POLITICS

Catholic Priest Pledges To Deny Communion, Church Roles To Pro-Choice Lawmakers

The Rev. Richard Bucci declares that Rhode Island lawmakers who backed an abortion rights bill can't serve as godparents.

A Rhode Island Catholic priest intends to deny Holy Communion and other church privileges to state lawmakers who supported an abortion rights bill signed into law last year.

Rev. Richard Bucci, a priest at West Warwick’s Sacred Heart Church, created a flier listing the names of 66 lawmakers who would be refused communion at his parish, The Providence Journal reported.

Bucci reportedly gave the flier to parishioners at his church on Jan. 26, a date near the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion. The priest also reportedly mailed the flier, which named both Catholics and non-Catholics, to legislators’ homes.

“In accord with the teaching of the Catholic Church for 2,000 years, the following members of the legislature may NOT receive Holy Communion, as are all the officers of the state of Rhode Island, as well as Rhode Island’s members of Congress,” the flier reads, according to the Journal. “In addition, they will not be allowed to act as witnesses to marriage, godparents, or lectors at weddings, funerals or any other church function.”

Lectors are those who read aloud scriptural passages used in church services.

The 72-year-old priest told the Journal he wanted the lawmakers to “take responsibility” for their views on abortion rights. 

“They call me ‘Father’ so that I may have an influence in their lives, and this is a serious issue of life and death,” Bucci said. 

Sacred Heart Church did not return HuffPost’s request for comment.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Providence told HuffPost that Bucci has the authority to make decisions about how to administer Holy Communion in his own parish. The spokesperson declined to explicitly state whether its leader, Bishop Thomas Tobin, approves of the ban. 

“Because the Church entrusts to each pastor the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and governing his parish, the daily pastoral and administrative decisions are made at the local parish level,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Catholic bishops have a considerable amount of authority over the clerical actions of priests in their dioceses. It would be rare for a priest to continue to take a public stance on key Catholic rites without at least the tacit approval of his bishop.

On Monday, Tobin tweeted that politicians have a duty to “make courageous choices in support of life.” 

Bucci’s list of lawmakers stems from the battle in Rhode Island’s General Assembly last June over a contentious abortion bill. The Reproductive Privacy Act of 2019 sought to counter a wave of anti-abortion bills that emerged in Republican-run states last year as part of an effort to strike down Roe v. Wade. The Rhode Island bill codified abortion rights at the state level, in anticipation of a fight over abortion in federal courts. 

The bill was heavily opposed by Tobin and the diocese’s lobbying arm, the Rhode Island Catholic Conference

Rhode Island is the most Catholic state in the U.S., with 41% of the state’s residents identifying as its adherents, according to a survey published by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2017.  

But the church hierarchy’s views on abortion clash with the views of many residents who identify as Catholics. In a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, most Rhode Island Catholics said abortion should be legal in all or most cases (57%). In a 2018 poll by Public Religion Research Institute, 65% of state residents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. 

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), a Catholic, signed the Reproductive Privacy Act into law. 

Catholic doctrine teaches that the Eucharist is the “summit and source” of Christian life. Consequently, denying this sacrament to a parishioner is a weighty gesture. 

Other priests have made political statements by refusing to offer communion to certain public figures ― most commonly over the culture war issues of abortion and LGBTQ rights. Last year, a South Carolina priest banned former Joe Biden, a Catholic, from receiving communion during a visit because of the former vice president’s support for abortion rights. An Illinois bishop decreed last June that Catholic lawmakers who supported state abortion rights legislation would be banned from communion. In Michigan, a priest told a married lesbian parishioner late last year that she was barred from receiving the sacrament at his church.

In 2009, former U.S. House Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat, revealed that Tobin had asked him to refrain from receiving communion because of Kennedy’s stance on abortion.

Tobin faced backlash last year for asking the state’s Catholics not to support or attend LGBTQ Pride Month events because they are “contrary to Catholic faith and morals.”

The Providence diocese declined to tell HuffPost whether Tobin or any priest under his watch has ever denied communion to lawmakers who clash with important church teachings on topics other than abortion ― such as caring for the environment, migrants, and the poor.

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Catholic doctrine teaches that the Eucharist is the “summit and source” of Christian life.

Rhode Island state Rep. Carol McEntee (D) told the Providence Journal that she believes Bucci’s list is an act of retaliation against her family for speaking up against her sister’s abuse by a former Sacred Heart parish priest. McEntee helped usher a law through the state legislature that extended the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims. 

“They refuse to own up to the crisis that they have created and the lives they have destroyed,” McEntee said of Bucci and the state’s Catholic Church. 

Bucci countered that characterization in the Journal, arguing that he had taken steps to help church sexual abuse victims in the past.

Rhode Island state Rep. Julie Casimiro (D) told HuffPost that she also believes Bucci’s list was issued to retaliate against McEntee’s family.

Casimiro said she grew up as a practicing Catholic, but that the actions of the Providence diocese over the years and by Bucci more recently have made her “reconsider” her religious identity. 

She said she believes Bucci’s decision was “shortsighted and punitive.”

“Last time I checked, my God was not punitive,” Casimiro wrote in an email. “I think he should resign immediately before alienating even more Catholics ― the Church has seen a big loss in followers over the years.”

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