My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In his famous “House Divided Speech” given by Springfield’s most famous citizen, Abraham Lincoln, at the Old State Capitol here in Springfield on June 16, 1858, Mr. Lincoln reminded his fellow citizens that a “house divided against itself cannot stand.” While this phrase echoed the words spoken by our Lord in the Gospel (Mark 3:25), the context was the division between the North and the South over the issue of slavery.
Mr. Lincoln continued in his speech to say, “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”
A new divide is separating our nation again between North and South, this time over the issue of abortion. In recent weeks, we have seen governors in states like Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and Louisiana sign legislation banning abortion at various stages, while states like New York and Illinois have passed laws purported to declare abortion a fundamental right at all stages of pregnancy, right up to the moment of birth. In the 19th century, it was the North that was on the right side of morality in opposing the evil of slavery. Now, in the 21st century, it is the South that is on the right side of morality in seeking to outlaw the evil of abortion.
In this regard, we need to pray earnestly for the State of Illinois, which is on the wrong side of morality in terms of abortion. On May 31, shortly before they were scheduled to adjourn at midnight, the Illinois Senate approved Senate Bill 25, which, among other things, purports to declare abortion to be a fundamental right, requires private insurance to pay for abortions, and declares that an unborn baby does not have independent rights under the laws of this state.
When this bill, SB 25, passed the Illinois House of Representatives earlier last week, I called it “gravely immoral.” I noted that “Christians have rejected the practice of abortion from the earliest days of the Church. Children are a gift from God, no matter the circumstances of their conception. They not only have a right to life, but we as a society have a moral obligation to protect them from harm. Legislation that deprives children of legal protection before they are born, allowing for the murder of children at any stage in the womb, even up to the moment of birth, is evil.” Pope Francis has called abortion a “very grave sin” and a “horrendous crime.” The Second Vatican Council said that “abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.”
As the Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, the action of the legislature within my spiritual jurisdiction is of utmost concern to me — equally for the souls of the Catholic legislators as well as for the faithful of this diocese who are affected by the actions and words of their elected representatives. Acting on this concern, I issued a decree earlier this week declaring “in accord with canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law that Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan, who facilitated the passage of the Act Concerning Abortion of 2017 (House Bill 40) as well as the Reproductive Health Act of 2019 (Senate Bill 25), are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois because they have obstinately persisted in promoting the abominable crime and very grave sin of abortion as evidenced by the influence they exerted in their leadership roles and their repeated votes and obdurate public support for abortion rights over an extended period of time.”
Moreover, I further declared that other “Catholic legislators of the Illinois General Assembly who have cooperated in evil and committed grave sin by voting for any legislation that promotes abortion are not to present themselves to receive Holy Communion without first being reconciled to Christ and the Church in accord with canon 916 of the Code of Canon Law.”
To receive the holy Eucharist in the state of grave sin carries serious and possibly eternal consequences. I take this action, therefore, out of spiritual concern for these politicians personally, for the integrity of the sacraments, and for the sake of the many faithful who are scandalized by their disregard of the church’s teaching about the “very grave sin” and “horrendous crime” of abortion, as Pope Francis has reminded us.
I know the passage of this legislation is highly discouraging for people of faith, who wish our government would promote the common good instead of pushing our society deeper into the abyss of corruption. We should remember that Jesus and the first Christians lived in the pagan Roman empire, where abortion and even infanticide were practiced. St. Peter said that we are strangers in a foreign land (1 Peter 2:11-12), and St. Paul reminded us not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). We need to recognize that we are living in the midst of a neo-pagan culture, and so we should pray for the misguided politicians that are running our state government, entrusting them especially to the intercession of St. Thomas More, a public servant who preferred to die at the hands of civil authorities rather than abandon Christ and the church. May we also keep unborn babies and newborn infants, as well as all mothers, in our prayers and work to improve the dignity and quality of life of all people, especially the most vulnerable.
Just as Abraham Lincoln said that “this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free,” so now we must affirm that this country cannot endure, permanently, half pro-abortion and half pro-life. It will become all one thing or all the other. We must stay strong in our faith and earnestly pray that this country will become all pro-life.
May God give us this grace. Amen.