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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 soon as possible."

Obviously pro-abortion nominally Catholic politicians such as Senators Kerry, Kennedy, Daschle, Durbin and Collins, House Minority Leader Pelosi and former Mayor Guiliani can confess if they choose.

Significantly, Cardinal McCarrick faithfully noted in his letter that abortion is a "grave" sin and a "crime against innocent life." He asserted, perhaps too generously, that "[w]e all recognize that it is a grave evil to take an innocent human life" and astutely observed that "[w]e tend to find excuses."

Sadly, Cardinal McCarrick has found an excuse for the sin of disregarding Canon 915 and knowingly giving Communion to pro-abortion nominally Catholic politicans: uncomfortableness.

The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, left no room for quibbling in Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

"The celebration of the Eucharist...cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond....both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church's hierarchical order....

"Keeping these invisible bonds intact is a specific moral duty incumbent upon Christians who wish to participate fully in the Eucharist by receiving the body and blood of Christ.

"However, in 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.)

Pope John Paul II could not have been clearer regarding those who "obstinately persist in manifest grave sin" -they are NOT to be admitted to Holy Communion.

Even before this Encyclical, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts had issued an interpretation of Canon 915 that should have sufficed to resolve any issue. The Council, in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, declared:

"The phrase 'and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin' is clear and must be understood in a manner that does not distort its sense so as to render the norm inapplicable. The three required conditions are:

a) grave sin, understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability;

b) obstinate persistence, which means the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.

c) the manifest character of the situation of grave habitual sin."

It further declared:

"Naturally, pastoral prudence would strongly suggest the avoidance of instances of public denial of Holy Communion. Pastors must strive to explain to the concerned faithful the true ecclesial sense of the norm, in such a way that they would be able to understand it or at least respect it. In those situations, however, in which these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, the minister of Communion must refuse to distribute it to those who are publicly unworthy. They are to do this with extreme charity, and are to look for the opportune moment to explain the reasons that required the refusal. They must, however, do this with firmness, conscious of the value that such signs of strength have for the good of the Church and of souls.

"The discernment of cases in which the faithful who find themselves in the described condition are to be excluded from Eucharistic Communion is the responsibility of the Priest who is responsible for the community. They are to give precise instructions to the deacon or to any extraordinary minister regarding the mode of acting in concrete situations.

"....the obligation of reiterating this impossibility of admission to the Eucharist is required for genuine pastoral care and for an authentic concern for the well-being of these faithful and of the whole Church, being that it indicates the conditions necessary for the fullness of that conversion to which all are always invited by the Lord...."

The Declaration confirms that the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion, in that it is sinful behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion...That scandal exists even if such behavior no longer arouses surprise. Indeed, that unfortunate circumstance makes it more necessary for priests to act in defense of the Holy Eucharist and the Roman Catholic faith.

Concerned that the priests of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States might actually follow the canon law that mandated them to prevent the sacrilegious receipt of Communion, 48 members of the House of Representatives who identify themselves as Catholic wrote to Cardinal McCarrick, ominously warning that refusing them Communion "would be counter-productive and would bring great harm to the Church."

Moral authority is derived from upholding principle, even when principle is unpopular or upholding it is costly. It is diminished when principle is compromised, because it seems expedient to do so.

The Catholic Church's moral authority suffered greatly because the problem of sexual abuse of altar boys by priests was handled as secretly as possible for decades instead of acknowledged and dealt with openly.

Will the Catholic Church's moral authority suffer further because priests find it easier to give Communion to whomever asks for it than to follow canon law and refuse persons "who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin"?

In 1971, John Kerry's Massachusetts Senate colleague and fellow nominal Catholic, Ted Kennedy, wrote, "Human life, even at its earliest stages, has a certain right which must be recognized--the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old."

Then Roe v. Wade was decided and political expediency prevailed over Catholic principle for many ambitious politicians who publicly support abortion as a legitimate choice that they personally would not make. At the same time, they claim to be practicing Catholics and line up to receive Communion as though they are fit to receive.

Priests and bishops are obligated to uphold the tenets of their faith, to identify sin, and to rebuke sinners. St. Augustine wrote: "Medicinal rebuke must be applied to all who sin, lest they should either themselves perish, or be the ruin of others.... Let no one, therefore, say that a man must not be rebuked when he deviates from the right way, or that his return and perseverance must only be asked from the Lord for him." (Emphasis added.)

Bishop William K. Weigand of Sacramento led the call on pro-choice Catholic politicians to refrain from taking Holy Communion. He stated: "As your bishop, I have to say clearly that anyone--politician or otherwise--who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk, and is not in good standing with the Church. Such a person should have the integrity to acknowledge this and choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until he has a change of heart," he said.

Last year, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, then Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, went further. He publicly decreed that Catholic legislators in his diocese who "support procured abortion or euthanasia may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion" and are to be denied Holy Communion if they nevertheless present themselves "until...they publicly renounce their support of these most unjust practices." His prior private efforts to persuade had been rudely rebuffed.

Archbishop Burke emphasized that he did what a bishop is required to do. He explained that "[t]he duty of Catholic legislators to respect human life is....God's law," and that a bishop who "remain silent[s] while the faith, in one of its most fundamental tenets, is...openly disobeyed by those who present themselves as sincere adherents of the faith, [has] failed most seriously and should be removed from office."

Pope John Paul II had explained in his 1988 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 to all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination."

For what has become a scandalously long time, the Roman Catholic Church has neglected to bar from Holy Communion many prominent nominal Catholics who publicly and proudly support abortion, in blatant violation of the fundamental Church teaching that human life is sacred and begins at conception.

John Kerry, a nominal Catholic, is the presumptive presidential candidate of the Democrat Party. He is supporting partial-birth abortion, calling abortion a woman's right instead of a wrong and vowing to appoint only pro-abortion justices. At the dinner hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, Kerry proclaimed, "We are not going to turn back the clock. There is no overturning of Roe v. Wade. There is no packing of courts with judges who will be hostile to choice."

Kerry has created a public scandal by receiving Holy Communion while flagrantly rejecting fundamental Church teaching. Therefore, the sanctioning of Kerry and his kind is necessary. Like racism, abortion is a grave sin. Its tolerance is intolerable. Like covering up child abuse, tolerating the receipt of Holy Communion by pro-abortion politicians is an abomination.

In 1975, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) described the right to life as "among basic human rights." In 1998 it issued a pastoral letter chastizing Catholic politicians for supporting abortion and euthanasia. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, its president, welcomed a Vatican doctrinal note denouncing Catholic politicians who support abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and human cloning. Bishop Gregory explained that "Catholic politicians cannot subscribe to any notion which equates freedom or de­mocracy with a moral relativism that denies these moral principles."

In 2003, the Vatican decreed that Catholic politicians "who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life" and "[f]or them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them...."

On March 25, 2004, the Vatican issued a statement specifying that "anyone who is conscious of grave sin should not celebrate or receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession" when possible and that it is for "the Pastors prudently and firmly to correct such an abuse" when "Christ's faithful approach the altar as a group indiscriminately."

Despite authoritative Vatican opposition to the receipt of Holy Communion by persons professing to be both Catholics in a state of grace and abortion supporters, ardent pro-abortion "Catholics" like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "fully intend to receive communion, one way or another." Ms. Pelosi said that receiving Holy Communion is "very important" to her. That makes good sense politically, since a Catholic who presents herself or himself for Communion thereby represents that she or he is in a state of grace and being in a state of grace (or at least appearing to be) is still a political plus.

Will America's Catholic bishops collectively cooperate with or chastise John Kerry, Rudi Guiliani, Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy, Dick Durbin, Susan Collins, Nancy Pelosi and hundreds of other pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians (mostly, but not exclusively, Democrats)?

That should not depend upon any fear of America's Catholic bishops that the Church's tax exemption will be lost. The First Amendment was adopted to protect freedom of religion. Thomas Jefferson explained in his second inaugural address that "free exercise [of religion] is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general government."

Unfortunately, a mixed message is being sent when complete clarity is needed. For example, Archbishop O'Malley of Boston proclaimed that "[a] Catholic politician who holds a public, pro-choice position should not be receiving Communion and should refrain from doing so." But the Archbishop then abdicated his responsibility for protecting the Holy Eucharist by adopting a policy of leaving it "up to the individual" to decide whether or not to receive instead of denying Communion. Even though Pope John Paul II's Holy Thursday 2003 encyclical stated: "In cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly, and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, those who 'obstinately persist in manifest grave sin' are not to be admitted to Eucharist Communion."

It is for those who dispense Holy Communion to follow the mandate of Canon 915. Bishops who are reluctant to embarrass prominent politicians need to recall that Jesus had no patience for those moneychangers in the Temple. Protecting the sanctity of the Temple was His paramount consideration then. The protection of the Holy Eucharist must be the bishops' paramount consideration today.

Averting public scandal is vital. St. Thomas Aquinas explained that a distinction "must be made" between secret and open sinners, and "Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it," because "[h]oly things are forbidden to be given to...notorious sinners...."

A priest who knowingly gives Communion to a pro-abortion politician commits the grave sin of sacrilege as well as the unfit recipient. Neither political correctness nor political expediency excuses sin.

"Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things, or places consecrated to God. Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us." Cathecism of the Catholic Church, Section 2120.

St. Paul was unambiguous: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup." 1 Corinthians 11:27-28.

"Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in a state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance." Cathecism 1415. (Emphasis added.)

"The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church." Cathecism 1395 (Emphasis added.)

Holy Communion was not intended to provide a photo opportunity.

The case of Louisiana racist Leander Perez illustrates why Communion must be denied to those who are publicly rejecting fundamental church teaching. In 1962 an exasperated Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans finally excommunicated Leander Perez for opposing desegregation in Catholic schools. Perez eventually repented (as did others of his ilk), and the school integration succeeded.

In 1953 the Archbishop's pastoral letter, "Blessed Are the Peacemakers," was read aloud in the archdiocese's churches. It declared declared "the unacceptibility of racial discrimination." Perez and his allies were unmoved. The Archbishop threatened in 1956 to excommunicate them, but they held protest rallies and withheld church contributions instead of repenting.

Interestingly, segregationist Catholics formed the Association of Catholic Laymen of New Orleans and it "asked the Pope (Pius XII) to stop Rummel from taking further steps to integrate white and Negro Catholics and to decree that racial segregation is not 'morally wrong and sinful.'" The Vatican's response was a reminder that that "the Pope had condemned racism as a major evil, asserting 'that those who enter the Church... have rights as children in the House of the Lord.'"

In 1962, the Archbishop acted decisively. He announced that in the fall, the city's Catholic schools would admit black students. Perez and his allies persisted in their opposition, so the archbishop excommunicated them for continuing "to hinder his orders or provoke the devoted people of this venerable archdiocese to disobedience or rebellion in the matter of opening our schools to all Catholic children." They were barred from the Mass and sacraments as well as Catholic burial. By the fall, 104 black children were admitted to the city's Catholic schools. By 1968, Perez repented and, after his death in 1969, was given a Catholic burial.

The barring of John Kerry and other pro-abortion nominally Catholic politicians has been too long delayed. The sooner the bar is imposed, the better. Perhaps they too will repent before death and receive a Catholic burial. Jesus did not pander to politicians, much less put monetary considerations (such as tax exemption) before principle.

Michael J. Gaynor


Michael Gaynor
Michael J. Gaynor - Attorney, 631 757-9452




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