Jul 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

N.M. lawmaker denied Communion over abortion vote

New Mexico State Sen. Joseph Cervantes is seen in a headshot.
New Mexico Sen. Joseph Cervantes. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

A New Mexico lawmaker denied Communion by a bishop over his vote to advance abortion protections told Axios exclusively he won't be bullied and looks forward to receiving Communion with President Biden one day.

Why it matters: The example set by Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Democrat, is drawing the attention of lawmakers around the country. Blue states are moving to protect abortion rights should the Supreme Court overturn or erode Roe v. Wade.

  • "I won't have any problem finding to place to receive Communion," Cervantes said during an interview. "In fact, I look forward one day to receiving Communion at the same parish where President Biden does."
  • He said other parishes and another diocese in New Mexico have offered to give him Communion, highlighting the split among U.S. Catholic bishops over elected officials and abortion.

Driving the news: Cervantes, a chair of a key state legislative committee, tweeted this week that he was denied Communion by Las Cruces, N.M., Bishop Peter Baldacchino while attending service at a monastery.

  • "My new parish priest has indicated he will do the same. ...Please pray for church authorities as Catholicism transitions under Pope Francis," the devout Roman Catholic wrote.
  • The Las Cruces Diocese confirmed Cervantes was denied Communion after the lawmaker didn't respond to pleas from Baldacchino and St. Albert the Great Newman Center pastor Kevin Waymel to stall an abortion bill earlier this year.
  • "In a personal letter to Senator Cervantes, his pastor advised him that a vote in favor of this particular Senate bill would constitute a grave moral evil and that he should not present himself for Communion," the diocese said in a statement.

Cervantes voted in February to move a bill out of his committee that would protect abortion rights in New Mexico should Roe be overturned.

  • The conservative Democrat then voted for the proposal when it went before the full New Mexico Senate. It was later signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, another Democrat.

The intrigue: Washington, D.C., and 13 states expanded abortion access with 30 laws between 2017 and 2021, an Axios review has found.

  • At the same time, legislatures in 35 states have enacted more than 200 laws from 2017 to 2020 that restrict access to abortion services, according to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Between the lines: Refusing to serve Communion signals that some U.S. bishops and parish priests remain defiant despite Vatican warnings and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' official stance.

  • The conference quietly clarified last month there will be "no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians," following threats that Catholic public figures — like President Biden — should be denied Communion.
  • The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the state's most populous diocese, said it's not banning elected officials from receiving Communion — highlighting the divisions among U.S. bishops, even in New Mexico.

Yes, but: In June, the conference voted 168-55 to draft a document some hoped would prevent the president and other Catholic politicians from receiving Communion if they advocate for abortion rights.

What they're saying: "The New Mexico case shows that conservative U.S. bishops have been emboldened by the conference's vote and we might see more cases like this," said Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan chairman in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

  • Yet, those moves will be seen as myopic since the same U.S. bishops aren't denying Communion to politicians who support capital punishment or oppose anti-poverty initiatives and immigration reform — also important Catholic Church issues, Chesnut said.
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