Detroit Archbishop Says That Catholics Who Support Marriage Equality Shouldn’t Receive Communion

In a social climate where more than half of American Catholics support equal marriage rights for gay couples, yet another high-level cleric made it crystal clear that the Church will not tolerate differences of opinion in matters of human sexuality.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

In a statement to the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, Archbishop Allen Vigneron condemned Catholics who support gay marriage while participating in the Eucharistic ritual at the heart of Catholic Mass:

For a Catholic, to receive Holy Communion and still deny the revelation Christ entrusted to the Church is to try to say two contradictory things at once: ‘I believe the Church offers the saving truth of Jesus, and I reject what the Church teaches’. In effect, they would contradict themselves. This sort of behaviour would result in publicly renouncing one’s integrity and logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.

The Church’s efforts to dictate or impose its moral reasoning are nothing new. Vigneron is far from being the first bishop to encourage exclusion from the sacraments for Catholics whose moral beliefs don’t strictly conform to the Catechism. Canon lawyers differ on the matter, but some suggest that Catholic law permits priests to refuse to offer the Communion wafer to someone whose public positions betray a “poorly-formed conscience” (read: failure to conform to Catholic dogma).

But Vigneron’s chosen tactic raises the stakes for true believers by emphasizing that anyone who expresses support for marriage equality is not eligible to take Communion — a statement that, in Catholic theology, is tantamount to promising damnation for Catholics who dissent.

The idea behind withholding Communion is based largely on the assertion that the Eucharistic bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus as the ritual of Mass is enacted. (No, it’s not symbolic — not in Catholicism, at any rate.) Because the Church believes Jesus is acutely offended by human sin, it’s considered gravely impious to consume the Communion bread and wine when you’ve got serious sins dirtying up your soul. Catholics who have gravely sinned are expected to go to confession and receive absolution before they can take part in Communion again.

Small (venial) sins aren’t enough to make one ineligible for Communion. Vigneron is invoking the idea of mortal sins, the kind of sins so serious, they completely break off relationships between an individual Catholic and the deity. Catholics are taught that, if they die in a state of venial sin, they may be required to spend time in Purgatory, being purified for the small sins upon their soul. But those who die without having been absolved of their mortal sins have earned a one-way ticket straight to hell.

In that context, Vigneron’s remarks take on a particularly sinister significance. He’s not just excluding the faithful from an important Catholic ritual; he’s threatening them with eternal torment by placing support for same-sex marriage on the same moral plane as fornication, adultery, and murder. Catholics who firmly believe the Church’s narrative on salvation can either withdraw support for their LGBT friends and neighbours or face the knowledge of endless torture beyond the grave.

These threats only serve to underscore the deep disconnect between Catholic officials and the laity, a rift that the clerical hierarchy seems determined to ignore. Bridgette LaVictoire of LezGetReal suggests a way for Catholics to fight back and make their displeasure known:

Maybe what needs to happen is that Catholics in Detroit choose a day when those who support a woman’s right to choose and/or same-sex marriage should just not show up for church… Maybe if the priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals saw nothing but nearly-empty pews, they might figure out that their position is in trouble.

For many progressive-minded Catholics, it may be time for the next step: to take the Archbishop and his ilk at their word. It could be schadenfreude, but I would love to see the clergy’s heavy-handed tactics backfire as American Catholics, when told their support for same-sex marriage is incompatible with Catholicism, opt to jettison the religion in favor of a broad humanistic vision for justice and equality.

In the real world, however, leaving the faith can seem like a daunting process for the true believer, or even for those who have lost faith. It’s a hard fact that only makes the spiritually abusive threat of hellfire that much more reprehensible.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • Kengi

    I’d like to see Vigneron apply his idea consistently. Deny communion to those who support the death penalty. Deny communion to those who use or support the right to birth control.

    If he continued on this path, there would be virtually no Catholics left qualified to receive communion. Most Catholics would feel even more out of touch with the church.

    I think he has a great idea and should pursue it to its logical conclusions!

  • Sven2547

    If you deny communion to them, expect them to deny tithes to you.

  • Stev84

    Even then, this is really against Catholic doctrine. Mere disagreement is not a cause for denying communion. There needs to be some actual and serious “sinning” involved.

  • baal

    “No, it’s not symbolic — not in Catholicism, at any rate”
    As I was raised Catholic and my wife was evangelical, I got to hear a number of anti-catholic teachings that she didn’t really know were done specicially in her church to make fun of the RCC. The symbolic (or not) transubstantiation was a major point of interfaith ridicule.

  • randomfactor

    They also shouldn’t support the church financially.

  • slaq

    I’m with Vigneron on this one. Let’s let the Catholic Church deny church services to bad Catholics (i.e. 98% of Catholics, at least in America) and watch the institution crumble! A happy solution for everyone, exept the Catholic Church, which needs that tithe money to pay for the cover-up of child rape.

  • Kengi

    Well, they can always fall back on Catholic tradition. Deny communion until the correct fee is paid to be allowed to take part again. And today only, get a complimentary pinkie from the saint of your choice when you pay for your entire family!

  • Max Bingman

    I never feel bad for leaving the Catholic church. They never really seemed to have wanted me around anyway.

  • ortcutt

    Why do people want to be members of a club that goes out of its way to make them unwelcome? That’s what I’ve never understood.

  • Jordan Olsen

    What about Catholics that eat at Red Lobster?

  • Kengi

    Fear of punishment. Prison gangs use this same tactic to prevent members from leaving.

  • Stacy

    I like Bridgette’s idea of having pro-marriage equality Catholics skip a specific mass date. I’d also like the idea of having pro-marriage equality people of all faiths and no faith come to a mass. They could wear red shirts with an equal sign on them and when mass begins, they all silently stand up and turn their backs on the pulpit for the entire mass and no one gets communion.

  • ortcutt

    What’s the worst that happens? You show up at the supermarket and someone asks why you haven’t been at Mass.

  • C Peterson

    Excellent! Just one more nudge pushing people of good conscience away from the Church. What’s left will eventually resemble a small pool of sewage.

  • Anna

    Their club, their rules. Maybe this is the sort of thing that actually needs to happen to snap all of those moderate and liberal Catholics out of supporting the church.

    Right now all of those pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-birth control, pro-female priest Catholics can just ignore what the Vatican says, and no harm will come to them. They can still go up and get communion every Sunday. They can send their kids to Catholic school.

    Imagine if Catholic schools started cracking down and refusing admittance to children of divorced and remarried couples. To couples who use birth control. Imagine if churches stopped baptizing babies whose parents didn’t conform to the right views. Or if those children weren’t allowed to make their sacraments.

    It’s not so easy to support a bigoted instituation when you’re the one being targeted for exclusion.

  • Kengi

    The threatened punishment is eternal damnation and hellfire.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I agree with him and think he should go even further…

    The church should totally excommunicate all Catholics who support LGBT rights, all women who use contraceptives, all men who use condoms, all men/women who masturbate, all who doubt the magic of transubstantiation, all who doubt that Mary was really a virgin or that she ascended into heaven including her physical body, and all who do not agree with the Vatican’s handling of the pedophilia priest scandals.

    I think it would be fantastic if the church totally kicked all those people out, and then try to sustain itself based on, umh, who exactly?

  • Lee Miller

    I’d think the church would want to refuse donations from bad Catholics. Right? Oh, am I missing something?

  • Peter Mason

    If those who oppose marriage equality cannot receive communion, the priests who molest children shouldn’t give communion.

  • ortcutt

    In a 2008 Pew Poll, 79% of Catholics said that “Many religions can lead to eternal salvation”, so many clearly don’t think that the Catholic Church has a monopoly on Heaven. If you ask most Catholics, “Do you think that good people who don’t attend Mass will go to Heaven?”, most will say yes.

  • trj

    The Catholic Church accepting money from sinners? Who ever heard of such a thing?

  • Rain

    Protestant version:

    “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”.

    Catholic version:

    “Let him who is without [mortal] sin cast the first stone”.

    Just for kicks, the Republican fundy version:

    “Let [everybody] cast the first stone [hey it's a free-for-all. W00t! Everybody grab a rock!]“.

  • Kengi

    Those people may not be the ones who feel unwelcome. You may just be comparing two different groups.

    Also consider that some may feel unwelcome at Mass or within a specific church, but still feel welcome within the “club”.

    Mainly, though, you should keep in mind that my initial response was just an off-the-cuff humorous remark.

  • Anna

    The problem with that is that the hierarchy doesn’t care. Ordinary Catholics can protest. They can hold signs or boycott mass. All of that will make no difference to the people in charge. They’re not going to change their theology because some of the members have different views. Vigneron’s rhetoric aside, the laity probably won’t be punished. The hierarchy will simply ignore them. However, any priests or nuns who dare to officially support dissident Catholics will likely be ousted.

  • Michael W Busch

    It depends on where and who you are. When Catholicism is a stronger part of the culture you are living in, leaving the church leads to greater social isolation. Consider what happens to Hispanic/Latino-American Catholics (~30% of American Catholics), or even Irish-American or Italian-American Catholics who leave the church.

  • 3lemenope

    The church has changed before.

  • Anna

    Sure, but I’m not convinced that ordinary Catholics with no political power or power within the church have ever been able to bring out that change.

  • Jane Williams

    Catholic doctrine is for catholics. American catholics can support their doctrine within the church. American catholics can still feel that non-catholics do not have to adhere to catholic rules and can support them for their views. That, of course is the ideal.
    But catholic church leaders feel they must apply the catholic doctrine to all people. This should be unacceptable to us and not allowed.
    Those states with marriage equality have not gone the way of satan.
    The catholic church is about 10 centuries behind the times. People can now read and many can even think for themselves. Just go into your big house of worship and stay inside.

  • The Other Weirdo

    So, we have a new Pope, and it’s business as usual? Who coulda thunk it?

  • newenglandbob

    Exactly. Cheer them on.

  • Mackinz

    The homophobic priests who haven’t been yet caught smoking another guys sausage?

  • sam

    What? I can’t engage in (to them) literal cannibalism with a child rapist because I don’t support bigotry against a legal contract between two consenting adults? Oh, the humanity!

  • Little Magpie

    You know, given all I’ve heard about the terrible state of Detroit (and Michigan’s) economy, and all the human suffering that’s causing, you’d think that the Archbishop of Detroit would have bigger fish to fry. Oops, I forgot. The Catholic religious aren’t supposed to be working on social justice, they’re supposed to be railing against teh gays and teh murdering abortionists. (See the Vatican censuring LCWR). Nevermind, my bad.

  • LesterBallard

    I’m glad I was never really “religious”, that I was actually invested in a church and all that crap.

  • Sinfanti

    Sure, they got the idea in the 20th century that people don’t speak Latin anymore. Glaciers have been known to move more quickly.

  • indorri

    Y’know, I just decided to read up on the Eucharist again wrt Catholic teachings and practices and… contemplating that this is probably a result of being raised Catholic, it just struck me how utterly weird everything about it is. Transubstantiation, being actual body and blood…

  • Pseudonym

    Their club, their rules.

    If by “their”, you mean Catholics, then yes. If by “their”, you mean Archbishops, then no. Archbishops are outnumbered by parishioners and they know it.

    When you find yourself in a corrupt institution, you basically have three choices: work to reform it, support others who are working to reform it in whatever way you can, or leave it. Any one of the three is a morally valid choice. It’s not up to people outside the institution to decree which choice they should make.

    I. as a non-American, would never dream of telling Americans to emigrate to avoid the abuses and corruption of the US government, when working to reform is a viable alternative. It’s just not my place to make the decision for you.

  • Artor

    LaVictoire has a great idea, but doesn’t take it far enough. Instead of the sane church-goers abandoning it for a day, why don’t they abandon it forever? Why would anybody remain loyal to an international criminal organization that does a piss-poor job of actually representing their beliefs?

  • Chris B

    I find stories like these to be so frustrating because I can’t follow any reasonable train of thought through a believer’s mind. On the one hand, you have Catholics who believe in marriage equality, and who assume that because they believe marriage equality is good, God must think so as well. On the other hand, you have the church, who very clearly disagrees. When the believer is presented with the churches view, he demands that the church change it’s mind. But that is akin to telling God he got it wrong, so that isn’t an option.


    These artificially created moral conundrums are a very large part of why I am an atheist. I just want to scream “Cut the fucking cord, already!” The world makes a lot more sense without this crap.

  • Pseudonym

    Last time that happened that really did cause a lot of people to leave the church. Not in the way that most atheists would like, of course…

  • Anna

    No, I mean the leaders. It’s their club. They’re in charge. They are the only ones with the power to change the rules. There are actual rules that have been written down, and ordinary Catholics can’t change them.

    I’m not decreeing what choice people should make. I can only hope (and would encourage) non-bigoted Catholics to leave an institution that has no interest in what the laity wants. The Catholic church is not a democracy. The theology is not up for popular vote. The Vatican has shown no sign of budging on any social issues.

  • joe smith

    If you disagree with the Catholic church and its stance on social issues, maybe it’s time to do what many have already done and walk away. We’re waiting…..

  • Pseudonym

    Because the stated mission of the club is still perceived as being important, because the club is probably reformable in the long run, and because there are far more fellow members making you feel welcome than there are leaders making you feel unwelcome.

  • Pseudonym

    There’s clearly a US cultural reference here which has gone completely over my head. Could someone please explain? Thanks.

  • indorri

    I think he was more referring to the entire “the Old Testament hates it some shellfish” thing.

  • The Watcher

    Well, if you mean it caused the Reformation, then actually, I do like it. As an atheist, I find the Lutherans far more palatable than other denominations. I doubt there would be much need for an atheist movement at all if all Christians were Lutherans, Methodists, or Episcopalians.

  • Chak 47

    I completely agree with this – they *shouldn’t* receive communion.

    And neither should anybody else.

  • Rain

    For a Catholic, to receive Holy Communion and still deny the revelation Christ entrusted to the Church is to try to say two contradictory things at once: ‘I believe the Church offers the saving truth of Jesus, and I reject what the Church teaches’.

    Actually no. One is partially ignoring one alleged revelation of Christ, and the other is drinking blood and eating flesh. Yay another advanced theologian obfuscates the obvious and turns it into a bunch of fluffy hoo-haw so he can be holier-than-thou.

  • Sids

    Unlike the other mortal sins, this one would be an ongoing thing. So if this was adopted by the church, every time there is a communion, the catholics would be reminded that supporting same sex marriage is against the churches teachings. It would be forced right to the forefront, becoming as pertinent as any other major tennant. While this might make the people that prioritise their church to take a stronger stand against equality, it will also make it much harder for the more progressive members to maintain the dissonance. I don’t see this ending well for him.

  • TheBlackCat13

    I found a catholic policy on this issue:

    This states that any politician who supports abortion or euthanasia, or anyone who votes for a politician because of these issues, would be denied communion.

    It lists abortion and euthanasia as two issues that no catholics are allowed to disagree on, because they are “grave sins”. On the other hand, capitol punishment and war are not, the catholic church opposes them but doesn’t consider them that big a deal.

    The implication of this is that marriage equality is a “grave sin” on the level of abortion or euthanasia, but capital punishment is not that big a deal.

    Let that sink in for a moment: letting people who love each other marry is far, far, far worse than murdering innocent people.

  • Sids

    Were they applying the standard in all cases though? They might think that any catholic who follows the rituals and asks for forgiveness is fine, whereas people of other faiths can get in but only in extreme circumstances.

    Afterall, many christians would say that if theoretically a person of a different faith had never sinned then they would go to heaven. Thus the faith doesn’t have a monopoly. But it is much easier and more realistic to get there for people of the faith who can feel free to sin as long as they ask for forgiveness.

  • Geoff Boulton

    ‘I believe the Church offers the saving truth of Jesus, and I reject what the Church teaches’

    Perhaps he would like to enlighten us as to exactly what Jesus said about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, or any of the the other bees he seems to have in his bonnet.

    From what I remember of the bible, the saving truth of Jesus doesn’t include anything about homosexuality. Of course, if we’re relying on the passage about not one part of the law (from the Old Testament) shall pass etc. then let’s at least be consistent and say that shrimp-eating, multi-fibre-wearing, hair-trimming (plus any number of other silly ‘truths’) people also shouldn’t take communion.

  • Stev84

    Unfortunately, not all Protestants are Lutherans. Today many Protestant sects are a thousand times more crazy than the Catholics.

  • Agrajag

    Sects, yes. But the mainstream protestant churches, such as for example the major church in Norway really is a *huge* lot better than the catholic church — allthough that’s not saying they’re good.

    Female priests. Homosexual weddings. No celibate priests. We even had a openly lesbian bishop. No claims of the pope, or any other human being infallible. Acceptance of contraception. There’s still plenty of problems left with them ofcourse, but compared to the catholic church, they’re saints (hah!)

  • Holytape

    This guy’s ok. He not being homophobic. He’s just trying to get his Church to resemble his community, which in this case is a desolate waste land.

  • Arthur Byrne

    I’ll note the support for gay marriage is a lot higher among Catholics who go to mass only a couple times per year, and a lot lower among those who attend weekly.

  • Gael R Murphy

    He would, by this decree, deny all the catholic sacraments, except confession. This amounts to excommunication. I asked the Bishop from the parish where I was baptised to excommunicate me. They won’t! I blasphemed, and denied christ, and told them that I had spread and encouraged this blaspheme. Although that is all the church requires for a formal excommunication, he refused. Or, could it be that his list of requests for excommunication was so long, that he hasn’t come to the M’s yet?

  • Gael R Murphy

    Silly, don’t you know that catholics are discouraged from reading the bible? It used to be because teaching a layman to read was forbidden. Trying to eat from that damn tree of knowledge again?

  • Sara Lin Wilde

    I would also recommend checking out the Catholic Voters Guide, which lists the ‘Five Non-Negotiables’ – issues on which there is a “Catholic position” from which Catholics cannot deviate and still remain good Catholics. One of the issues listed is homosexual “marriage” (scare quotes not mine, of course).

    Here’s the link:

  • Michael Mock

    And, while this is merely cynical speculation, I suspect that a sudden drop in revenue – via lack of attendance or merely lack of tithing – would provide a big spur for the church to change again.

  • Anna

    One thing that struck me about Vigneron’s proposal is that it’s basically just blowing smoke. Such a ban on communion would be impossible to enforce. Unless a person is famous or a member of a tiny congregation where everyone knows everyone else, there’s no way for the priest or for the servers to know who is a Catholic in good standing and who isn’t.

    Anyone who goes to a Catholic church can walk up to the altar and receive the host. There’s no background check. There’s no special secret you have to know (just hold out your hands and say “amen” when they give it to you). This proposed ban would rely entirely on Catholics policing themselves, and millions of Catholics already go up and receive communion every week despite not being officially eligible to do so. Those who use birth control, those who never go to confession, etc.

  • kaydenpat

    What about Catholics who support the death penalty? The Catholic church is against that too. I like the idea of progressive Catholics skipping church to make a point.

  • kaydenpat

    Wow. I guess that explains all this brouhaha over Catholics who support abortion/gay rights but the silence over those like Santorum who support the death penalty.

  • TheBlackCat13

    Read my post below. The catholic church considers things like abortion and gay marriage absolutely horrible, intolerable things that no real catholic could ever support.

    The death penalty they oppose a little, but not enough that they care if catholics support it.

  • Bill Traubenkraut

    In the past, the Catholic hierarchy along with many other denominations have

    done a fine job of condemning the ones they regard as “sinners”, but that group has always been a small minority. Now, the church feels like it’s losing ground on this issue because public opinion is drastically changing, and it has decided to take drastic measures, by not only excluding the “sinners”, but also the over 50% group of Catholics who now show tolerance, support and acceptance of marriage equality. In my anger, I could rant and rave about the Catholic hierarchy, many who are pedophiles, and about how they should be in prison for their crimes, but you have heard that before. So, I’m going to take the higher road. I’m sure that almost everyone is familiar with the teachings of the Christian religions, and although I haven’t attended church in many years, I was raised by devout parents who attended weekly, and I attended mass until my early 20′s. I learned as a child that the Eucharist was the body of Jesus Christ and the wine was his blood. In addition, I was taught that Communion was a symbol of unity and that Jesus Christ wanted all to be welcomed. Have things really changed that much over the last thirty years? Apparently, the Catholic hierarchy have become nothing more than a bunch of self righteous hypocrites who feel they have the power decide who is worthy to receive communion. Bishop Vigneron is clearly excluding people and that would displease the Lord. And don’t even try to bring up the “sin” thing, because remember, Jesus even invited and welcomed Judas to the Last Supper.

    Some of you may be tired of all the current talk about gays, and it will eventually subside, but this is happening because of the many changes that are taking place in our society. Throughout history, a push for civil rights has always been met with resistance.

  • Louis Gonzales

    Well, that’s an entirely different matter though. Most Catholics are called upon to not support the death penalty by Church officials, yet the Church concedes that the State has the right to choose punishment/enact justice onto those considered dangerous.