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A Primer on Canon 915

2/5/2004 - 11:30 AM PST

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having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence' ('frater soror' or as brother and sister) (CCC 1650).

Canon 915 is a 'sacramental law' that talks about the Eucharist and how not to suffer scandal; it is not a penal law. There are four parts to canon 915 that must be satisfied: 1) The sin must be obstinate; 2) the person in question must persist in the sin; 3) the person in question must be a 'manifest' (that is 'public') sinner; and, 4) it must be a grave sin. When all requirements are met, the Bishop, bound by canon 915 to protect the integrity of the Eucharist, must give the public notification to his priests and deacons not to allow sacrilegious Communions, and to not cause scandal to the people. The Bishop here is not putting 'sanction' on the persons in question; they have, in fact, fallen under the canon 915 sacramental prohibition themselves.

Some say there are contradictions concerning the canonical notification (c.915) and the application of justice of other 'human rights.' Let me explain.

On November 11, 2003, during the USCCB's Fall plenary meeting of its 275 active bishop members, attempt was made by several bishops to consider which Catholic politicians who dissent from Magisterial teachings should be denied the Sacrament of Holy Communion, including the abuse of such human rights as the death penalty, questions of war and peace, the role of marriage and family, the rights of parents to choose the best education for their children, the priority for the poor, welcome for immigrants. These Bishops were trying to revive from the grave the late Cardinal Bernardin's false 'seamless garment theory.'

Archbishop Burke said on EWTN's interview, "The 'seamless garment' can be interpreted incorrectly. Many fail to recognize the particular gravity of abortion and euthanasia. These are the gravest matters. If we care about abortion and euthanasia, all the other (human rights) will be therefore cared for."

Some Catholics, both clergy and laity, falsely say that the death penalty is on a par with abortion and euthanasia, and therefore anyone who defends the death penalty should be disciplined under canon 915. Archbishop Burke says they are wrong:

"Pope John Paul II's 'Gospel of Life' teaches clearly the death penalty is not on a par with abortion and euthanasia. Abortion is the greatest evil attack on innocent, defenseless life. John Paul II said it is difficult to understand why a State would have to put someone to death (EV n.56), but it is not a definite exclusion (CIC, c. 2267). To say the death penalty is on the same level is not correct."

Chancellor Nguyen said, when asked if supporting the Iraq War, as some Bishops have claimed, was a condition for imposing canon 915, "Pope John Paul II certainly criticized the American invasion of Iraq, but he at no time 'condemned' the war, that is, issued a statement binding on the conscience of the faithful."

Do the Bishops really believe that the above mentioned social issues constitute mortal sin and grounds of excommunication in the same way that abortion/euthanasia, cloning, IVF, sodomy, and contracepting do? Are these other human rights to be classed in the same category as infallible teachings in faith and morals? Alternatively, are our U.S. Bishops just creating a diversion against canon 915?

Do the Bishops now rescind what they stated back in 1998: "Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the 'rightness' of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community" (LGL n.23).

Pope John Paul II teaches in his l988 Apostolic Exhortation, "Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights - for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture - is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination" (CL n.38).

Bishops are, as 'Priest, Prophet and King,' called to 'govern' and 'correct.' An unworthy public or private Holy Communion, willfully chosen by an obstinate, persistent, manifest sinner 'of his own volition,' is a grave, serious matter. When a 'pro death' Catholic politician disregards a bishop's directive and comes to Holy Communion 'of his own volition,' and the bishop or priest does not deny them as canon 915 directs them to do, the bishop or priest is doing evil (CIC, n.1755), and what Pope Paul VI condemned when he said "one cannot do evil so that good may follow there from" (HV n.14; Rom.3:8). According to the principle of double effect, even in a moral dilemma the act in question must be good or at least neutral. One may not do evil in order to accomplish good. The end does ...

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