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They’re not Gonna Take It--Anymore

By Mark Brumley

Out of the woodwork they come. Bishops from every region of the country are declaring that Catholic politicians who reject Catholic teaching on subjects such as abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage shouldn’t receive Holy Communion.

Not all bishops, of course. But many. Certainly, many more this year than in the past thirty years. Consider one example.

Recently, the bishop of Colorado Springs, Michael Sheridan, issued a pastoral letter warning Catholic politicians who support abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage not to receive Holy Communion.

The media had a field day, but Bishop Sheridan didn’t back down. Not even after a major donor to the Diocese of Colorado Springs threatened to withdraw a substantial financial contribution.

Bishop Sheridan didn’t do what he was widely reported to have done—say he would deny certain politicians or their supporters the Eucharist. He said that, given the objectively gravely sinful nature of what they’re are doing, they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion.

Apparently, the distinction between warning wayward Catholic politicians against receiving the Eucharist and denying it to them, significant as it is, was lost on many in the media.

Other bishops have weighed in on proabortion politicians receiving the Eucharist, in varying degrees of forcefulness and clarity, including Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Archbishop John Myers of Newark, Archbishop Sean O’ Malley of Boston, Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland, Oregon, Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento, California, Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix, and Co-adjutor Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Florida.

The logic of the bishops seems impeccable, irrefutable. Support for abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage is gravely sinful. Those who engage in gravely sinful acts shouldn’t receive Holy Communion. Therefore, those who support gravely sinful things such as legalized abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage shouldn’t receive Holy Communion. Q.E.D.

Although Catholic politicians who reject Catholic teaching on those points cry foul, no one should wonder why Catholic bishops, as spokesmen for the Catholic Church, say such things. They’re simply acting like bishops—pastors—warning their people not to do things that are gravely sinful.

At least one bishop has gone farther than issuing warnings. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said he would deny Holy Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, including presidential candidate John Kerry.

The band of brother bishops hasn’t yet followed suit. If they do, are they within their rights?

Within their civil rights, without a doubt. There’s no law against bishops deciding which positions on social issues are gravely sinful according to the Catholic Church. Nor a law against bishops deciding that people who espouse sinful positions—including politicians—put themselves outside the range of acceptable belief to receive the Eucharist.

Yet according to some critics, recent statements by bishops aimed at dissenting Catholic politicians breach the “wall of separation of church and state.” This is sheer nonsense.

Set aside the question of whether such a separation of church and state was envisioned by the Founding Fathers. It’s an infringement on the free exercise of religion to insist that Catholic pastors—or any other kind of pastors—must accept as full participants in their church politicians, or their supporters, who act contrary to the church’s central beliefs.

So much for civil law. Does denying Holy Communion to pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, or pro-same-sex marriage Catholic politicians violate Church law?

Not according to the Vatican’s Cardinal Francis Arinze, who heads the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. At an April 2004 press conference to present a new document on the Sacred Liturgy Cardinal Arinze said pro-abortion politicians shouldn’t try to receive the Eucharist and priests ought not to give it to them.

Cardinal Arinze’s position is no innovation. According to the Code of Canon Law, “Those who … obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (CIC 915).

Supporting abortion, euthanasia, or same-sex marriage is, says Catholic teaching, objectively gravely sinful. Politicians or their supporters who obstinately persist in promoting such things, well, obstinately persist in grave sin. If they do so before the public, then they obstinately persist in manifest grave sin and shouldn’t, according to Canon 915, be admitted to Holy Communion. ...

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