, rather than simply parroting what others say without question? What would be the best practices of good journalism?

    As it is, Andrew does a pretty good job here of examining the actual texts in question. Something may be respected rightly or wrongly. I have far more respect for a good argument and analysis than a good reputation. All your comment suggests to me is that neither LifeNews nor the American Life League are very deserving of the respect they garner. Good goals and causes do not justify sloppy or deceptive means. And once upon a time good journalists would print a retraction when they had erred rather than digging in their heels. That, indeed, would be deserving of respect.

  • Alberto Hurtado

    Having read the original letter in Spanish, isn’t the real issue here that American Life League tee’d off on the US Bishops over the issues of communion to pro-choice politicians when clearly that letter was anything but? I’m not sure how that exactly advances the pro-life cause. At best, it makes ALL look a bit foolish when a simple reading of the letter shows that it was NOT primarily about the Pope directing the Argentinian Bishops to deny communion.

  • Lion IRC

    I dont think it is misrepresentation of Pope Francis which will “lead to divisions among the faithful”.
    Rather, I think it will be his plain speaking that shall be the cause. Nothing ambiguous about his deliberate invocation of El Documento del Aparecida.

  • Lion IRC

    “Allí están las orientaciones que necesitamos para este momento de la historia.”

  • Lion IRC

    I love the way Pope Francis says we ourselves (nosotros mismos) must leave the peripheral/trivial/mundane.

    “Debemos salir de nosotros mismos hacia todas las periferias existenciales y crecer en parresía.

    …and grow in “parrhesia”.
    (Definition : a tendency to boldness and frankness of speech.)