The fact of the matter is, when Catholic politicians willfully promote objectively immoral actions, in this case abortion, they are denying an essential truth the Catholic Church has the responsibility to protect and promote: the inalienable dignity of every human being. When Catholic politicians publicly advocate for abortion, they are declaring that they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
This is the objective reality; it is not a judgment on the state of these Catholic politician’s souls. We don’t know if the politicians in question were properly catechized, or truly ignorant of the truth, or even cognitively impaired. “Are they in a state of mortal sin?” is not the essence of the matter when determining whether or not they should receive Holy Communion. A Catholic politician who promotes what Pope Francis recently called the “homicide” of the unborn (September 15, 2021) is objectively in a state of serious estrangement from the Church, regardless of the state of their soul. They should not act like they are in full communion with the Church. For the sake of their own integrity, Catholic politicians who support and promote abortion should not present themselves for Holy Communion. If they persist in their stance even after instruction and counsel, they should be denied It, for what is the act of receiving Holy Communion but a visible expression of an internal unity between oneself and Christ and His Church?
There are a number of issues at stake here, one being scandal. What message are Catholic politicians who support and promote abortion sending to their co-religionists when, having taken a public stance that places them outside of full communion with the Church, nevertheless insist on receiving Holy Communion, which is the visible expression of a union they themselves eschew? This is scandal, a stumbling block for others, and may even cause some members of the Church to lose their faith. Jesus says, Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6).
Another issue at stake here is the efficacy of the sacraments. While it is true the Church here on earth is not a gathering of the saved but a refuge for sinners, the Church has a priority right to the integrity of its belief and practice. Yes, the sacraments possess a supernatural power that brings sinners to salvation, but sinners are only saved when they acknowledge their sin. Christ extends to us salvation, but it is on His terms, not ours.
Finally, I have three more matters for consideration. First, taking a definitive stance on withholding Holy Communion from Catholic politicians who support and promote abortion begins the restoration of our Church’s tattered integrity. Truth lives, and it must be proclaimed. Doing so is a good in itself, even if the results we would like to see are not immediately forthcoming (in the near term we won’t see positive results). Second, this whole matter is for all of us a swift kick in our complacency. With around 70% of Catholics not knowing, or outright denying, Christ’s Real Presence in Holy Communion; with each of us also being sinners, and perhaps harboring stances that are at variance with what the Church teaches - but who have the luxury of them not being public - are we really in a position to be receiving Holy Communion, or at the very least, as often as we do? Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:28-31). Third, this is not a matter of the Church imposing religious beliefs on anyone, or compelling Catholic politicians to do the same in the legislative choices they make. That every human being has inalienable dignity is not a religious belief. A legislator who votes for the legality of abortion and abortion rights is the one who is actually doing the imposing. “To claim that one has a right to act according to conscience, but without at the same time acknowledging the duty to conform one’s conscience to the truth and to the law which God himself has written on our hearts, in the end, means nothing more than imposing one’s limited personal opinion” (St. Pope John Paul II, Respect for Conscience: Foundation for Peace - 1991 World Day of Peace Message).
David J. Conrad