American Bishops Join the Culture Wars


By Mike Farrell

Sloughing off a warning from the Vatican, the American Conference of Catholic Bishops seem to have enlisted in the Culture Wars with an act of shocking hypocrisy.

While Pope Francis has espoused a consistent life ethic, a ”seamless garment” urging an end to both abortion and the death penalty, the American Bishops Conference recently voted by a large margin to move forward on drafting guidance that will deny President Biden and other Catholic elected officials the right to receive the Eucharist — Holy Communion — at Mass because they support abortion rights for others. Capital punishment wasn’t mentioned. For the bishops, it appears, the “garment” has been torn asunder.

President Biden and many Catholic politicians oppose abortion personally but support the right to the procedure for those who believe differently. How American of them.

Clearly, the Catholic hierarchy sees it differently: last September, after then-Attorney General William Barr awakened the federal death penalty from a 17-year sleep, the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast honored him for his “Christlike behavior.” On the day he was so honored, six men in federal custody had already been executed, one of them the day before the breakfast. One day later the seventh was put to death. By the time Barr abandoned his post, his Department of Justice had executed five more men and one woman in the space of seven months. This death-dealing assembly line was ghoulish, not only were they the first federal executions in 17 years, but the ten killings in 2020 alone were more than in any calendar year since 1897.

It’s hard to recognize the American Bishops’ denial of Communion – the heart of the Mass — to politicians who support abortion rights in accord with American law, as concern for “the sanctity of human life” while ignoring the fact that their peers honored an official who ordered the killing of 13 human beings in seven months, some of whom suffered from mental illness, had been horribly abused, were teenagers at the time of their crimes, and in one case was not even the actual killer.

Where is the American Bishops’ need to cancel the Eucharist for the many Catholic politicians who support the death penalty, a punishment so internationally reviled it leaves us in the company of China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran? How do Culture War politics justify ignoring the more than 180 women and men released from death row through evidence of their innocence? How do the American Bishops explain to themselves the innocent who have been executed as they condemn American politicians for sanctioning a process affecting only a carefully selected version of “innocent life”?

The hypocrisy of the American Bishop’s Conference is revolting. This may explain why so many American Catholics are in revolt.


Mike Farrell is the President of Death Penalty Focus. He is also a spokesperson for Concern America, an international refugee aid and development organization, Co-Chair Emeritus of the California Committee of Human Rights Watch, and occasionally, a Good Will Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Known to millions as “B.J. Hunnicutt” of television’s historic “M*A*S*H” and from NBC-TV’s “Providence,” he is also a writer, director, and producer.

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