Colorado bishops ‘weaponizing’ Communion, Catholic lawmakers say

(RNS) – Catholic lawmakers in Colorado who have been asked by their bishops to voluntarily abstain from communion say church leaders are ‘weaponizing’ the Eucharist to punish lawmakers for their votes in favor of a proposed abortion rights law.

The request of the bishops, made in public letter sent to Catholic lawmakers last Monday (June 6), called to vote for Colorado Reproductive Health Equity Act in April, a “grossly culpable action” that puts lawmakers at risk of committing a “mortal sin,” defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as one who brings “eternal death” if the sinner does not seek repentance.

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

Some of the lawmakers say they will comply and stay off the communion rail, while others say the letter, signed by four Catholic bishops, including the Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, the Archbishop of Denver , will not deter them from receiving the sacrament. .

The Reproductive Health Equity Act protects a person’s right to continue a pregnancy, abort, and use or refuse contraception without interference from state and local public entities. “A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus has no independent or derivative rights under the laws of this state,” the law says. It places no limits on when a person can choose to have an abortion.

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

“When you say, ‘Because you supported this bill, you shouldn’t be able to participate in something so personal and private between you and your God,’ I take issue with that,” Duran said. She added, “Jesus brought everyone to the table.

Colorado State Rep. Monica Duran, right, in Denver. Photo courtesy of Monica Duran

State Senator 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 learn of the bishops’ letter, especially in light of the Vatican’s instruction to US bishops to exercise caution. when they considered denying Communion to President Joe Biden over his support for abortion rights last fall.

Pope Francis Told journalists at the time that “every time bishops have not managed an issue as pastors, they have taken a political stand on a political issue”.

State Senator Julie Gonzales, co-sponsor of RHEA as well as a bill abolishing the death penalty in Colorado, noted that Catholic lawmakers who opposed the death penalty bill n had not been asked to withdraw from communion, despite capital’s condemnation by the church. Punishment.

“There are a lot of Catholic social teachings, around, for example, supporting the poor or supporting immigrants, and I haven’t seen the Catholic Church and the bishops send letters to those who vote against those teachings. social Catholics,” said Gonzales, who is a former Catholic.

In an email to RNS, Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Colorado, said the bishops’ prioritization of abortion is not inconsistent because abortion “violates a fundamental moral teaching of the Church in its complete desecration of life and the millions of children who are killed each year.

She pointed to the description of abortion in documents released by the Second Vatican Council as a “supreme dishonor to the Creator” and the 2019 declaration by US Catholic bishops that abortion is their “preeminent priority.”

Vessely added that the bishops’ letter does not transgress church-state boundaries because “the Catholic Church believes there should be consistency between a person’s beliefs and actions,” and that consistency is constitutionally protected. The bishops’ request also does not abuse the Eucharist for political purposes, Vessely said, because their letter was pastoral in nature.

“The bishops therefore do not threaten Catholic legislators, but rather observe that they are probably not in communion with the Catholic belief on life. And because they care about their souls and those who might be misled, they warn them that they are causing damage,” Vessely wrote.

Jamie Manson.  Photo courtesy of Catholics for Choice

Jamie Manson. Photo courtesy of Catholics for Choice

Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, called “pretty extreme” the claim that voting for abortion legislation could be a mortal sin, pointing out that voting for abortion rights legislation is only indirectly related to abortion.

Gonzales said her stance on abortion takes into account the views of her constituents, Catholic and non-Catholic.

“The vast majority of Catholics in Colorado have access to contraceptives and are pro-choice. So I see the legislation I was proud to sponsor as consistent with what Catholics in Colorado are asking for, and I feel the bishops are out of step with their parishioners on this,” Gonzales said.

According to a March 2022 poll Data from the Public Religion Research Institute, 59% of white Catholics and 57% of Hispanic Catholics in the United States believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

“We have all-male, all-celibate clergy, so-called. And so they don’t have a foray into mainstream life,” Manson said. “Catholic leaders need to start listening to their people. They must begin to believe in the wisdom of the laity.


RELATED: After Abortion Vote, Colorado Catholic Bishops Ask Lawmakers To Withhold Communion


Vessely said the bishops remain open to conversation with Catholic politicians who voted for RHEA. Their letter asks legislators to refrain from Communion “(until public repentance takes place and sacramental absolution is received in confession.”

Gonzales and Jaquez Lewis, who were raised in a Catholic background but are not practicing Catholics, both received the bishops’ letter last Monday. The two say that even though they occasionally attend mass, they have already not received communion because they are not members of the Catholic Church.

“I never took communion, and certainly after this incident I have no intention of starting,” Gonzales said.

The Colorado Capitol, left, in downtown Denver.  Photo by Acton Crawford/Unsplash/Creative Commons

The Colorado Capitol, left, in downtown Denver. Photo by Acton Crawford/Unsplash/Creative Commons

Duran said she plans to continue receiving the sacrament. She told RNS that she had been married for 38 years, and for 35 of those years she and her husband were unable to take communion because they had already been married. Eventually, they decided to jump through a number of hoops to gain access to the sacrament again in 2019.

“I just lost my husband in January, and the bishops are telling me that if we support this bill that gives women the right to choose and decide what to do with their bodies, I am being asked not to take Holy Communion “, says Duran. “Trying to make myself feel guilty for not receiving the sacrament because I did my job and supported this bill – and I still do today and I will support it tomorrow – is not just.”

Ortiz said he would personally abstain from Communion because that is what bishops demand, though he added that he was not saying other Catholics should do the same.

“If they think it will bring me closer to God, we’ll see. I will obey the request, and we will see if you really bring me the grace, the love and the compassion of God through this act.


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