News broke last week that U.S. Catholic bishops are considering pressing President Joe Biden and other pro-choice Catholic politicians to not receive Communion due to their pro-choice stance.
Among those bishops is Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila.
In an essay from last month, the Archbishop writes in support of denying Communion to public officials, as well as anyone who attempts to accept Communion under false pretenses.
“While it is likely that many–too many–receive the Eucharist in a state that is objectively separated from God, there is an added obligation on public officials who openly and persistently live in a state of grave sin,” Aquila writes. “Their example leads others into sin and compounds the risk of condemnation that may come their way when they stand before God.”
Aquila believes there needs to be a unified, national policy on Communion, and he’s suggested that bishops should strive to first have a private conversation with the offending Catholic, and then withhold Communion if that person doesn’t change their ways, according to an Associated Press report.
Even if a document denying Communion to Biden and others were to pass the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June by a two-thirds vote, which some argue is unlikely, it would still allow individual bishops the final decision on Communion–and both bishops who primarily serve Biden have said they do not plan on denying him.
Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter writes in an op-ed that he sees it as “an effort to delegitimize Biden in the public’s mind. This conflation of politics and religion is evident in the fact that a political organization, CatholicVote.org, is one of the principal advocacy groups fomenting this campaign about sacramental discipline.”
Aquila, for his part, has long been outspoken about local and national political issues, particularly abortion but others as well. Not only has he spoken both for and against certain ballot measures and legislation in Colorado, but he’s also openly condemned politicians by name in sermons.
In January, Aquila spoke on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade at his “Respect Life Mass” during which he accused Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of “putting their souls in jeopardy” and “scandal” because of their pro-choice stances.
“That is precisely the problem with now President Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and other Catholic politicians and laity,” said Aquila. “Who, when it comes to the dignity of human life for the unborn child, do not subordinate their positions to the truth of the gospel.
“They are putting their very souls in jeopardy,” Aquila continued.
“We can never take the position of a Pelosi or a Biden, or so many other Catholics,” said Aquila. “They give scandal to the church by what they do, because what they do is wrong.”
Aquila also released a statement following Biden’s inauguration, in which he urged Biden to stand by Catholic values when it comes to “abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender.”
At the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers in 2019, he asked people to pray not just for loved ones, but for enemies, as well.
“Do we truly pray for our enemies? Do we pray for people like Trump? Do we pray for [U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez (D-NY)] AOC? Do we pray for Biden, and Pelosi?” said Aquila.
During the 2019 Respect Life Mass, Aquila condemned Catholics who take a pro-choice position–even though the majority of Catholics do.
“Even among Catholics and Christians, there are those who follow idols, and not Jesus,” Aquila said. “And we can see that in the way that many Catholics and Christians have taken a pro-choice position, or who promote abortion, and do not protect human life.”
This past election included heavy involvement from the Catholic Church. Proposition 115–which would have banned abortion in Colorado after 22 weeks had it passed–was pushed by Aquila and the Denver Archdiocese’s anti-abortion philanthropic arm, Respect Life Denver.
In 2016, he had multiple speaking engagements in which he urged people to vote against Prop. 106 (the bill ended up passing by a large margin).
“All of the trickery that is there as one looks at Proposition 106–that it is compassion; that it is choice; and it is far from that,” Aquila said in a Homily.
Aquila also publicly encouraged Colorado lawmakers to repeal the death penalty, which was successfully overturned March 2020.
In addition to taking active part in state and national politics, Aquila has been outspoken against the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2019 he penned a letter against a bill (now law) that requires comprehensive sex education for students that is LGBTQ+ friendly, writing, “We know that God made us male and female, in his image and likeness, but the comprehensive curriculum route which most schools will likely adopt teaches innocent children this is not true.”
When asked to comment in response to Aquila’s involvement in and commentary on politics, Archdiocese of Denver’s Director of Public Relations Mark Haas argued that Aquila and other faith leaders deserve to be involved in politics.
“Archbishop Aquila, and many other faith leaders of all religious denominations around the country, are involved in political issues because by their nature these matters involve what we believe in as a society, of which the Church is a part,” Haas told the Colorado Times Recorder. “Contrary to the idea of a ‘wall of separation,’ the 1st Amendment guarantees that our country protects the place and contributions of religion in society, while also ensuring that the state does not adopt any one religion i.e. become a theocratic nation.”
Haas also noted that the Archdiocese has been involved in social and political causes outside of abortion and euthanasia.
“Last year we were heavily involved in the repeal of the death penalty, and the Archbishop has spoken often in support of DACA and reforming our immigration system,” Haas said.
Some examples that Haas gave of this year’s bills that the Colorado Catholic Conference has supported include initiatives to provide emergency supplies for Colorado babies and families, improve prison release outcomes, and replace the term ‘illegal alien,’ among others.
Haas also called the Associated Press’ reporting “not entirely accurate.”
According to the Catholic News Agency, a source close to USCCB told the publication that “at the U.S. bishops’ spring general assembly, either the doctrine committee will present a ‘broad document’ on fitness for reception of Communion, or there will be a vote to consider such a document at the next meeting, in November.”
On the other hand, Maggie Garrett, vice president of public policy at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told CTR that while Aquila does have the freedom to voice his views, he cannot “endorse or oppose political candidates or parties from the pulpit.”
“While we at Americans United for Separation of Church and State disagree with many of Archbishop Aquila’s views, he–like all faith leaders–has the right to voice his opinions on political and social issues and to base those views on his interpretation of religious doctrine,” said Garrett. “The main limitation is that he cannot endorse or oppose political candidates or parties from the pulpit or in his official capacity representing a tax-exempt church. That limitation is laid out in a federal law known as the Johnson Amendment, which protects the integrity of nonprofits, including houses of worship, by ensuring their charitable missions are not corrupted by partisan politics.
“While faith leaders can invoke their religious beliefs when they lobby government, our elected officials must represent all citizens, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs, and make policy that reflects our country’s shared secular values,” Garrett continued. “Religious freedom is a shield that protects the rights of everyone, not a sword used to harm others.”