Home Christian News Colorado Bishops ‘Weaponizing’ Communion, Catholic Lawmakers Say

Colorado Bishops ‘Weaponizing’ Communion, Catholic Lawmakers Say

Colorado Bishops
The Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Denver, conducts Christmas Eve Mass in Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 24, 2021, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(RNS) — Catholic lawmakers in Colorado who have been asked by their bishops to voluntarily refrain from Communion say the church leaders are “weaponizing” the Eucharist to punish the legislators for their votes for an abortion rights bill.

The bishops’ request, made in an open letter sent to Catholic lawmakers last Monday (June 6), called voting for Colorado’s Reproductive Health Equity Act in April a “gravely sinful action” that puts legislators at risk of committing a “mortal sin,” defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as one that brings “eternal death” if the sinner doesn’t seek repentance.

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

Some of the lawmakers say they will comply and stay away from the Communion rail, while others say the letter, signed by four Catholic bishops, including the Rev. 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, have an abortion and to use or refuse contraception without interference from state and local public entities. “A fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent or derivative rights under the laws of this state,” the act says. It does not place limits on when a person may choose to get an abortion.

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

“When you say ‘Because you supported this piece of legislation you should not be able to partake in something so personal and private between you and your God,’ I take issue with that,” said Duran. She added, “Jesus brought everybody to the table.”

Colorado state representative Monica Duran, right, in Denver. Photo courtesy of Monica Duran

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

State Sen. 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 hear of the bishops’ letter, especially in light of the Vatican’s instruction to U.S. bishops to tread carefully when they considered withholding Communion from President Joe Biden over his support for abortion rights last fall.

Pope Francis told reporters at the time that “every time the bishops have not managed a problem as pastors, they have taken a political stance on a political problem.”

State Sen. Julie Gonzales, the co-sponsor of RHEA as well as a bill that abolished the death penalty in Colorado, noted that Catholic legislators who opposed the death penalty bill were not asked to opt out of Communion, despite the church’s condemnation of capital punishment.

“There are lots of Catholic social teachings, around, say, 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 Catholic social teachings,” said Gonzales, who is a former Catholic.

In an email to RNS, Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, 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 annually.”