Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, a practicing Catholic who has been unable to receive communion in his home diocese because of his pro-choice voting record, says he is “careful” when he goes to a church for the first time because “you just don’t quite know what kind of reaction you’re going to get from local clergy.”

U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., (L) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., (R) hold a news conference after weekly party caucus policy luncheons at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 10, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Calling the experience of being denied communion “uncomfortable,” Durbin of Illinois told American Magazine in an interview this week that he is “careful” when he goes to a church that he has never been to before for any occasion. Durbin has not received communion in his home diocese in Springfield for the last 17 years after his priest said that he would be “reticent” to offer the sacrament to Durbin due to his support for legal abortion. 

“You just don’t quite know what kind of reaction you’re going to get from local clergy,” he said. 

“And it may not be just the priest. It could be members of the congregation. I’ve had occasions where they’ve written letters and showed up to protest and such. I don’t want to be the subject of that any more than I have to be. So I keep a lower profile.”

In 2019, an Illinois bishop issued a decree directed at politicians who support abortion access ordering them not to receive communion. The decree came after a bill labeling abortion access a “fundamental right” was signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

Durbin was disinvited from taking communion by the Diocese of Springfield and says he does not attended its churches. Even though some priests have urged him to attend their churches, he says he feels uncomfortable because he doesn’t “want to be the center of attention for religious purposes.”

Durbin’s interview comes as there has been much debate this year among American Catholic leaders on whether communion should be denied to politicians who support abortion, as the Catholic Church has long opposed the practice. 

Supporters of denying communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians point to the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law, which states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” as the justification for their position.

They also cite a 2004 letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, to two high-ranking officials in the U.S. Catholic Church, noting that “the Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin.”

Biden has said while he is personally opposed to abortion, he cannot impose his views on others as an elected official. While running for president in 2019, Biden was denied communion by a South Carolina priest. 

Last month, when Pope Francis was asked about the U.S. communion debate, he called abortion, even soon after conception, “murder.” However, he added that “communion is not a prize for the perfect. … Communion is a gift, the presence of Jesus and his Church,” according to Reuters.

At its General Assembly meeting earlier this year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to move ahead with drafting a document clarifying “the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.” Initially characterized as a rebuke to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, the USCCB emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

According to a question-and-answer document about the vote published by the USCCB, the document being drafted “is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons.”

“It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate,” the USCCB clarified. 

In his interview with America Magazine, Durbin said he has found a new faith home in the Archdiocese of Chicago, “where they were willing to let me in and allowed my wife to join me.”

“So it’s become my new faith home,” he said. “But now that’s been complicated again. Three out of four Catholic bishops voted in June to consider a document on the Eucharist, which makes me concerned that three-quarters of the U.S. bishops think this should be the official policy of the Catholic Church in America.”

“I was told by many to wait, because the pope had his last word on the subject coming, and as you mentioned a few weeks ago, he said as much,” Durbin added. “But it is uncomfortable.”

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