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A Primer on Canon 915

By Barbara Kralis

Unquestionably, canon 915 is the most discussed canon in the Codex Iuris Canonici, or Code of Canon Law, in recent Church history.  Many in the media have reported on the January 8, 2004 canonical actions of Archbishop Raymond Burke, then bishop of the La Crosse, Wisconsin diocese. 

Archbishop Burke’s discipline on legislators has rocked the Catholic Church worldwide.  Because of misinformation, speculation and outright resentment, confusion reigns regarding the Archbishop's promulgation of his 'canonical notification' based on canon 915, the official communication of what the Church's discipline is.

I would like to make some important clarifications, with appropriate documentation, in hopes that people of all faiths will understand the Archbishop's actions, why it was appropriate for him to discipline persistent, obstinate, manifest pro abortion Catholic legislators, and why no other U.S. Bishop can refuse to immediately follow the same procedures in their own dioceses.  All Bishops must protect the Eucharist from sacrilege.

As Bishop of the over 200,000 Catholics in the diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin for the past nine years, Raymond L. Burke, D.D., J.C.D., a doctor of canon law, first conducted private communications to three 'Catholic' legislators, imploring them, "to make their consciences correct with Magisterial teachings."

 After all three politicians refused to meet with him, saying they instead reject the Church's infallible teachings, Archbishop Burke, as 'Priest, Prophet and King,' then took the necessary steps to issue the four paragraph 'canonical notification' to address the scandal they were causing in his diocese by their conduct 'which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm' (EE n.37).

The notification declares: "...Catholic legislators who are members of the faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse and who continue to support procured abortion or euthanasia may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion.  They are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, should they present themselves, until such time as they publicly renounce their support of these most unjust practices" (canon 915).

Archbishop Burke exhorted, "No good bishops could stand by and let this happen.  These public legislators are in grave sin."

In fact, on February 2, 2004, Archbishop Burke, with apostolic daring, challenged Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley, stating that if leading Democratic presidential candidate, pro-abortion ‘Catholic’ John Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, came up to [Burke] for the Eucharist, he Burke] would deny him Communion.  Archbishop O'Malley still held to his false policy that Kerry would not be denied Communion in the Boston diocese.

On April 6, 2004, Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz, D.D., S.T.D., of the Lincoln, NE diocese, stated through his office to this writer that his diocese would deny Holy Communion to any manifest, persistent, obstinate sinner.

Referring to canon 915, Bishop Bruskewitz said, "We agree completely with Archbishop Raymond Burke in the action he has taken and we would take the same action in the diocese of Lincoln with regard to manifest, persistent, obstinate sinners, including politicians, regardless of which diocese they are from."

Bishop Bruskewitz in May 15, 1996,l, issued a successful diocesan synodal law, still enforced today, which carries an automatic penalty of excommunication. 

Informing all Catholics in his diocese of the list of dissenting organizations whose activities are contrary to the Catholic Faith, Bruskewitz has literally ‘cleaned house.’

In an exclusive interview with this writer (, Bishop Robert Francis Vasa, M.Div., J.C.L., Bishop of Baker, Oregon, said in July 2004  that he absolutely would agree with Archbishop Burke and Bishop Bruskewitz’s canoncial diocesan disciplines. 

Bishop Vasa said, "I literally could not give Holy Communion to a professed and actively committed pro-choice politician."

In August, 2004, three Southern Catholic bishops promulgated diocesan wide disciplines which would deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion legislators in their dioceses.  The bishops are Archbishop John F. Donoghue (Atlanta), Bishop Peter Jugis (Charlotte) and Bishop Robert J. Baker (Charleston).

In the past several years, only several other U.S. Bishops have made half hearted attempts to stop the sacrilegious Holy Communions and scandals caused by pro-abortion politicians in their dioceses.  Unfortunately, they all stopped short of publicly promulgating a canonical notification of canon 915.

There is no easy way to find out if a politician in your diocese is Catholic unless he advertised himself as such.  La Crosse's Dr. Arthur Hippler, ...

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