Reception of Holy Communion
If you saw someone who was going to jump off a cliff… would you stop them? Assume that you would prevent them from physical death. I think you would probably try to stop them.
Now assume you are an Archbishop, and you know of Catholics who are advocating very publicly for grave sin, and that this itself is a grave sin. Unrepented grave sin, as you know as an Archbishop, brings spiritual death. You know in your heart that spiritual death is eternal, and is God’s most hated thing. You also know that this spiritual death is very real, and very dangerous: infinitely more dangerous than mere physical death. Would you not, as an Archbishop, care enough about your fellow Brother or Sister in Christ to do everything in your power to prevent further spiritual death?
And you would also know, as an Archbishop, that someone who is manifestly and publicly in a state of grave sin ought to refrain from receiving Communion, for their own sake, since receiving Communion unworthily is yet another grave sin that further wounds their soul.
And it would probably strike you, as an Archbishop, that this particular sin is a sin with a pedagogical dimension (public advocacy of sin teaches sin). Would your counsel to this person not also have a public dimension, to correct those who may have been misinformed by this person’s very public advocacy (perhaps even encouragement) of sin?
Would you not see three very important things which demand your prophetic teaching voice? Is not the most pastoral thing to do preventing such a person from further grave sin? Can your message not be delivered in a spirit of charity and sincere concern and love?
Writing at Vox Nova, the author known as “Morning’s Minion” has published a post calling for consistency in the application of canon 915 — the denial of Holy Communion to those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” — in this particular case, the public advocacy of abortion and torture. The post was occasioned by the recent appearance of Mark Thiessien on Raymond Arroyo’s “The World Over”, in which the duo lobbied vigorously in defense of waterboarding:
I think the analogy is clear. Arroyo and Thiessen are both Catholic public figures, and Arroyo in particular is a TV personality on a Catholic TV channel, making the scandal all the more grave. They are clearly “obstinately persevering” in support for an intrinsically evil act. Worse, they actually try to justify it on Catholic grounds. Thiessen has made it his life’s work to claim that some forms of torture are virtuous. Arroyo, again and again, invites defenders of torture onto his show, and instead of confronting them with clear Church teaching, voices his agreement. As [Archbishop Raymond] Burke says, this is “public conduct” that is gravely sinful. I would go further and argue that it is even more scandalous than support for legalized abortion. Most public supporters of abortion do not go on television extolling the great virtues of abortion for women and society. Their argument is more with how it should be treated under the law. But the Arroyo-Thiessen-Sirico cabal are (i) claiming to the faithful Catholics while (ii) making public pronouncements on the positive value of torture.
Catholic debate over torture (and/or what the Bush administration has termed “extreme interrogation”) has been going strong for several years now. It’s online manifestation initiated — to my recollection — with the publication of Mark Shea’s article in Crisis, “Toying with Evil: May a Catholic Advocate Torture?” and subsequent discussion at Amy Welborn’s, in March 2005. From time to time I’ve personally blogged on the various vollies and controversies between various camps as the debate has asserted itself, time and again, over half a decade (has it really been that long?)
That EWTN (“Eternal Word Television Network”) has hosted two explicit defenses of waterboarding — most recently by Thiessien, as well as Fr. Joseph Sirico of the Acton Institute, not to mention Q&A from Judy Brown of the American Life League questioning whether torture should be considered “intrinsically evil” — does not surprise me in the least. As I noted recently, there has been open dispute as to whether waterboarding constitutes torture from many prominent Catholics, including editor Deal Hudson, Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, and Fr. Brian Harrison (in the pages of This Rock — the flagship publication of Catholic Answers, the largest largest lay-run apostolates of Catholic apologetics and evangelization in the United States). [Note: Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a newcomer to the debate, has likewise made it known in the comments of this post where he stands on the matter].
Little wonder that a Pew Forum survey examining “the religious dimensions of the torture debate” found many white Roman Catholics, along with most frequent churchgoers, affirming that the use of torture against terrorists is “sometimes” or “often” justifiable.
With respect to abortion, readers may recall a number of opportune moments during the 2008 presidential elections when Catholic bishops were obliged to speak out, publicly, forcefully and collectively, in correction of blatantly false presentations of Catholic teaching on abortion by Nancy Pelosi and (then) Senator Joseph Biden.
There have been numerous missed “teaching moments” for our bishops and the Catholic Church on the matter of torture.
Last week I posted a reaction to House Speaker Pelosi’s interview in Newsweek (cross-posted to First Things‘ “First Thoughts”). Perusing the comments, I discovered that the author of No Hidden Magenta — a blog with the daunting task of “bridging the gap between ‘Red and Blue State’ groupthink” — has responded with fury and dismay:
At least one reason why neither the Pope nor the Archbishop have denied Pelosi Holy Communion–despite having ample opportunity to do so–is because prudential judgments about how best to reflect a moral principle in public policy involved technical considerations of practical reason that do not go to the heart of what it means to be a Roman Catholic; in other words, they are not about the central value at stake. If Speaker Pelosi believes that abortion is a positive good that should be promoted by the state (rather than as a privacy right for all women) that is one thing (and her recent actions with regard to Stupak suggest that she doesn’t think this), but there are any number of good reasons for supporting less-than-perfect public policy as she claims to be doing in trying to reduce the number of abortions while not supporting an abortion ban. …
Now, we can and should have debate about this question–and I think Pelosi is profoundly mistaken in her position on public policy–but let’s be clear: both the Pope and her Archbishop do not think such a position puts her status as a Roman Catholic or as a communicant in jeopardy. And those who think it does would do well to follow their example in distinguishing between ‘moral principle’ and ‘public policy.’
I’m relieved that the author believes Pelosi is “profoundly mistaken” in her position on public policy. I’m less convinced, however, that “the Pope and her Archbishop do not think such a position puts her status as a Roman Catholic or as a communicant in jeopardy”, and the author’s explanation for why they allegedly do not think so.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was interviewed in a recent edition of Newsweek, in which she had the opportunity to set the bishops straight on the participation of Catholics in public life.
I think you have had some brushes with [church] hierarchy.
I have some concerns about the church’s position respecting a woman’s right to choose. I have some concerns about the church’s position on gay rights. I am a practicing Catholic, although they’re probably not too happy about that. But it is my faith. I practically mourn this difference of opinion because I feel what I was raised to believe is consistent with what I profess, and that is that we are all endowed with a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And that women should have that opportunity to exercise their free will.
Is it difficult for you to reconcile your faith with the role you have in public life?
You know, I had five children in six years. The day I brought my fifth baby home, that week my daughter turned 6. So I appreciate and value all that they want to talk about in terms of family and the rest. When I speak to my archbishop in San Francisco and his role is to try to change my mind on the subject, well then he is exercising his pastoral duty to me as one of his flock. When they call me on the phone here to talk about, or come to see me about an issue, that’s a different story. Then they are advocates, and I am a public official, and I have a different responsibility.
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf applies the necessary fisking and muses: “I cannot fathom why she hasn’t been told she must not receive Holy Communion. How much more public scandal does she have to give before the bishops of the places where she resides take concrete action?”
My thoughts exactly. Note that she has already received an admonishment from the Holy See and an invitation to “converse” from San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer.
With the recent scandals rocking the Catholic Church here in America as in President Obama receiving an honorary degree at the University of Notre Shame to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claiming that abortion is an open-ended issue in the Church, we have seen a reemergence of ecclesial leadership on behalf of our shepherds. Many bishops have awoken to the fact that being “pastoral” has been a remarkable failure in resolving the deviancy emanating from Catholics and Catholic institutions.
The upsurge of young adults rediscovering their faith to the excellent parenting of Catholic families in raising fine orthodox Christian children, we have seen what is only the beginning of a Catholic renaissance here in America. And let us not forgot the ever faithful cradle Catholics among us that have contributed in keeping the faith in the tumult arising from the Second Vatican Council to today.
Ed Stoddard of Reuters’ religion blog Faithworld carries a roundup of the skirmish between Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, has claimed that Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin.
In conclusion, Stoddard asks:
This leads to a question about the consistency of views in the U.S. Catholic Church leadership. The Church opposes abortion and therefore liberal politicians who support abortion rights risk being refused communion. The Church supports a healthcare overhaul that would make the system more equitable. So does a conservative Catholic politician who opposes this reform risk being denied communion for ignoring the Catholic social teaching that justifies it?
How about support for capital punishment, which the Vatican says is unjustified in almost all possible cases, or for war? In the build-up to the Iraq war, Pope John Paul was so opposed to the plan that he sent a personal envoy to Washington to argue against it. Did bishops threaten any measures against Catholic politicians who energetically supported that war despite Vatican opposition?
The author’s questions reveal an elementary ignorance concerning the moral issues in question and their relationship to varying levels of Church teaching. While I am disappointed by his answer (Faithworld is generally one of the better and more educational “religion blogs” in the secular media), it is understandable — as even many Catholics find themselves confused on this matter. Continue reading
Patrick Kennedy, a son of Ted Kennedy and a Democrat Congressman from Rhode Island, has been engaging in a very public conflict with the Bishop of Providence Thomas J. Tobin. Prior posts on this combative dialogue are here and here. Kennedy has now revealed that he is barred from receiving communion. The Bishop has responded by releasing this letter:
I am disappointed and really surprised that Congressman Patrick Kennedy has chosen to reopen the public discussion about his practice of the faith and his reception of Holy Communion. This comes almost two weeks after the Congressman indicated to local media that he would no longer comment publicly on his faith or his relationship with the Catholic Church. The Congressman’s public comments require me to reply.
On February 21, 2007, I wrote to Congressman Kennedy stating: “In light of the Church’s clear teaching, and your consistent actions, therefore, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so.” My request came in light of the new statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that said, “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definite teachings on moral issues, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.” (Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper, December, 2006)
Archbishop Raymond Burke has long been held with disdain (or outright revulsion) by liberal Catholics for his penchant to speak bluntly on various issues — from his cautioning the Democrats that they risk becoming “the party of Death” for their grievous stance on bioethical issues), to his disapproval of Obama’s appointment of Kathleen Sebelius to Secretary of Health and Human Services to his weighing in on the matter of reception of communion by publicly disobedient Catholics (see The Discipline Regarding the Denial of Holy Communion to Those Obstinately Persevering in Manifest Grave Sin Periodica de Re Canonica vol. 96 (2007)). His appointment by Pope Benedict XVI to the office of Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura was interpreted both as sign of the Pope’s favor (by conservatives) as well as perhaps a “punishment of sorts” by liberals, who hoped that his outspokenness on American political affairs would be muted by geographical distance.
Guess again. From National Catholic Reporter‘s “man in Rome” John Allen Jr. comes the news that, with his Oct. 17 appointment to the powerful Congregation for Bishops, Burke’s influence is set to grow:
When a diocese becomes vacant, it’s the job of the papal nuncio, or ambassador, in that country to solicit input on the needs of that diocese and to work with the local bishops and bishops’ conference to identify potential nominees. The nuncio prepares a terna, or list of three names, which is submitted to the Congregation for Bishops, along with extensive documentation on the candidates.
Members of the congregation are expected to carefully review all the documentation before meetings, and each is expected to offer an opinion about the candidates and the order in which they should be presented to the pope. Ultimately, it’s up to the pope to decide who’s named to any given diocese, but in most cases popes simply sign off on the recommendations made by the congregation.
To be sure, Burke’s nomination doesn’t mean he can single-handedly control who becomes a bishop, whether in the United States or anywhere else. … on the other hand, Burke’s influence may grow with time.
He’s by far the youngest of the current crop of Americans on the congregation (the next youngest, Levada, is 73, and Rigali is 74). Since appointments are for five-year terms and may be renewed until a prelate reaches the age of 80, Burke could be involved in bishops’ appointments for the next two decades. At some point he may well become the senior American in the process, with a correspondingly greater impact.
As Allen concludes: ” If anyone suspected that the decision to bring Burke to Rome last year was a way of muzzling him, or limiting his influence in the United States, it certainly doesn’t seem to be playing out that way.”