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Analysis: Archbishop Gregory says he won’t deny Biden communion. How will Catholics respond?

Denver Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 04:25 pm (CNA).-  

Washington’s archbishop, who will be made a cardinal this weekend, told a journalist Tuesday that in his diocese, he will not deny Holy Communion to a politician who has pledged to enshrine access to abortion in federal law and permit federal funding of abortions. That politician is President-elect Joe Biden.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s comment is sure to raise questions about the Church’s pro-life witness. But for some Catholics, the remark might also raise questions about the sincerity of U.S. bishops on the topic of ecclesial reform.

In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Church’s doctrinal office, told U.S. bishops in a memo that a Catholic politician “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” is engaged in “manifest” and “formal cooperation” in grave sin.

In such a case, the politician’s “pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.

If the Catholic perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”

Ratzinger’s memo was an application of canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

In short, Ratzinger’s memo gave bishops instruction on how to apply the Church’s law. On Tuesday, Archbishop Gregory said he has no plans to do so.

Some Catholics will soon raise objections to Gregory’s remark.

Pro-life activists will say bishops should stand up for the unborn, and that distributing the Eucharist to pro-choice politicians implies that abortion is not a serious moral issue. Some will accuse the archbishop of preferring secular approval to uncomfortable evangelical witness.

Those are exactly the arguments Catholics made when Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said in 2019 that he would not deny the Eucharist to New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed one of the most permissive abortion laws in the country’s history, and again in October of that year, when Dolan said he would not deny Biden the Eucharist.

If history is predictive, other Catholics will praise Gregory as a witness of civility and tolerance. They will say that no one should politicize the Eucharist, and that denying Holy Communion is not pastoral, or prudent.

They will not be the first to use that language.

In 2004, when U.S. bishops discussed pro-choice politicians and the Eucharist, one cardinal among them was charged with summarizing the memo sent from Ratzinger to bishops on the subject, as few of them had yet received it. The cardinal downplayed the memo, saying addressing the matter at all was up to the discretion of U.S. bishops.

“The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent,” the cardinal said.

That cardinal was Theodore McCarrick.

At the 2004 spring meeting of U.S. bishops, which took place in Denver, McCarrick inaccurately summarized the instructions of the Vatican on Holy Communion, omitting Ratzinger’s normative direction. Under McCarrick’s influence, the bishops decided the best way to handle the question was to defer to the individual judgement of bishops.

The memo, incidentally, was sent ahead of the meeting to two U.S. bishops: McCarrick, and the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Bishop Wilton Gregory.

In the wake of McCarrick’s more recent scandal, pro-lifers will not be the only ones to lament Gregory’s decision about Biden. Catholics concerned with ecclesial reform are also likely to have concerns.

Gregory is charged with leading the Archdiocese of Washington after the scandal of McCarrick, and in the wake of serious questions raised about his immediate predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl. The archbishop is charged with promoting healing, and enacting reform, and he’s pledged to do so.

But his critics are likely to see his remarks on Biden as a setback to reform. Some will argue that Gregory has substituted his own judgment for the law of the Church, and the Vatican’s instructions on how to apply it. That practice, they’ll say, is the kind of clericalism that made the McCarrick scandal possible.

Gregory may not see that matter that way, or believe himself to be flouting canon 915. But if his priests think he is not taking seriously ecclesiastical law, his reform agenda may be seriously jeopardized.

Archbishop Jose Gomez said last week that a Biden presidency promises “certain challenges” for the bishops of the U.S. As Gregory wades into controversy over canon 915, the reach of those challenges may soon become apparent.

 

Massachusetts governor must decide whether to veto bill expanding abortion access

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A measure expanding abortion access in Massachusetts has passed both the state house and senate, and could prompt a veto from the governor.

 
On Nov. 18, the state senate passed amendment 180 by a vote of 33-7, according to The Herald News; the amendment would allow for some abortions until the point of birth.

Legislators had inserted amendments into house and senate budget bills that would effectively implement the “Roe Act,” a bill proposed in 2019 to legalize abortion in the state in the event Roe v. Wade were overturned by the Supreme Court.
 
The amendments would allow for abortions up until the point of birth in the event of a lethal fetal anomaly. They would also allow for minors as young as 16 years old to have an abortion without parental consent.
 
In addition, the bill calls for life-saving equipment to be in the room when a doctor performs a legal late-term abortion, but only says the equipment is to “enable” the doctor to safe the life of a baby surviving an abortion. Pro-life groups have warned that the language amounts to “passive infanticide” by not specifically requiring a doctor to save the infant’s life.
 
On Nov. 18, the senate passed its budget bill that included amendment 180, the abortion measure. Now both budget bills will be reconciled in a conference committee, after which the final version will be voted on by both chambers and sent to the governor for signature.
 
Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has already stated his opposition to the measures. Pro-life groups are calling on Massachusetts residents to contact the governor asking him to veto the measures.
 
However, both the house and senate passed the amendments with a veto-proof majority.
 
The state’s Catholic bishops have stated their opposition to the amendments.
 
“Abortion at any time, from the moment of conception to birth, is in direct conflict with Catholic teaching and must be opposed,” the bishops said Nov. 24.
 
The pro-life group Massachusetts Citizens for Life also says that the measures allow for late-term abortions when a physician determines it “necessary” in order “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.” Also, under the proposed amendments, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives could perform abortions.

Feinstein will not continue as head Democrat on Senate Judiciary Committee

CNA Staff, Nov 24, 2020 / 03:21 pm (CNA).- Following complaints from liberal groups on her handling of Amy Coney’s Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced that she will not seek to continue as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“After serving as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee for four years, I will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position in the next Congress,” she said in a November 23 statement. Feinstein added she looks “forward to continuing to serve as a senior Democrat on the Judiciary, Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules committees as we work with the Biden Administration.”

Feinstein faced calls to step down from the position after she was cordial with her Senate colleagues at Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings last month. Feinstein, a Democrat, thanked chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) at the conclusion of the hearings, and said it was “one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in.”

“I want to thank you for your fairness and the opportunity of going back and forth,” she added. “It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions, and even some ideas,” she said, noting that “perhaps some good bipartisan legislation” could happen in the future.

Feinstein and Graham hugged each other after the hearings ended. Feinstein did not vote to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Despite not actually supporting Barrett’s confirmation, Feinstein was criticized for lending an “appearance of credibility to the proceeding.”

Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL, added in an October 16 statement that she believed “the committee needs new leadership.”

NARAL had previously endorsed Feinstein, and had described her as someone “at the forefront of the movement to safeguard (abortion rights).”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Senate minority leader, said in October that he had a “long and serious” talk with Feinstein regarding her position on the Judiciary Committee. Following her announcement that she would be stepping aside from the role, Schumer thanked her for her service.

“I know Senator Feinstein will continue her work as one of the nation’s leading advocates for women’s and voting rights, gun safety reform, civil liberties, health care, and the rights of immigrants,” he said.

It is unclear as of now who will replace Feinstein as the ranking member of the committee. According to POLITICO, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are likely contenders for the role.

 

Federal court says Texas can withhold Medicaid from Planned Parenthood

CNA Staff, Nov 24, 2020 / 10:05 am (CNA).- A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the authority of states to not fund abortion providers through Medicaid.

A majority opinion of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, issued Nov. 23, ruled that abortion providers and their customers could not challenge Texas’ decision to withhold Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the decision in a statement.

“Undercover video plainly showed Planned Parenthood admitting to morally bankrupt and unlawful conduct, including violations of federal law by manipulating the timing and methods of abortions to obtain fetal tissue for their own research,” Paxton stated.

“Planned Parenthood is not a ‘qualified’ provider under the Medicaid Act, and it should not receive public funding through the Medicaid program.”    

Texas in 2015 moved to defund Planned Parenthood, after undercover videos alleged that officials were unlawfully profiting from the sale of aborted fetal tissue.

The state’s determination of “qualified” Medicaid providers is between the state and the provider, the court ruled on Monday.

The case dates back to 2015, when citizen journalists with the group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) published undercover videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood officials. In the conversations, where the CMP members posed as fetal tissue harvesters, the videos appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the unlawful sale of fetal tissue for profit.

The research director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast appeared to suggest that the affiliate could alter abortion procedures to produce higher-quality tissue specimens for harvesters, having doctors perform abortions “in a way that they get the best specimens.”

Later that year, the Texas Office of the Inspector General said that Planned Parenthood was “no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, and legal manner.” The state barred Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding.

In response, several Texas Planned Parenthood providers and their customers brought a lawsuit.

In 2019, the Fifth Circuit ruled in the state’s favor. On Monday, the court considered whether Medicaid beneficiaries had a right to challenge the state’s determination in court. The Fifth Circuit ruled that they did not.

Under federal law, “Medicaid beneficiaries have an ‘absolute right,’… to receive services from a provider whom the State has determined is ‘qualified,’ but beneficiaries have no right under the statute to challenge a State’s determination that a provider is unqualified.”

What Biden foreign policy picks mean for religious freedom

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- President-elect Joe Biden announced several foreign policy appointments to his cabinet on Monday, including a nominee for Secretary of State. If confirmed, nominees will shape U.S. foreign policy on a range of subjects, especially religious freedom.

Biden will nominate Antony Blinken, former Deputy Secretary of State under President Obama, to be the next Secretary of State. Binken also served as assistant and a national security advisor to Obama, and worked on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration.

The appointment of a former Obama official to lead the State Department could signal a shift in U.S. policy on international LGBTQ issues and on promoting religious freedom abroad.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. invested tens of millions of dollars to promote LGBTQ concerns while being criticized by some religious freedom advocates for deemphasizing or taking a softer approach to promoting international religious freedom.

Some advocates pointed out lengthy gaps in time under the Obama administration where a key position at the State Department, the Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, remained vacant. The administration, meanwhile, established and appointed the first-ever Special Envoy for LGBTQ issues at the department in 2015.

Dr. Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, told CNA that through the special envoy, the U.S. could go further than simply trying to end violence against persons with same-sex attraction; the State Department could actively influence public opinion on the LGBT agenda in developing countries including by pressuring non-governmental organizations to change their beliefs on marriage.

In promoting international religious freedom, the State Department produces an annual report on the matter and lists certain countries in a tier rating system depending upon how poorly they protect religious freedom.

The Trump administration took a strong approach in presenting the report, condemning religious persecution and calling out bad actors by name. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned China’s abuses of largely-Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang more than two dozen times in less than a year.

The U.S. also formed the International Religious Freedom Alliance, and hosted the first-ever ministerial on religious freedom with religious and civic leaders attending from more than 100 countries.

Blinken, if confirmed, would also have to navigate these and other pressing humanitarian concerns, such as violence in Nigeria that has displaced millions of Muslims and Christians, and a dwindling Christian population in the Middle East.

The Biden administration could take a softer approach to dealing with bad actors, as some advocates, such as former USCIRF commissioner James Zogby, have called for a shift in the strategy of “naming-and-shaming” violators of religious freedom.

When he introduced the State Department’s 2015 religious freedom report, Blinken emphasized that “[t]he purpose of this annual report is not to lecture,” but rather “is to inform, to encourage, and ultimately to persuade.”

In Obama’s State Department, Blinken was part of an administration that pursued the nuclear deal with Iran and U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Accord—agreements that were supported by the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Holy See.

While the Trump administration withdrew from both agreements and ratcheted up “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran, Blinken may work to revive U.S. relations with Iran and participation in international climate agreements.

Also on Monday, Biden named Linda Thomas-Greenfield as his pick for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Greenfield served in the Obama administration as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and before that as Ambassador to Liberia. Among other issues, she fought laws that she said discriminated against the LGBT community, including criminalization of same-sex relations in countries like Uganda and Nigeria.

The Obama administration promoted LGBT concerns in Africa, but backlash in African countries reportedly led to some stricter laws against persons with same-sex attraction and violence against them.

At an April, 2014 congressional hearing, Greenfield spoke out against proposed “anti-LGBT legislation” in Africa that was leading to “renewed violence against the LGBT community.” Uganda had just enacted a law criminalizing homosexuality.

“We're in the process of reviewing that relationship and our funding to see where changes can be made and in particular changes that will take funding away from those organizations and entities that discriminate against the LGBT community,” Greenfield said.

In 2015, around a visit of the Nigerian president to the U.S., she reportedly said that “As a policy, we will continue to press the government of Nigeria as well as other governments who have provided legislation that discriminate against the LGBT community.” 

After President Obama promoted “the rights of gays and lesbians” during a 2015 trip to Kenya, Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja responded that “our Church has always said homosexuality is unnatural and marriage is between a man and a woman.”

During the Trump administration, the U.S. also spoke out against abortion as an international human right at the United Nations General Assembly. As Biden has pledged to support legal abortion and overturn a ban on funding of foreign abortion promoters and providers, his administration might also promote legal abortion as part of diplomacy.

When senior advisor to the president Ivanka Trump tweeted that she was “unapologetically pro-life” on Oct. 30, Greenfield replied “Good! Pro life means supporting the lives of children taken from their parents at the border, poor children and people with Covid...”.

Biden has also tapped former Secretary of State John Kerry to serve in his cabinet, as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Kerry in 2015 praised Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical Laudato Si’ as “powerful,” telling TIME magazine that the pope “thoughtfully applied” the value of environmental stewardship “to the very real threat our planet is facing today.”