I am a Protestant

I am a protestant. I was born into a protestant family and have participated in a protestant church all of my life. I have celebrated Reformation Sunday as a regular part of the Christian Year. I have tried to avoid public criticism of any part of the Christian Church and I have many good friends who are Roman Catholic. While we have far many more points of agreement about theology and the expression of faith, we appear to be divided for now and for the rest of my life by the Roman Catholic Church’s unwillingness to accept the leadership of 50% of its faithful members. By denying ordination to women, the church has turned away so many capable, qualified, faithful, committed, and prepared leaders that the entire leadership of the church is skewed in its opinions and understanding of the members of their congregations.

But it is not my place to tell any member or leader of the Roman Catholic Church what to believe or what to do.

Yesterday, however, I once again understood the deep divisions within the Christian Church. I know that while we all pray for unity within the church and we all reach out with Christian love to one another, we cannot become a single church. My heart breaks, not only for the unity of the church, but also for the faithful members of the Roman Catholic Church by the yesterday’s decision of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to draw hip a teaching document on politicians who support abortion. Specifically the move, which easily passed on a vote of 168 to 55 with six abstentions, will declare that those who support abortion are out of community with the church and therefore not eligible to receive Holy Communion.

The Most Rev Liam Cary, the bishop of Baker, Oregon, said the church was in an “unprecedented situation,” with “a Catholic president who is opposed to the teaching” of the church. I want to point out that he is factually incorrect. The situation is not unprecedented. In the first place the only precedent is John F. Kennedy. Joseph Biden is only the second president in the history of the nation who has been a member of the Roman Catholic Church. That aside, there have been hundreds of American politicians who are Roman Catholic who have supported the death penalty, in direct opposition to the teaching of the church. Moreover, and more importantly, Holy Communion is not reserved for persons without sin. The liturgy for Holy Communion includes a prayer of confession. We confess that we did not earn the right to come to the table by our own righteousness, but rather have received that invitation by the Grace of God to us who are all sinners. The “holier than thou” attitude of the Bishops, who believe not only that they are all worthy, but also that they have the right to determine who is and who is not worthy to receive communion, is itself in direct conflict with the teachings of the church. The notion that anyone, including the officiating clergy, would be free from sin was rejected by the church more than a thousand years ago.

The action of the bishops is in direct conflict with the opinion of the majority of the members of the Roman Catholic Church. In the debate, the Bishops argued over a single politician, Joseph Biden, although the name of Nancy Pelosi, also a member of the Roman Catholic Church, was also mentioned. According to recent polls, 67% of US Catholics favor the president being able to receive communion regularly. That is not a small majority. A cynic could say that not only do the bishops favor denying ordination to women, they also do not listen to the opinions of female members of the church.

The bishops do not even represent the majority of US ordained priests. Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, one of the few members of the Conference of Bishops whom I have personally met, stated that most priests will be “puzzled to hear that bishops now want to talk about excluding people at a time when the real challenge before them is welcoming people back to the regular practice of the faith and rebuilding their communities.” The Most Rev Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego, warned that the document now being drafted will lead to the “weaponization” of the Eucharist.

The document that will be drafted will not be binding. Each individual bishop retains the right to decide who should be blocked from the Mass in his diocese. And it will be debated when the Bishops gather in November. The Vatican, the center of power in the hierarchical church expressed opposition to yesterday’s debate, urging the bishops to delay the vote. I guess they didn’t feel obligated to listen to the teaching of Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s theological watchdog. I guess they didn’t feel obligated to listen to the Pope himself, who warned against weaponization of the Eucharist. I confess, I don’t know what they were thinking.

In recent decades the Conference of Catholic Bishops has failed to deal with its own sin of paedophilia and the sheltering of predatory abusers of children. The decline in membership of the Roman Catholic church in the United States has been in part due to this decades long scandal. The choice to consider punishing the best-known American Catholic, a man who attends Mass weekly and regularly speaks of his faith, is nothing less than a partisan political move.

I think it was Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who coined the phrase “insufficiently pro life.” It is a phrase that could be applied to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Opposition to abortion is an official teaching of the church, but it is not the church’s only teaching. The church also has official teachings about the care of the poor. The church has official teachings about the welcoming of immigrants. The church has official teachings about the death penalty. If they decide to deny the eucharist to those who disagree with the official teachings of the church, they quickly will find themselves without anyone who has been deemed “worthy” of receiving communion. That hardly is building up the community of the church, the body of Christ.

I have no right to tell the US Conference of Catholic Bishops anything. I understand that. All the same, on this day I am grateful that I am a protestant and will continue to celebrate the brave church leaders of our heritage who sought to reform the church, even at the risk of themselves being denied the sacrament. And, I know another thing that the bishops do not. They cannot control the Holy Spirit. Thousands of people that the bishops seek to deny the sacraments of the church receive the sacraments through other communities of faith. It doesn’t take a bishop for the sacrament to exist. We protestants have known that for hundreds of years.

Made in RapidWeaver