In 1962, New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel made waves in Louisiana politics by ordering the racial integration of Catholic schools. He then excommunicated three community leaders, including an influential local political boss, for organizing opposition to his decision. Archbishop Rummel taught that “racial segregation is morally wrong and sinful because it is a denial of the unity and solidarity of the human race as conceived by God.” The excommunicated politician responded by pushing to end state support of Catholic schools.
This important but largely forgotten episode comes to mind as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops considers how to respond to President Biden’s public rejection of Catholic teaching on human dignity. While withholding communion over abortion is different from excommunication over segregation, the same eternal truths should shape how the faithful think about these situations.
The Eucharist, Pope Francis writes, “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” But what if “the weak” deliberately champion their sin and relish confrontation with Christ’s chosen shepherds? The Eucharist is meant to help heal sinners, but that requires repentance.