Psst! Hey, Catholic Bishops – Can We Talk?

I have a Question


You May Have Heard What the Bishops are Up to of Late

American Catholic bishops recently took a drastic step. They went on record, by a hefty margin, recommending that local catholic authorities withhold the sacrament of the Eucharist for President Biden. The wording is more general, but everyone recognizes Biden is the target. They will decide in November on doing this or not.

Just to remind, the Eucharist (Communion) is ritual the church believes channels divine grace. It takes inspiration from the Last Supper. Participants consume bread and wine. Catholics believe these are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

I will set aside discussion of why eating the flesh and drinking the blood of your savior seems an odd proposition. Imagine explaining this to a visitor from another planet. Suffice it to say that this is a major part of Catholic, and more generally Christian, life. It is important to believers on an important level.

The bishops’ conference does not actually have the power to bar receiving communion. That power belongs to local bishops, who have autonomy in their dioceses, or the Pope. Technically, the bishops are skipped over. But they carry individual and collective weight. That they passed this first step against Vatican advice demonstrates they feel powerful.

So, Here is My Question

Are you people nuts?

This is not a faith of which I am a part. Still, as a reasonable observer, this strikes me as the single dumbest and most inappropriate thing done by religious leaders in a long time. And that is saying a lot.

In an era in which we have seen massive corruption, politicization, and misuse of religious authority in one denomination after another, this proposal stands out as uniquely wrong, on so many grounds.

Just for the record, two notes. This is is aimed at only the second Catholic president, 80 years after the first one was elected (Barely elected. More on that shortly). And by far the most religious and devout president we have had since Jimmy Carter, almost half a century ago. Biden is a deeply religious man. He is steeped in the traditions and structure of his faith community.

What is Wrong with This Proposal?

In short, pretty much everything about this is wrong. We could go on for a very long time discussing what is wrong about this, but let’s keep to the essentials.

Those of a certain age may recall that in 1960 the National Council of Churches recommended Americans not vote for John Kennedy.

They cited the risk he would not be free to govern. They said he likely would be forced to take directions from the Pope and others. He would legislate Catholic doctrine into national policy.

Against the advice of his advisors, Kennedy took on that challenge.  He successfully put it to rest in a famous speech on separation of church and state. It was a powerful speech. In case you have forgotten it, take a moment to read it.

Current US Bishops seem determined to make the National Council of Churches of 1960 current and correct. They wish to punish a president for refusing to use his office to mandate his beliefs as law for everyone.

Biden and other Catholic office holders who agree with him take a profoundly moral position. They believe that doing such a thing would be an unethical wrong and an abuse of power worthy of the Taliban. We don’t do things like that in a pluralist democracy. Shame on those who would take us otherwise.

Politically, this is also short sighted. It stirs up every old anti Catholic sentiment that still resides, by making their fears a reality. Such a stance can only serve to undercut future Catholic candidates. It would force them to disavow their religious leadership or submit to other than the will of the people.

Denominationally, this gives more Catholics reason to think it is time to leave. No doubt many Catholics agree that they are against abortion. But about half do not feel such absolutism is correct. I would bet way more feel the bishops acting as enforcers like this is wrong, irrespective of the issue. A movement in decline does not have the luxury of such abuse of power.

Theologically and morally, this feels very wrong. Others have written more eloquently about this than I. They do so because this is a part of their own faith traditions. Using Communion as a weapon/reward is wrong and morally repugnant. The clergy does not own Communion – they are there to serve it to those who seek it for whatever reasons lead them to it.

What the bishops are doing calls up teasing a dog with a treat, withholding it until a trick is performed. Dress it up as you wish, that is the reality as I see it.

Jimmy Carter has devoted much of his life to his religious beliefs and his church. Eventually, he felt compelled to separate the two. He left his denomination to save his spirituality. Are the bishops forcing Biden to make a similar choice? Their loss, should he feel so compelled.

Practically, this shows a warped sense of priorities. The bishops have failed miserably, time and again to deal with sexual and power abuses in their own ranks. They did speak out on some issues, but they were mostly tame and silent in the face of daily outrages by Trump and his administration.  

But now they wish to pick a fight with Joe Biden, their faithful fellow traveler. I know they would say it was he who picked the fight. That is BS; I can conjure no kinder term.

This is a Reminder About Organized Religion – Note it, Please

I know what I am about to say will dismay some friends and readers, but it needs to be said.

This kind of thing seems endemic to every religion, in every part of the world, throughout history. Build a hierarchy and in short order, those well placed in that hierarchy will tell you that they speak for God(s).

They relay that God (he/she/they) pass along some messages that others must obey. Top that off with a system designed to be above the law and without meaningful checks on power. That is a formula for heartbreak and abuse. Thus, has it ever been. Amen.

We are approaching the middle third of the 21st Century. Surely, we can do better than this for our moral guidance by now.

Let’s take responsibility as a species. Let’s do the right things. Do so because we know they are right, not because someone told us to, or because we fear punishment in another life. Let’s grow up.

                       Bill Clontz

If you find this blog worthy of your time and curiosity, I invite you to do two things:

(1) Join the conversation. Your voice counts here. If you wish to share COMMENTS anonymously, make the last word in your comment “PRIVATE.” I will assure your privacy via anonymity.

(2) Share the word about this post with friends and colleagues. Share a link in your emails and social media posts ( Let’s grow our circle.


7 replies to Psst! Hey, Catholic Bishops – Can We Talk?

  1. I saw this on Facebook. A perfect addition to your blog.

    I don’t understand “withholding communion.”
    It’s not a prize for the best performance.
    It isn’t a gold star for top marks.
    It’s grace and we’re not the ones giving it.
    “But what if someone unworthy receives it?”
    Uh, that would be “everybody.”

    • I saw that one, too. Could not agree more.Thanks for sharing this with everyone. A fine one to quote.

  2. I think your best comment in this post is “Are you nuts?!?” I am in total agreement.

    I also think it is important to acknowledge that there are many, many Catholics–and those in other denominations– who feel the same way. These Bishops may fantasize that they speak for the entire Catholic Church (which they no doubt consider the only Church) but in truth they do not. It is indeed a dilemma when one’s faith is so important to you (as it obviously is to President Biden) and yet you do not believe in every doctrine. It makes many of us, even ordained clergy, personally struggle with these situations. I can say that as an ordained Episcopal priest I would never ever feel I had the authority to deny someone communion and that is not just because I am an Episcopalian. I know Catholic priests that feel exactly the same way.

    My only additional comment after “Are you nuts?” would probably be “I am so tired of this @*&#* spewed in the name of God.”

    • Well said. Grateful to have some clergy input into this discussion. Thank you.

  3. I agree and applaud you for speaking so plainly. Having been involved in interfaith/interspiritual groups for some years, I say you are correct that all worldwide religions have fundamentalists in their midst. What I’ve seen in Asheville, with Jews, Christians, and a few Muslims working together is they have more in common with each other than with the fringes of their separate religions. I like and agree with what His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, “My religion is kindness.”

  4. Is this the same organization that brought us the Inquisition?

Your Turn to Comment