Lacking clarity on the excommunication/no Communion issue

Lacking clarity on the excommunication/no Communion issue

It’s not just some American bishops who have a hard time with the clear instructions of canon law on what to do about public figures who publicly dissent from non-negotiable Catholic moral principles.

Ed Peters looks at an interview in Time magazine with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and specifically at his answers to questions concerning pro-abortion Catholic politicians. The cardinal’s responses don’t seem to line up with what canon law and its official intepretations say.

For example the cardinal says: “For who am I to deny Holy Communion to a person?” and Ed’s response is: “You are, among other things, the minister of the Eucharist as set out in Canon 915.” The cardinal adds: “I cannot [deny Holy Communion to a person]” and Ed responds: ” Under certain circumstances, a minister of the Eucharist is required to do precisely that.”

You can read the whole thing. What we have in the cardinal’s response is the basic nutshell of what we have heard from so many bishops when asked if they will deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians and Ed gives the definitive response they’re supposed to give.

Why is this is so difficult for so many bishops? Why are they so squeamish about doing this right thing? Do they think it will drive more Catholics from the pews? If they’d leave over this, then is sitting in those pews actually doing them any good in the first place?

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
13 comments
  • In the previous post, on the same subject, you likened the representatives to “children who stamp their feet and bluster at their mother, ‘You’re not the boss of me’” and properly observed that “they are quite wrong and deep down they know it.” In the same vein, I think many bishops and priests may be likened to fathers who lack the strength and courage to say “No” to their children, to enforce rules of behavior, and to persist with necessary discipline even in the face of the inevitable tantrums.  So much easier to take the path of less resistance and let the kids do whatever they want.  No discipline, no disciples.

  • Why?

    1. Because they are gutless.

    2. Because they don’t really believe what the Church teaches about the Holy Eucharist and care even less what canon law says.

    3. They don’t believe St. Paul in Sacred Scripture that those who partake of the Holy Eucharist unworthily will eat and drink death unto themselves.

    4. Because they are gutless.

  • Obviously if a Prince of the Church, moreover one of the “papabile” during the last conclave, doesn’t understand what Canon Law has to say about this issue the instructions are far from “clear.”  Ed Peters is a good canonist, but he classifies his opinions as just that,opinions, not as “the definitive response.” He is in no position to do that.

    I think Peters argues effectively that those politicians who support abortion are not excommunicated. That much seems clear, though not to the Cardinal in the above quotation.

    Those circumstances in which the Cardinal should deny communion are stated in Canon Law: “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” The first two circumstances involve public judgments and public penalties; the third does not. Only the competent ecclesial authority can determine if the individual involved is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin.”  I’d say the circumstances in which the third case is applied are anything but “clear.”

  • Then you missed my post in which I linked to the relevant instruction from the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts:

      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.

    Bearing in mind the nature of the above-cited norm (cfr. n. 1), no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it.

    If that’s not clear I don’t know what is.

  • Sure it’s clear—about the divorced and remarried, whose status is by nature public.  We have not heard that same type of clarity from the competent ecclesial authorities (who are charged in the instruction you linked with the “discernment” of these cases) with regard to other situations—most notably the one in question.

  • I can appreciate the unwillingness of “extraordinary ministers”, parish priests, and even bishops to confront pro-abortion/SSM politicians at the place the Communion rail used to be.  The habit of handing out the Body and Blood of Christ to anyone who hauls him/herself up to the front of the Church has become a tradition for the past two generations.

    It is somewhate easier to do so when the prospective communicant expresses visibly a form of direct obedience at the Mass—e.g. wearing a prohibited “rainbow sash”, or waving a sign, or making some other inappropriate disturbance (beyond the widely accepted gum-chewing, hand-shaking, and casual conversation while in the Communion line).  Absent that direct challenge, it is perhaps not admirable but unsurprising that even bishops are reluctant to force a confrontation.

    On the other hand, I do fault priests and bishops from addressing specifically and directly the reasons why people should not present themselves for Communion. At the beginning of every televised Mass, EWTN announces the teaching from the Catechism on this issue; it should be in every bulletin and “missalette”.  Celebrants should clearly and regularly address the issue of unworthy communions and explain the Church’s teaching and thereby remind those whose Communion is little more than a photo-opportunity just what they are doing.

  • Hi folks. 2 things.

    1) While it is clear, I think, that “pro-abortionism” is objectively gravely evil, what is not clear is the point at which one becomes precisely that, and at what point one becomes “obstinate” in that per 915. I think those points can be established case by case, but there is not a bright line in the law itself.

    2) The cardinal has dramatically re-stated his position, and it is great improvement over where he was yesterday. It’s on my blog, same link that Dom gave above.

  • Roseberry, every missalette I have ever seen has the rules for Communion printed, accurately, inside the front, or back, cover.

  • “I’d say the circumstances in which the third case is applied are anything but “clear.””

    And yet there are clear-cut cases. The Cardinal asks rhetorically, “who am I” to do this? The simple answer is “you are a minister of the eucharist. It is your role to make these judgments.”

    In the post-Conciliar world, most Catholics no longer understand that pastors are to make these judgments since discipline in the Church collapsed long ago.

  • THere is a bit of legal culture-clash going on here. That is, between folks whose legal cosmos is formed in the Anglosphere, and those whose legal cosmos was formed outside it (specifically in the Roman legal cosmos). Anglosphere folks have a deeply seated expectation that law and reality will correlate closely; Roman folks often expect a less-close correlation. This helps explains why one gets clear articulations of Roman law but without strict enforcement thereof; the Roman legal culture informally allows a great deal of discretion (way way more than is comfortable for people from our legal traditions) in the actual enforcement thereof.

    Expect this to continue in the same general pattern, because it’s been around for a looooong time.

  • Yes Liam. I know it’s been around a long time (though many others don’t, so it was good of you to point it out) but, the awful fruits of that weird approach to law in the CHurch are evident all around us. Time to switch models. It will take a while, yes, but, among other things, instant world communications is forcing it.

  • Ed

    Thanks. I was expecting the usual swat-down in these boxes for my cautions.

    I think this dimension of the issue – the dimension of legal culture, that is – needs to be highlighted by canonists when explaining things to Catholic readers in the Anglosphere. Here I am not criticizing but encouraging you and your brethren.

    Beause if the culture needs to change, it needs to be explained regularly to people who don’t understand it and don’t realize it’s a problem.

    This was, of course, also at work in the abuse scandal. (And the same Eminence made comments to the press, IIRC, that betrayed this same mindset.)

    And we also need own the fact that a strain of ultramontanism tends to be skeptical about the need for change of this.

    I believe that the current Pope is aware of the need for this change, but also seeks to circumscribe a papal maximalism that has become unwieldly and has gone beyond what history has shown the papal office can handle well. So we will likely see contradictory things happen and not happen, as it were. I think it also helps to keep this much in mind of readers who tend to ignore the tensions between worthy goals in favor of simplistic triage (Americans are especially prone, because of our long deeply pragmatic and utilitarian culture, to favor simplistic triage).

    And I am sure you’re happy I won’t even get into how this affects our liturgical wars.

  • Yes. A while back, Jimmy Akin was following John Allen’s musings on “high-culture content” (Italy, China) vs “low culture content” (America, England) on this very point. BUt don’t get me started.

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