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Ten questions regarding the denial of the Eucharist.

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By Barbara Kralis
© 2004 Catholic Online

Several U.S. bishops have recently voiced their opposition and ersatz reasoning why no one should be denied the Eucharist according to Code of Canon Law n. 915.

Those in the pews are perplexed.  Which bishop is correct?  Why would some bishops teach that the laws are binding and other bishops teach that they are not?  [i]

Quizzically, people are asking ten questions:

1] "Why should the Church deny the Eucharist to hundreds of 'Catholic' pro abortion politicians?"

Answer:  The Catholic Church condemns abortion,[ii] euthanasia,[iii] sodomy,[iv] cloning,[v] embryonic stem cell research,[vi] as well as other attacks against the sanctity of life and the family.  It is the obligation of the bishop to follow canon law.  Canon Law n.915 mandates the denial of Communion to all "manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners," including but not exclusive to politicians. [vii]

Canon 915 not only protects the Eucharist from sacrilegious reception, but also prevents the faithful from sorrowful scandal.

It's important to understand what 'manifest, obstinate, persistent' means.  Many wrongly think it applies only to politicians. [viii]  This is not so.

If a Catholic is a 'manifest' sinner, that means he is 'known,' or 'public.'  This must be differentiated from the Catholics who are in the state of 'private' grave sin, to whom their sin is known only to themselves and God.  The private grave sinner cannot be denied the Eucharist because their sin is unknown to the bishop, to his priests, and his ministers of the Eucharist.

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

If a Catholic is gravely 'manifest' and 'obstinate' in his sin, that means he pigheadedly continues to 'persist' or 'stand firm' in grave sin that is 'public' in nature and causes scandal to others.  This is quite different from those who persist in 'private' sin.

'Catholic' pro-abortion politicians are certainly manifest, obstinate and persistent sinners and they are thus subject to the provisions of c.915. [ix]

2]  "If they deny politicians, then shouldn't they deny all public sinners?"

Answer: Not only does this canonical discipline c.915 include the estimated 500 so-called 'Catholic' pro-abortion politicians in the U.S., but it also includes other manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners such as homosexual couples approaching the Eucharist arm-in-arm or with sodomite rainbow banners over their shoulders, those divorced and 'remarried' without benefit of annulment [x], directors of abortion mills and Planned Parenthood, Mafia figures, drug lords, notorious criminals, couples living openly in fornication or adultery (this is certainly not an exhaustive list of manifest sinners).

3]  "What about the couple or individual who lives in grave sin 'privately' and their Pastor is made aware of their sin?  Should their Pastor deny them the Eucharist?"

Answer: No.  Not if most people do not know this.  He cannot make their sin known to people.  The priest cannot make known the sins of others, if it is not already manifest.  It's related to the seal of confession.[xi]  If it becomes known by most in the parish, then the priest might then be obliged to deny the Eucharist under c.915 so as not to cause scandal.

4] "Isn't there supposed to be a separation of Church and State?

Answer:  The Founding Fathers of our nation believed in the promotion of religion, as the text to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

The Fathers merely wanted to avoid a state church or any other favoring of one Christian denomination over another.  In other words, the object was to avoid favoritism and compulsion, nothing more. [xii]

It would be a sad day in America if only Catholics believed in protection of innocent life. [xiii]

5] "Can the Church tell its members how to legislate and vote?"

Answer:  The Church is not asking Catholic legislators to impose her beliefs on unwilling populace.  Rather, the Church is calling upon her Catholic legislators to defend human life, which is a basic responsibility of all civic institutions. [xiv]

The Church is not trying to influence legislation but instead is protecting the dignity of the Sacrament and addressing the grave scandal of Catholic legislators who fail to defend innocent life.

Implying that the Church is trying to tell its members how to vote is erroneous.   It never directs its members to cast their vote for any specific party or candidate.  It is reiterating that abortion, euthanasia, sodomy, cloning and embryonic stem cell research (this is not an exhaustive list) are intrinsically evil in and of themselves; all other human rights pale in comparison to the right of life of the unborn.

6] "Isn't the Church turning the Eucharist into a weapon?  No one should be denied the Eucharist.  Where is the freedom of conscience?"

Answer:  It is true that c.912 does say, "Any baptized person who is not forbidden by law may and must be admitted to Holy Communion."  However, c.912 commentary further explains:  "unless the existence of some impediment is evidence in the external forum of c.915."  [xv]

Canon 915 states: "Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are forbidden by law from receiving Holy Communion."

It is dishonest to use c.912 to justify permitting grave manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners to the Eucharist.  It is a mockery of the faith and belies ones identity as a Catholic believer.

True freedom is not doing what you want to do, but doing what you ought to do.[xvi] The Church teaches, "Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions." [xvii]

Conscience is not the same as your opinions or feelings.  Conscience is the voice of truth within you and your opinions and feelings must reflect your well-informed conscience. [xviii]

A well-informed conscience is one that is totally in accord with the church's magisterial teachings. If one is well informed (catechized), their conscience will be correctly informed.  This transcends any choice for political party or candidate.

No pope or ecumenical council has ever said that Catholics who hold public office are excused from living by the teachings of the Church. [xix]

"Christians, like all people of goodwill, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law.  Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil.  Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it.  This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it.  Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts, which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from the responsibility, and on the basis of it, everyone will be judged by God Himself." [xx]

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7] "Why not deny Communion to politicians and laity who support the death penalty and the Iraq war?"

Answer:  The Church has never taught, and does not teach now, that the death penalty and war are evil in all instances. But, the church has always clearly condemned abortion, sodomy, euthanasia, cloning, and embryonic stem cell research in all instances.

The Church teaches that it is the right and responsibility of the legitimate temporal authority to defend and preserve the common good and citizens against the aggressor, even if it has to resort to the death penalty if no other means of defense is sufficient. [xxi]

8] "All I hear is the 'right to life.'  What about the right to employment, the right to water, the right to food and clothing, the right to protection of the environment?"

Answer: Without the right to life, no other rights are possible.

As men and women of good will we strive to achieve true justice for all people and to preserve their rights as human beings. There is, however, one right that is "inalienable", and that is the right to life. This is the first right. This is the right that grounds all other human rights. This is the issue that trumps all other issues. [xxii]

Here is this from the Didache circa A.D. 80: [xxiii]

"You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born."

The Catholic Church's social teachings are vast and complete.  However, faithful Catholics may legitimately disagree on different points of view and on how to implement these social teachings. [xxiv]  One can never disagree on the teachings regarding the right to life of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly. [xxv]

9] "When 'gays' and 'lesbians' march up to the altar arm and arm for Communion, should they be denied?"

Answer:  Canon 915 states that if they are gravely manifest, obstinate, and persistent in their sins, then they must be denied.  The Church condemns the sin of sodomy.  [xxvi]

Sodomites who approach the Eucharist wearing 'Rainbow sashes' or are living known lives of perversion are certainly manifest, obstinate and persistent in their grave sin. [xxvii]

Legal recognition of same-sex unions actually does homosexual persons a disfavor by encouraging them to persist in what is an objectively immoral arrangement.

There are absolutely no grounds for considering same-sex unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts "close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." [xxviii]

10] "What is Canon Law 915 I hear so much about?"

Answer:  You may remember that the canon lawyer, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, D.D., J.C.L., on January 8, 2004, promulgated a 'canonical notification' in his diocese of La Crosse based on Canon Law 915.  In other words, he imposed sacramental disciplines or regulations concerning the unworthy reception of the Holy Eucharist.

Canon 915 is a sacramental law, not a penal law, and applies only to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, not other Sacraments.  It is not an excommunication or interdict.

Canon Law is the Church's Sacred Discipline and is binding on all Catholics, not just politicians, who reject Church law.

There are, however, other legislative powers that the Pope and diocesan Bishops possess which gives them the right to enact laws for their dioceses, including penal laws which impose latać sententić ('automatically without sentence') penalties (c.1311, c.1315, c.1318, c.1369, c.1398).  Here we discuss only c.915.

When the diocesan bishops ignore enforcing Canon Law, they are giving license to all manifest sinners to commit Eucharistic sacrilege and cause grave scandal to the faithful.[xxix]

[i] 'The Catechism of Catholic Church,' §1755.

[ii] Pope John Paul II, 'Evangelium vitae,' §73.

[iii] Pope John Paul II, 'Evangelium vitae,' §73.

[iv] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 'Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons,' n.10.

[v] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation,' Ch.1, §6.

[vi] Pontifical Council for the Family, 'Charter of the Rights of the Family,' n.43.

[vii] Pope John Paul II, 'Ecclesia de Eucharistia,' §37.

[viii] Pope Pius XI, 'Casti Connubii,' §67; Pope John Paul II, 'Evangelium vitae,' §72-73.

[ix] Cf.Pope John Paul II, "Evangelium vitae,' §73.

[x] According to Chuck Wilson, St. Joseph Foundation, the Apostolic Constitution Familiaris consortio (1981), the Letter Annus internationalis familić (1994), Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) and Redemptionis sacramentum (2004), include for the most part those in irregular marriage situations.

[xi] Summa Theologica, Pt.III, Q.80, Art 6.

[xii] Cf. Catholic World Report, 1/04, "The Mantra of the Wall of Separation" by Marion Edwyn Harrison, Esq., Pres. 'Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.'

[xiii] Archbishop Raymond Burke interview, EWTN, 1/16/04, with Raymond Arroyo

[xiv] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 'Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life,' n. 4; Pope JP II, 'Evangelium vitae,' §73.

[xv] Code of Canon Law Annotated, University of Navarre, Wilson & Lafleur Limitée, Montreal, 1993.

[xvi] Pope John Paul II, 'Evangelium vitae,' §18-20.

[xvii] The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1782.

[xviii] Gaudium et spes, n.16; An Introduction to Moral Theology, Dr. Wm. E. May, pp.58.

[xix]  US Bishops, 1998, 'Living the Gospel of Life,' n.31-34.

[xx] Cf. Romans 2:6; 14:12; Pope John Paul II, 'Evangelium vitae' §74.

[xxi] Pope John Paul II, 'Evangelium vitae,' §27, 56; The Catholic Dossier, 9/98, "Opposition to the Death Penalty," Dr. Ralph McInerny;

[xxii] Bishop Michael J. Sheridan, Colorado Springs, 5/1/04 Pastoral Letter, "duties of Catholic Politicians and voters."

[xxiii] The epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, A.D. 80; The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2271, n.1,

[xxiv] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 'Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life,' n.6; Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation 'Christifideles laici,' §59, Pope Paul VI 'Apostolicam Actuositatem,' §4.

[xxv] Pope John Paul II, 'Evangelium vitae,' §73.

[xxvi] The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2357-2359.

[xxvii] Cf. Catholic Medical Assoc., 'Letter to the Catholic Bishops;' and 'Homosexuality and Hope;' Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, 'Persona humana n.8; 'Summa Theologica,' Vol II, Pt.I-II, Q.94, Art.1-6; Vol IV, Pt.II-II, Q.154, Art. 12; Augustine, Confess. iii, 8;

[xxviii] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 'Considerations regarding Proposals to be Given Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,' §4; Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2357

[xxix] Congregation for Divine Worship, 'Redemptionis Sacramentum,' §183.

Barbara Kralis, the article's author, writes for various Christian and conservative publications.  She is a regular columnist at Catholic Online (, Life Issues, The Wanderer newspaper, New Oxford Review Magazine, Washington Dispatch, Catholic Citizens, Illinois Leader, NewsBull, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Phil Brennan's WOW, ChronWatch and others.  Her first journalism position was with Boston Herald Traveler, l964.  Barbara published and edited 'Semper Fidelis' Catholic print newsletter.  She and her husband, Mitch, live in the great State of Texas, and co-direct the Jesus Through Mary Catholic Foundation.  She can be reached at:


Jesus Through Mary Foundation
none TX, US
Barbara Kralis - Director, 903 532-5555



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