Under Canon Law...
By Michael J. Gaynor
On June 18, 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared that decisions on giving or denying "Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life" "rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles." In support, they stated simply that "[b]ishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action."
The bishops do have individual authority to determine prudent pastoral action, but that does not absolve them of their sacred duty to uphold and to apply canon law and to follow the Pope. The authority of the bishops "must be exercised in communion with the whole Church under the guidance of the Pope" (The Cathecism of the Catholic Church, Section 895). The bishops have "no authority unless united with the [Pope], Peter's successor, as its head" (Cathecism 883).
Pope John Paul II was unequivocal in Ecclesia de Eucharista: "[I]n cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion.” (Emphasis added.)
On April 23, 2004, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, authoritatively explained at a press conference in Rome that unrepentant pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians should be denied Communion. Relying on Canon 915, which specifies that "[t]hose...who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion," Cardinal Arinze put it succinctly: "If they should not receive, then they should not be given.".
The Roman Catholic Church is supposed to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, according to the Nicene Creed. Bishops are not to be independent warlords, doing whatever they want within their territory, because they can. Each bishop must follow canon law, not his personal preference.
Prudence is a valid consideration in the political context. But it is not relevant in determing what a Catholic needs to do as a matter of principal. Jesus rejected prudence and died for our sins out of love. All bishops should remember Jesus' undiplomatic warning to the complacent: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
For decades, Roman Catholic priests in the United States have knowingly given Holy Communion to unrepentant, publicly knownm nominally Catholic abortion "rights" and/or gay marriage "rights" politicians. They have done so for various reasons: misguided compassion, political correctness run amok, fear of losing the Church's tax exemption and/or contributions from pro-abortion and pro-homosexual practices people, personal preference or culpable ignorance. But, in doing so, they have disregarded unambiguous canon law and committed a grave sin. They should repent, make a good act of contrition, receive absolution and then go forth and sin no more.
Sadly, led by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the most prominent Catholic clergyman in the United States, many (but not all) United States priests have continued to give Communion to such persons. Cardinal McCarrick publicly proclaimed that he has “not gotten to the stage where I’m comfortable in denying the Eucharist.”
In 1995 then Archbishop of Newark McCarrick seemed comfortable with the concept of obeying canon law. He issued a soundly reasoned, elegantly written pastoral letter on penance. The kind of letter than indicated a promotion to Cardinal was in order.
Cardinal McCarrick rightly wrote in that letter: "We know that anyone who is aware of having committed a grave sin may not receive Holy Communion, even if he or she experiences deep contrition, without having first received absolution in the Sacrament of Penance [footnote citing Canon 916]. This is true unless the person has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession, a situation which does not apply in the area of the Archdiocese of Newark. (Emphasis added.)
Canon 916 states: "A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as ...
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