Communion Politics

From reading some of the more popular Catholic blogs, one would think that the two most important issues in the life of the Church today were the restoration of the tridentine Mass and denying communion to politicians who support abortion. I want to address the second issue in some detail. During the last election, many on the right hounded the Church to chase John Kerry from the altar rails, and a small but vocal minority of bishops said they would deny him communion. Now the issue has been re-opened as Archbishop Burke of St. Louis declared he would deny communion to Rudy Giuliani. I believe this coercive approach is not only bound to backfire, but is on shaky ground to start with.

Abortion and Politicians 

The argument put forth by those favoring the coercive approach is plain, and not without merit. Since directly-procured abortion is an intrinsically evil act that can never be justified by appealing to intent or consequence, and is an attack on human life itself, any law making abortion legal or declaring it a right is an intrinsically unjust law. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it” (Evangelium Vitae, 73). It can never be morally licit to cooperate formally in evil, defined as “direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it” (Evangelium Vitae, 74). If you cooperate formally in evil with no desire to repent, then you can be denied the Eucharist. So far so good.

But what does it mean to cooperate formally with evil in the case of a pro-abortion politician? It is often understood to mean “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion laws”. Cooperation in evil refers to proximity to the evil act in question– that is the basic principle. If you vote for a law in parliament that legalizes or liberalizes abortion, and the impact on abortion is evident, then the formal cooperation seems clear. But the “right” to abortion in the United States does not emanate from the legislature, it derives from the Supreme Court. Members of Congress do not typically vote for permissive abortion laws. The proximity is automatically lessened. If anything, legislators are indicted by their rhetoric, if inappropriate. It is therefore really difficult to discern the true intent of a politician in voting for or against a piece of legislation. Often, the legislature deals with items that will have a tangential effect on abortion at best. Cardinal Dulles discussed the notion of an appropriations bill that includes some provisions for funding abortions, arguing that it “might arguably be licit if the funding for abortion were only incidental and could not be removed from a bill that was otherwise very desirable.” And of course, it is perfectly licit to vote against a Supreme Court nominee that might well vote to overturn Roe v. Wade (but who knows if they actually will?) for other compelling reasons.

So you could have a politician who wholeheartedly shares the intention of Roe v. Wade that abortion is a “right” and hence something good. Or they could be cowardly, publicly advocating abortion to garner votes, knowing full well anything they say and do will have no impact on any single act on abortion. Of course, one can legitimately argue that persistently talking about the “right” to abortion in itself creates a public scandal, but this is a different thing from formal cooperation in evil.

This point becomes quite pellucid when considering the case of Rudy Giuliani. His most important elected office to date was mayor of New York City. As mayor, he defended abortion, but his ability to direct affect abortion rates (as opposed to indirectly through social and economic conditions) was heavily circumscribed. Of course, his ability to effect abortion as a president would be greater, and this is grounds for refusing to vote for him. But surely what matters for receiving communion is actual sins committed, not hypothetical future sins? (Note: I write this not to defend Giuliani. I happen to believe Giuliani is the single worst candidate running for president in 2008).

Go After the Supreme Court?

And what about the Supreme Court? If we are going to deny communion on the grounds of introducing permissive abortion laws, should we not take this body to task? And yet we rarely hear calls for Anthony Kennedy to be sanctioned; after all, he is a Catholic who has voted for abortion, most notably when he upheld Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). Since permissive abortion laws in the US originate with the Supreme Court, should we not start here? Why are we sanctioning a blowhard mayor instead of one of the architects of “abortion rights”? And what about John Roberts? He has not, as yet, voted to support the principle underlying Roe v. Wade on the Supreme Court, but he did declare that this case was the “settled law of the land” and that nothing in his personal views would prevent him from “fully and faithfully” applying that precedent (nothing? not even his Catholicism?). Should Roberts not therefore be sanctioned for supporting permissive abortion laws? He is also quoted as saying that Roe v. Wade was wrongfully decided, but is this much different from the tried-and-tested politician’s response of being personally opposed to abortion, but willing to support it as a public policy position?

And What About Torture?

So far, I’ve only spoken about abortion, but it is also true that there are other intrinsically evil acts that directly attack human life and dignity. Take torture, a key example. Giuliani, as a backer of torture, could also be disciplined for this reason, but Archbishop Burke and others are strangely silent. Indeed, the proximity of an average member of the executive or legislature who votes for torture, or implements a policy of torture, is closer to the evil act than that of the equivalent public figure who supports abortion. In the case of torture, the evil act emanated not from the Supreme Court, but from an executive (backed up by a pliant legislature) steeped in consequentialist reasoning. Are the bishops willing to deny communion to all Catholic legislators who support “enhanced interrogation techniques”? If they do so for abortion, they should likewise do so for torture.

Charges of Hypocrisy

Focusing on the intrinsic evil of abortion and completely ignoring the intrinsic evil of torture opens the door to accusations of politicizing the Eucharist. I use these as examples only. Whenever a bishop threatens to deny communion over issue A, somebody will wonder why the person supporting issue B can receive communion with impunity. Examples are legion. In Northern Ireland, would it have been correct to ban Sinn Fein and their supporters from communion, at a time when they supported terrorism to achieve their ends? Should the Italian church discipline known mafia members and enablers? Should the Church in Latin America give communion to the likes of Pinochet, and to the extremely wealthy owners of latifundia who deny justice to their tenants? I could go on all night. But these “gotcha” wars do little to build up the body of Christ, and should be avoided. Instead, the bishops should focus on the non-coercive approach, the teaching approach– and they should do so consistently and loudly, addressing all of the issues.

The Tendency to Backfire… 

For these reasons, the coercive approach is bound to backfire. Cardinal Dulles puts it well:

“[T]he imposition of penalties involves at least three risks. In the first place, the bishop may be accused, however unfairly, of trying to coerce the politician’s conscience. Secondly, people can easily accuse the Church of trying to meddle in the political process, which in this country depends on the free consent of the governed. And finally, the Church incurs a danger of alienating judges, legislators and public administrators whose good will is needed for other good programs, such as the support of Catholic education and the care of the poor. For all these reasons, the Church is reluctant to discipline politicians in a public way, even when it is clear that their positions are morally indefensible. The Church’s prime responsibility is to teach and to persuade. She tries to convince citizens to engage in the political process with a well-informed conscience.”

Cardinal George had similar thoughts recently. Recognizing the problem of politicians who don’t seem to care about the respecting the dignity of the Eucharist, he nonetheless wonders if it is wise to “use a sacramental moment … and risk politicizing the sacrament.” For “the very sacrament that speaks about our unity becomes the occasion for this kind of fracas and disunity”. As a textbook case in how the coercive approach can backfire, consider Cardinal Pell’s intervention in the politics of embryonic stem cell research in Australia. After he declared that voting for this legislation would have “consequences” for the place of Catholic politicians in life of the Church, he was attacked by all sides– including those who supported his position on the issue. Indeed, a case can be made that Pell’s thoughtless approach increased the chances of this legislation being implemented. No, we need to focus more on teaching– which is the approach of Pope Benedict and Archbishop Wuerl in Washington (who, by the way, was appointed to Washington by the author of the “Ratzinger letter” after he came out against the coercive approach). And yet, these arguments seem to have little impact on a certain aspect of the Catholic blogosphere which seeks to wield the Eucharist as yet another weapon in the tired and tedious culture wars.

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  • Donald R. McClarey

    If people shouldn’t be denied receiving communion for voting in favor of abortion when, in the name of God, should they be denied communion? In regard to Kerry he has always been quite enthusiastic in his support of abortion on demand.


    I believe that the Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger was quite clear on this subject.

    Pro-abort politicians should be denied communion whether they have a D or an R after their names. Those who are in favor of denying any legal protection to a child in utero are unworthy to receive our Lord. Pro-abort politicians regularly receiving communion is a scandal that has gone on for decades and should be ended now.

  • jonathanjones02

    This is straightforward: abortion can never under any circumstances be justified. It is homocide, a grave evil with two victims, the mother and the child.

    For the protection of their souls, and to protect the integrity of the Sacraments, any public official who advances abortion (and no matter how many political gymnastics we want to play – “universal health care would reduce abortions, I promise!!!” – it’s clear what these policies are in America) should be denied Communion.

    If they wish to partake of the Graces of Christ, if they wish to claim the Church, then leave mortal sin and repent.

    Otherwise, what makes the Catholic Church different from the Anglicans? Without taking the Sacraments seriously, without taking the Apostolic charge seriously, it’s just cosmetics.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Of course, nobody should recieve communion who has not confessed their grave sins. Why single out abortion? Have you not read my post? You don’t want to turn the Catholic church into the Anglican church– I would also like to avoid the simplistic metaphysical dualism of the evangelicals. Yet again, the logic goes: X is bad, must punish X with coercion, with on feel for context, postoral sensitivity, or having it backfire. Is it any coincidence that this is an issue that is much bigger in the American church? Why is that, especially since the ‘right’ to abortion is the US derives not from the legislature, but the Supreme Court? Could it be the pernicious influence of latent Protestant theology, and how Protestants view law?

    No, if you guys were serious, you would be calling for the censor of Catholics on the Supreme Court and for all who support torture.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    My only real issue on the whole matter is the insistence to attempt and treat the sanction as if it is latae sententiae. Denial of communion and other sanctions are all tools offered with 1369. 1369 directly addresses the offense the politicians are giving, calling what is disordered right. I have difficulty seeing what is manifest today that wasn’t manifest 25 years ago and still isn’t manifest in most dioceses; this is why I have supported the authority of the bishop to interpret 915 as such, but believe that other bishops may not feel similarly compelled.

    Bishop Bruskewicz created local legislation that excommunicated these politicians, but he hasn’t been accused of inserting politics into the game. While I’m not sure the media has been fair to Archbishop Burke, I think he has invited some of the criticism by not taking the direct route. For whatever reason, people assume some maleability on the matter, and I think it is because he doesn’t simply invoke his authority as bishop and instead attempts to construe a positive requirement that others don’t see. I should add that I don’t think Archbishop Burke seeks this attention. When he was Bishops of LaCrosse, it was the affected legislators that contacted the media, not then Bishop Burke.

  • Alexham

    A few points:

    (1) There is nothing tangential about voting against a ban on the practice of partial-bith abortion (Kerry), or attempting to implement a policy of public funding for abortions (Giuliani).

    (2) Much of this post appears to be dedicated to the same question posed by many torture apologists: How close can I come to sinning without actually sinning? Shouldn’t a Catholic seek to stay as far away as possible from mortal sin? Shouldn’t you be counseling Catholics who hold proabortion views to abandon any action that might possibly constitute mortal sin, rather than seeking to justify or defend such actions?

    (3) What Catholic proabortion politicians say in support of abortion matters greatly, in that it further creates a Culture of Death in this country.

    (4) Your point about the Supreme Court is valid in some respects. Justice Kennedy should be held accountable for the role he played in Casey, where Roe v. Wade was set to be overturned, and he changed his mind. Kennedy knows all too well that Roe finds no support in the Constitution, yet he voted to uphold the decision anyway. One might be able to argue that his culpability is lessened by the doctrine of stare decisis, but I find that argument unconvincing. As for Roberts or any of the other Catholic justices, your argument fails. They have all voted in a manner which reduces the reach of Roe and its progeny, and the question of whether a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion was not at issue in the recent PBA case.

    (5) Given the number of abortions that take place every year, is it really surprising that many bishops place greater emphasis on this issue? That having been said, I agree that any politician who openly disregards a fundamental teaching of the Church ought to be sanctioned/publicly rebuked.

    (6) Your post seems to place all of the blame on the bishops who take this stance, rather than the proabortion Catholic politicians who are willfully disregarding fundamental Church teaching. Where is your contempt for them?

  • jonathanjones02

    “No, if you guys were serious, you would be calling for the censor of Catholics on the Supreme Court and for all who support torture.”

    Stuart Buck and others have shown on more than one thread of yours why there is a significant difference, and one need not defend your particular definition of torture to see it.

    Abortion is always a grave moral evil, one we can do something about right here on our homefront. Why “single it out?” Because it’s high profile, large-scale homocide not just condoned but actively advanced by officials who want to claim the label Catholic!

    The bigger question is: why don’t we hold our elected officals to account as Catholics?

  • Ut videam

    To the above comments, I would add that Morning’s Minion fundamentally misses the point when he characterizes denial of communion as a coercive penalty. It is, rather, an attempt to safeguard the sanctity of the Blessed Sacrament from the scandal that is caused when Catholics who persist in manifest grave sin present themselves for Communion and are admitted by the sacred pastors.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    MM: I agree with Alexham’s #6. Why focus on the Bishops and NOT the politicians? And as for abortion versus torture? You have to start somewhere, right? Any politician supporting policies that are morally wrong should understand that they are no longer in communion with the Church. They can choose to do what they want, but there are consequences to it. And what is even crazier to my mind is that the Bishops you criticize are CLEARLY in the minority. Why are you not concerned about the Bishops who say nothing?

  • Morning’s Minion

    Response to Alexham:

    (1) Do these issues actually affect abortion? Everybody agrees that the partial birth victory was merely symbolic, and will not make a dent in the abortion rate. Frankly, I would rather do something to reduce abortion instead of playing rhetorical games. My point holds: the proximity of people like Kerry and (especially) Giuliani is strictly limited given that the permissive abortion legislation derives from the Supreme Court. Whenever I make this obvious point, people always accuse me of defending the actual stance of these politicians. I do not. I merely point out that if you are going to deny somebody the Eucharist based on formal cooperation in evil, you had better know what you are doing.

    (2) To repeat” where did I defend Kerry or (God forbid!) Giuliani? By the way, I am perfectly happy for bishops and priests to thunder about abortion from the pulpit, especially when politicians are present.

    (3) Yes it does. And that is why it is a public scandal. By the way, the culture of death is also fostered by the death penalty, the free availability of guns, a policy of war-of-first resort, the glorification of violence in popular culture… there’s plenty of cheerleading “death” on both sides of the aisle.

    (4) Didn’t Roberts say Roe v. Wade was decided law, and that he saw no reason why he could not apply the precedent? Now, I am not a constitutional lawyer but it seems to me that Roberts is either a liar or will uphold Roe v. Wade. The “decided law” excuse is just the old Mario Cuomo cop-out dressed up in legal language. But you are right– the proximity of Roberts to the evil of abortion is extremely remote (for now)– but that is also true of many politicians. As for Kennedy, why do I never hear of calls for denying him communion? It’s been 15 years, and he seems to have gottten off scot-free.

    (5) No disagreement here, as long as it is done in a way that will not backfire (see Pell, George).

    (6) Now this is weird. I am actually defending the vast majority of the bishops who do not opt to politicize the Eucharist. Do you have contempt for the 95 percent plus of good bishops who are exercising sound pastoral judgment on the matter. The tone of these comments makes me look like the maverick, whcih tells me something is seriously askew in the Catholic blogosphere. I am merely making an argument for a position that is held by all but a tiny number of bishops, and backed up by top-notch theologians (George, Dulles). And yet, nearly all comments are in disagreement. Why is that, I wonder?

  • Morning’s Minion

    Jonathan– you quote a sentence of mine with 2 thoughts (SC judges who support abortion and all who support torture)– which are you criticizing and what point are you making? For each: (1) since the “right” to abortion in the US emanates from the Supreme Court, there lies the closest proximity and hence the most evident formal cooperation in evil– so start here; (2) abortion and torture are both “non-negotiables” in the sense that they are intrinsically evil acts that can never be sanctioned in law. So if you go after abortion, you must go after torture too. In fact, the proximity to the evil of torture of those legislators and members of the executive branch who introduced it is probably greater than the proximity of somebody like Kerry or Giuliani to abortion. As for one being worse than the other, be careful not to slip into proportionalism.

  • jonathanjones02

    The SC judges support torture??

    According to you! You know good and well it’s far from that straightforward. I wish I could find Rick Garrett’s (and Buck’s) detailed explanation of why your characterization is off-base, but perhaps you’ll link to it here.

  • ron chandonia

    So many words to say so little! Truth be told, if the Democrats were pro-life and the Republicans were campaigning for abortion rights, MM would favor excommunication for supporters of the Culture of Death. As it is, though, MM just seems to have jumped once again on the liberal Catholic bandwagon. I note that David Gibson today posted a sarcastic little note on the Commonweal blog comparing bishops who defend the Eucharist to witch-burners.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Oh, please, Ron: for supporting the vast majority of bishops in this country on this particular issue, I am on some “liberal Catholic bandwagon” (yet again, mis-using the word “liberal”).

  • Morning’s Minion

    Jonathan– that’s not a point I made in this post. Please re-read. When discussing torture, I specifically referred to the executive and legislative branches. The SC ruled against the administration in Hamden, declaring that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did apply to so-called “enemy combatants”. In simple language: no George, you cannot torture them. And yes, it was the Catholic justices that dissented. But that is all for another post.

  • Rick Lugari

    I am merely making an argument for a position that is held by all but a tiny number of bishops, and backed up by top-notch theologians (George, Dulles). And yet, nearly all comments are in disagreement. Why is that, I wonder?

    Perhaps because the alternative view appears to be more appropriate and is backed up by top-notch bishops, canon lawyers, and theologians like Cardinal Ratzinger who was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now happens to be Pope.

    MM, you point out that the Supreme Court is the solution to overturning Roe, but you turn a blind eye on how to ‘convert’ the Supreme Court. Senators like Kennedy and Kerry do not merely pay lip service to abortion, they go to great pains to “Bork” any potential justice they view might overturn Roe. Stop trying to diminish their culpability in the Culture of Death and advancement of abortion. Furthermore, legislatures can and do take actions to diminish abortion, yet the people you stump for always vote against such measures. Nevermind that you fail to recognize that they perpetuate the Culture of Death by their words as well. How much better would it be if someone like Ted Kennedy stood up and said “abortion is intrinsically evil and should never be allowed” rather than enshrining it as a fundamental human right? Do you really think that pro-abortion rhetoric has no effect on our society? That it doesn’t advance the Culture of Death? That it is in any way shape or form Catholic?

  • Morning’s Minion

    Rick: “appropriate”– so you think 95 percent of bishops are doing something inapprorpriate? That’s a strong charge! As for Benedict, as I noted, he appointed Wuerl to Washington after Wuerl’s position on this issue was in the public arena.

  • jonathanjones02

    We are talking past each other. My point is fundamentally one of definition: we know what abortion is. The definition is clear and not in dispute. Torture, not so. You would have been served in the original post to offer one up beyond enhanced interrogation techniques. Does sleep depravation meet the standard? Loud rap music all night?

    Both are evils that have no regard for the fundamental dignity of the human person. But it’s not a good argument to say “You guys aren’t really concerned about this issue, otherwise you would deny communion to politicans who support or oppose x or y or z” because often with those issues, there are wide definitions that leave lots of room for ideological jockeying.

    This is not the case with abortion – a high profile, common, grave evil, one where the denial of human dignity is so clear there can be no other choice but to oppose it if one wishes to take the Sacraments seriously.

  • radicalcatholicmom

    MM, I don’t think you should feel attacked. I also don’t think it should be the “majority” versus the “minority.” Each Bishop has to discern what is best in his diocese. There are good arguments for and against politicizing the Eucharist. I think you would have a much stronger argument by not critiquing the Bishops, but rather critiquing the people who are placing the Bishops in such awkward situations.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Let me try another angle. Worthiness to receive communion depends on the state of each individual’s soul. It is hard to discern. And sure, many pro-abortion politicians and judges are unworthy for that reason alone. Terrorist-supporting Sinn Fein voters and politicians (and their Irish-American financiers) are also probably unworthy. Employers who will not pay a living wage are unworthy. Adulterers are unworthy. Those who re-marry outside the Church are unworthy. Supporters of torture are unworthy. Mafia members are unworthy. The list goes on. My problem is in singling out a broad category: abortion-supporting politicians. It is clumsy and it is bound to backfire.

    And this is not about politics– as I said, I consider Giuliani the worst of all possible presidential contenders. But that is the point: we must leave our politics at the door when we get into debates like this.

  • Rick Lugari

    As for Benedict, as I noted, he appointed Wuerl to Washington after Wuerl’s position on this issue was in the public arena.

    Come on now, you’re being insincere. You don’t really think Pope Benedict placing Archbishop Wuerl in Washington negates what he said in that letter, do you? Would that mean that Christ sanctions people denying Him because He appointed Peter as head of His Church on Earth? Would Pope John Paul II’s promotion of Cardinal Mahony be an endorsement of liturgical dancing and ‘sacred’ glassware?

    RCM made a good point when she answered that we need to start somewhere. Usually the most egregious or the most relevant to a given set of circumstances is best. For example take Sicily where the mafia is most powerful and destructive, they were indeed put on notice in 1994 when the bishops under the leadership of Cardinal Pappalardo declared “The mafia is part of the reign of sin, and those who belong to it are agents of the Evil One. Whoever is part of the mafia is outside ecclesial communion.” Strong words and deeds that struck hard at a great many people on that island – everyone from politicians, businessmen, and two-bit thug. The good cardinal received many death threats and had to have a bullet-proof car and security detail. Oddly enough, Cardinal Pappalardo at one time thought that it wouldn’t be pastorally sensitive to speak out against the mob and hold them accountable, it was only after Fr. Giuseppe Puglisi (who has an open cause right now), an outspoken critic of the mob, was assassinated. BTW, Pope John Paul II went to Sicily and denounced the Mafia and apparently had no qualms about the bishops’ declaration.

    Another thing to consider is this. Isn’t the lesson we learn is that saints are the ones who always seem to challenge the status quo? Is it not the holy man who identifies evil and calls it what it is? Is it not he who says the hard things and calls us to repentance? Do you suppose someone like Saint Charles Borromeo is a saint because he decided it best not to rock the boat like so many other bishops of the 16th century? No, he is remarkable because he stood up against the prevailing “wisdom”, though some might actually call it complacency.

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  • Ut videam

    Worthiness to receive communion depends on the state of each individual’s soul.

    Not entirely. See below.

    It is hard to discern.

    It’s not necessary for the minister of Holy Communion to discern the state of the individual’s soul. Indeed, it’s not his place to do so. Reception of Holy Communion, however, is a public ecclesial act, and as such is done subject to the individual’s objective public worthiness to receive. Witness number 6 of Cardinal Ratzinger’s Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles cited in the first comment above:

    When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin. (emphases added)

  • JustMe

    What is bound and loosed? Alright, and now, what is supposed to be bound, and what is supposed to be loosed? To Whom is the priest’s first obligation in conferring a sacrament of Christ’s grace? To God, or to man?

    If I as priest knew that a certain person standing before me was guilty of mortal sin — and it is indeed a sin to lead little ones astray in saying/teaching/legislating that abortion/execution/euthanasia/warring/cloning, etc. isn’t a sin crying out to God! — would I place Jesus, Body and Blood Soul and Divinity into his/her hands? No.

    We are talking about the Lord, here — not a mere communal sign or symbol of unity. Would we hesitate to take Jesus’ hands and place them on an abortional scalpel, or on a grenade, or on a switch or a lethal hypodermic needle? Isn’t that what is, in essence, being done when Holy (Holy!) Communion is given to a non-repentant sinner? Sure, he/she eats and drinks condemnation to his or her self, but with a mere blessing administered and a whisper to call for an appointment instead of Communion, that person will think twice.

    Some of us sit out Communion and make a spiritual communion instead, for as seemingly little as eating sooner than an hour before Communion, etc. That is because we are to operate on God’s specs in the Church.. not on the American pc mandate nor the individual’s. Could any of us, least of all a priest, presume that a pro-abort pol (or a person known to be an active hooker) is in communion with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church?

    In some (all?) Eastern rites, the priest has to know you are indeed contrite and making a firm resolve to amend your life, that you’ve indeed been properly absolved and truly ready to be reconciled unto holy communion… before one receives Him. That should tell us everything we need to know. And do.

  • pml

    adding to the sentiments of JustMe, I will quote from the book, Irresistibly Drawn to the Eucharist, on the writings of Conchita Cabrera de Armida on the Eucharist.

    Jesus told Conchita:
    “By establishing the Eucharist, I voluntarily entered into it, and am captive there until the end of time …”

    “You cannot understand the ultimate martyrdom of your Jesus-Eucharist when he enters into stained hearts.” (T.1921) (pg. 51)

    “How great are the aims of Charity in the Eucharist!” (T. 1922) (pg. 51)

    How sublime is the priestly ministry?
    (note – subheading in book, the following all capitalized letters as recorded in book)

    “But when I enter into sacrilegious souls, oh daughter! the Word cannot atone because of the intimate contact not only with sin, but with the SINNER. It can only PUNISH.”

    “That is why the worst torture for me is to enter into a sacrilegious soul with my divinity.”

    “I took on sin at the Incarnation, but in Communion it is as if sin took on me, and instead of being able to atone, since I am God and precisely because I am God, I have to punish. And for me, daughter, punishing is the MOST PAINFUL thing that exists, because it is contrary to my nature of love.”

    “However, all of God’s attributes glorify him, and being forced to justice, he does not stop being content.” (T. 1921) (pg. 52)

    Souls that continue the Passion of Jesus

    “…I am the Body and soul of the Church, and all my people are part of this Body and in union with me they should continue atonement and sacrifice till the end of time. This is not understood and much less put into practice, which is why in these days I have come in search of victims, in the Oasis, to fill this vast void with my redemptive goals. That is the reason for the Catena, daughter, to continue making atonement for an ungrateful and corrput world. That is why I demand purity and sacrifice, to fulfil the loving aims of your Word, who constantly humbles and sacrifices himself on the altar, voluntarily” (T. 1916) (pg. 52-3)



  • Zak

    This a different issue, but I thought Roberts’s “settled law” comment was about Griswold v. Connecticut, not Roe vs. Wade.

    And Burke didn’t single out Giuliani, who can’t receive communion anyway, but rather said in response to questions about Giuliani, that anyone who advocated such policies should not receive communion.

    I think the chief problem is Catholic politicians who think they are entitled to the Eucharist.

  • Morning’s Minion

    Zak– no, Roberts was referring to Roe v. Wade. He thinks its settled law, and he has no problem applying precedent. I’m still wondering if this is radically different from a cowardly politician to claims to be personally opposed to abortion, even though it is “settled” in the public debate. Especially since the “right” to abortion heralds from the Supreme Court, I fail to understand why these guys are held to a lower standard. Perhaps because it’s about politics, not the integrity of the Eucharist, after all…

  • Morning’s Minion

    OK, this is a pet peeve of mine. People are constantly quoting a private letter sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick in 2004. I have done so myself. But we need to understand that this is private correspondance, not intended for official teaching. I’m not saying there is a contradiction, but I believe we should stick to official sources.

    I also think that too many people are applying general principles to a very peculiar American circumstance whereby the Supreme Court, not the legislature, is the source of the permissive abortion law, and nothing the legislature can do will change that. Remember, for formal cooperation in evil, you need to show proximity. Otherwise we are talking about public scandal.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    This is why I prefer the point of contention to be rhettoric rather than some causal claim. The rhettoric is bad enough. One doesn’t gain anything by trying to construct a causal claim. Heck, I would have no problem if the whole American Episcopate adopted Bp. Bruskewicz’s personal legislation tomorrow, excommunicating members of Planned Parenthood etc.

  • Alexham


    You’re taking CJ Roberts’s comments out of context. Read the transcripts from both of his SJC hearings (one was for the D.C. Circuit judgeship and the other for the Supreme Court. He certainly left the door wide open for Roe to be overruled. saying something is settled means nothing more than it’s settled for now. Roberts makes clear in his testimony that any precent is subject to being overruled, no matter how much time has paseed (albeit the more age on the precedent, the harder it becomes to overrule).

    Now, I’ll grant you that Roberts is far more deferential to the doctrine of stare decisis than I am (or Scalia/Thomas for that matter), but his opinions of late have shown a tendency to all but gut precedents that he doesn’t particularly care for. I think that, and his vote in the PBA case, tell us a great deal about how he is likely to treat Roe once that case is back up for consideration.

    And once again, I would caution you about commenting on areas outside your expertise. I don’t say that to be snarky, but constitutional law is hardly as simple as you and other here often make it out to be.

  • Alexham


    Also, I think part of the problem here, and why you’re seeing so much opposition in the comments, is that every time you post on abortion it seems to be for the purpose of defending the rights of the those who advocate proabortion policies, whether they are politicians or lay people. There is a sense, fair or not, that you are making excuses for the inexcusable, rather than chastizing people of your political persuasion to embrace a Culture of Life.

  • Ut videam

    MM, you’re misrepresenting that document. Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles was not private correspondence. It was a memorandum drafted by the CDF for the bishops of the United States to set out the Church’s position on the issue as they deliberated upon their response. Cardinal McCarrick saw fit to withhold that memorandum from his brother bishops, so someone in Rome arranged for Sandro Magister to receive a copy. Indeed, he was obviously given permission to print the text verbatim. To insist, therefore, that the memorandum is “private correspondence” is entirely disingenuous…

    … but understandable, considering that it debunks your entire premise.

  • Ut videam

    MM, you’re also entirely mistaken in your contention that “nothing the legislature can do will change” the legal status of abortion. According to the Constitution (Article III, Section 2), Congress has the power to limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and lower courts. Rep. Ron Paul has introduced legislation (the Sanctity of Life Act of 2005) to do precisely that: to remove abortion from the purview of the federal courts and return it to the states, where it rightfully belongs.

  • Morning’s Minion


    No, I am not a constitutional lawyer, but I have some familiarity with approach to law in Catholic moral thought, which is what concerns me. I often note there is far more deference granted to lawyerly equivocation than to political equivocation. Thus when Roberts states on the public record that Roe v. Wade is settled law, you are basically arguing that he didn’t mean it literally, you have to look at the context, read between the lines etc etc. And yes, I am no lawyer, but what kind of rhetorical game is this: I accept is as binding precedent today, but it might not be precedent tomorrow? If a politician tried these word games (as they do all the time), people would not be so charitable. I think it reflects the fact that many commenters here are lawayers by training, and hence predisposed to going softly on their fellow lawyers.

    As for your broader allegation, I have written nothing that goes against Catholic teaching on abortion. Nothing would give me greater joy than for the Democrats to become consistently pro life– or at least to respect those who believe abortion is a terrible crime (this is what Chaput called for recently). But I guarantee you this: the tactics you espouse will only make that less likely. Just look at the fallout from Cardinal Pell’s “bull in a china shop” intervention in Sydney. He even aliened legislators that opposed ESCR. The bishops need to teach, to persuade, to lead by example.

    And there is a reason why I devote more posts to this than to simply calling out Democrats for being pr-abortion lackies. It’s the same reason I don’t feel the need to post frequently about the evils of adultery, or not telling the truth– it’s too bloody obvious! Everybody else is doing it. What I did notice is a tendency among the Catholic blogosphere, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, to assume that the natural home of Catholics is with the Republicans. That is what I wish to challenge, for it has zero basis in moral theology (and again, don’t misinterpret me as saying that Catholics belong in the Democratic fold– that is not what I am saying).

  • DarwinCatholic


    I think you will find conservatives, myself included, all too willing to see Roberts excommunicated should he actually rule to keep Roe v. Wade. The thing is, he hasn’t, nor has he said with any clarity that he would. Indeed, both those who want to see Roe gone and those who want it to stay seem to agree he is highly likely to vote to overturn it.

    Thus, when you say that Roberts should be sanctioned, you come off as sounding strictly partisan rather than actually having strong pro-life feelings.

    Had Kennedy’s bishop excommunicated him back at the time of PP v. Casey, I certainly would not have had a problem with it.

    Though I do agree with MZ Forest that explicit decrees of excommunication would be more pastorally and politically effective than saying that you would deny certain people communion without formally excommunicating them.

    Now, one could build up a case (I don’t know if I would agree with it or not, but one could certainly build it) that justices should be treated differently than legislators on this issues (even supreme court justices, who are at times philosophers kings in all but name in this country) and because their duty is to interpret rather than create law. (I think in this case, the moral issue would be one of whether the justice does indeed have a philosophy of only interpreting law — or whether like the more liberal memebers of the SC he simply creates it.) But either way, many of our pro-abortion Catholic politicans are so clearly pro-abortion I can see no excuse for not casting them out of communion with the Church until such time as they seek reconciliation with it. You cannot possibly put our rhetoric on the issue of the sort done by people like Pelosi, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry and be a good Catholic. (In that sense, I suppose the one — perhaps the only — virtue of Guliani is that he doesn’t remotely pretend to be a good Catholic in any other way either.)

  • Rick Lugari

    When St. Athanasius was on the run from from the Arians, some men came down the river seeking to apprehend him. They asked him if he’s seen Athanasius. Not being morally compelled to turn himself over, but not being allowed to lie, he replied, “He’s straight ahead of you. Row faster!” Likewise with Justice Roberts, it is not a lie for any of us to say Roe is settled law. It is. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not bad law or that a case might arise that challenges it in such a fashion as to overturn it. But again, this shows the importance of having pro-life presidents and senators. A nominee cannot answer precisely what he thinks of Roe, unless it is horribly positive, else Senators like Kennedy will ‘Bork’ them.

  • Stuart Buck

    what kind of rhetorical game is this: I accept is as binding precedent today, but it might not be precedent tomorrow?

    It’s the kind of rhetorical game that your Democratic friends have effectively required, given that they’ve spent the past 20 years trying to destroy (professionally and often personally) any Supreme Court nominee whom they fear might not support abortion.

    And there is a reason why I devote more posts to this than to simply calling out Democrats for being pr-abortion lackies. It’s the same reason I don’t feel the need to post frequently about the evils of adultery, or not telling the truth– it’s too bloody obvious! Everybody else is doing it. What I did notice is a tendency among the Catholic blogosphere, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, to assume that the natural home of Catholics is with the Republicans. That is what I wish to challenge, for it has zero basis in moral theology (and again, don’t misinterpret me as saying that Catholics belong in the Democratic fold– that is not what I am saying).

    It seems to me that both parties often depart from Catholic teaching in various areas. So if your goal is to apply Catholic teaching to politics, and you feel constrained by American politics to do it within the confines of the major parties, you have one of two choices:

    1. Be a Democrat — work with Democrats, support them on various issues like health care, take every chance you have to pound Republicans on those issues, and occasionally wave a feeble little flag of protest, “Oh, by the way, I disagree with Democrats on a range of issues, but I don’t talk about it because it’s too bloody obvious.”

    2. Be a Republican — work with Republicans, support them on various issues like abortion or vouchers that can be used at religious schools, take every chance you have to pound Democrats on those issues, and occasionally wave a feeble little flag of protest: “Oh, by the way, I disagree with Republicans on the Iraq war and health care, but I don’t talk about it because it’s too bloody obvious.”

    Why have you picked the first approach?

  • Stuart Buck

    Oh, I forgot a third option: 3. Don’t be a gung-ho partisan of either party.

  • Tony

    Communion for Rudy is a moot point since he is thrice divorced (once from his cousin) and is married without benefit of anullment.

    But how does his donation to Planned Parenthood factor into your legalistic argument?

  • Zippy

    I think people may be missing the point to legitimate punishment entirely.

    The primary purpose of punishment is always to correct the guilty party himself, and to redress the particular wrong he has done. Treating punishment as if it were about political effects is completely wrongheaded, in my understanding. Deterrent and other positive political effects of punishment are salutary to the extent they are side effects of punishment, but when punishment becomes about the side effects it isn’t punishment anymore. Licit punishment of a guilty party is always the best we can do for the punished person himself: even executing a murderer, when it is licit, represents the best we can do for the guilty party himself. Licit punishment always proceeds from charity, and never uses a person (not even a guilty person) as nothing but a means to some (however laudible) end.

    So when we ask a question like “should John Kerry be denied Communion?” the proper formulation of the question is “would it be objectively good for John Kerry himself if he were denied Communion?” Doubtless there is plenty of controversy wrapped up in answering that question; but at least it is the right question.

  • Ut videam

    Zippy, your comment misses the point entirely. Please reread Cardinal Ratzinger’s memo linked above on the worthiness to receive Holy Communion. In it, he states that the decision to deny communion, “properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty.” Punishment flows from a juridical act such as a decree of interdict or excommunication. The denial of communion in this case is aimed not at correcting the person denied, but rather at safeguarding the sanctity of the sacrament and avoiding the giving of scandal to the faithful. To admit to Holy Communion a person who is obstinately persistent in manifest grave sin is an affront to the dignity of the sacrament and gives confusion and scandal to the people of God. This is why Holy Communion should be denied to these notorious defenders of abortion even in the absence of a decree of excommunication. When their public unworthiness to receive ceases (i.e., they renounce their pro-abortion views, or at least stop promoting them publicly), they should be readmitted to Holy Communion.

  • Ut videam

    I realized after I hit “Submit” that I came across a little too strong. It’s not that your question is wrong, Zippy, it’s that it’s out of place. “Would it be objectively good for John Kerry himself?” is certainly a legitimate and valuable question that can and should be asked—in the context of whether he should be punished with a decree of excommunication.

    As I outlined above, however, denial of communion under can. 915 is not a punishment properly speaking. It pertains rather to the discipline of the sacrament. As such, the proper questions to ask are whether the person is publicly unworthy to receive and whether admitting the person to Holy Communion is a sacrilege and a scandal to the faithful.

  • Zippy

    It seems to me that quite a lot of significance is being attributed to a particular interpretation (and by no means the only or obvious interpretation) of the clause “..properly speaking, is not a sanction or penalty” in a letter addressed to a particular cardinal by the then-head of the CDF. The idea that denial of Communion under 915 is not directed at correcting the person and preventing him from doing himself further wrong, a theory that stands or falls on a specific interpretation of that one clause in that one letter (and also depending on a particular construal of its authority), strikes me as very implausible; though I am not a canon lawyer.

  • Kurt

    Let’s put several facts on the table. First, like Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict gives communion to politicians with regrettable views on abortion. Rather than twisting his statements to suggest denial of communion to certain people in civil office, we should look at the Pope’s own actions.

    Second, in bar-room conversations we might use a certain shorthand for concepts and actions. In the weighty action of denying communion, preciseness is required. President Bush and the Republican Party have taken the position that while it should be illegal for doctors (or others) to perform abortions, it should not be illegal for a woman to have an abortion. If you allow people a certain freedom of private judgment, this position would arguably lead to as much protection of the unborn as any other initiative. But it opens the door to private political judgment as to what works. Either those with the Republican position also fail the “communion test” or others who sincerely believe that improved social services best protects the unborn are using the same freedom of judgment as the Republicans (with no judgment on my part as to who is using the best judgment).

    Lastly, while our conservative brothers and sisters are quick to demand politicians who they don’t like anyway should be barred from communion, the tune changes when a much more direct involvement in abortion by their political allies in big business. Let me provide to your readers the entire compendium of commentary from these conservatives as to the unworthiness of communion of the 2/3rds of US employers who pay for abortions through their employee health insurance:

  • Ut videam


    1) The import of Cardinal Ratzinger’s memorandum is far greater than might be surmised from your characterization of it as “a letter to a particular cardinal by the then-head of the CDF.” Please refer to my comment above (10/9/07 2:35 pm).

    2) Refusal of Holy Communion under can. 915 is not properly speaking a sanction or penalty. That is not a “particular interpretation,” and it is far from “implausible”: it is the fact of the matter. Consider the following:

    * The Code of Canon Law is comprised of 7 books. Book VI, De Sanctionibus in Ecclesia, is concerned with sanctions and penalties. Canon 915 is not part of this book. Rather, it appears in Book IV, De Ecclesiæ Munere Sanctificandi, “On the Sanctifying Office of the Church.” This book contains the canons that concern the discipline of the sacraments.

    * The text of Canon 915 reads,

    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 canon itself clearly distinguishes between those subject to the penalties of excommunication and interdict and a second category, namely, “others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin.” Thus, the canon anticipates two distinct situations:

         1) Persons who are subject to canonical penalties (excommunication and interdict) that disqualify them from reception of communion;

         2) Persons who are not subject to canonical penalties but who nonetheless are publicly unworthy to receive communion because of obstinate perseverance in manifest (i.e., public) grave sin.

    Also, Canon 915 does not require a juridical act to disqualify someone in the second situation from the reception of communion. All it requires is that the person be obstinately persistent in manifest grave sin, a public matter. The fact that a juridical act is not required also makes clear that this is not a sanction or penalty, because according to canon law a sanction or penalty can only be imposed by a juridical act.

    And by the way… I have studied Canon Law.

  • Zippy

    That is all very interesting Ut (and I say that without irony or sarcasm; MZ Forest made a similar point yesterday at my blog), but I don’t think it in any way deflects or attenuates the main point.

    Whether denying Communion under 915 is punishment properly speaking or a police action of a sort precedent to and not necessarily entailing punishment, it remains the case that a central and unavoidable question is (e.g.) “would it be good for John Kerry to deny him Communion?”. A policeman doesn’t stop a burglar because allowing a burglary to take place causes scandal; the very notion that “causing scandal” has anything central to do with what is taking place is silly. A burglar in his particular act is (among other things) harming himself. The good of the guilty party himself is a necessary element of the justification of any police action or punishment: it cannot be set aside or treated as peripheral, ever.

    Don’t mistake me as asserting that (e.g.) John Kerry should not be denied Communion as a substantive conclusion. I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that central to any decision to deny Communion is the good of the putative Communicant himself. Note that in my initial comment I concluded with the observation that this – making the question of what would be objectively good for the politician himself central – doesn’t resolve the substantive question of what to do, but merely frames the question properly.

  • Ut videam

    And Zippy, I reiterate the fact that you’re missing the point. The question that you ask is indeed appropriate to the issue of whether a pro-abortion politician should be placed under canonical sanction by his bishop. But denying communion is not a canonical sanction. I’ve demonstrated that the Church does not understand it to be one. It can be the result of a sanction, but it doesn’t have to be. It pertains to safeguarding the dignity of the sacrament and preventing scandal. By the way, these are every bit as important as the good of the individual’s soul—in fact, insofar as they pertain to the common good, they are more important.

    Anyway, if you continue to insist that denial of communion is a punishment, and that the foremost concern should be the good of the individual in question, then your brief is with the Church, not me.

  • Ut videam

    One more thing: the Church clearly understands the denial of communion to those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin to be for the good of their souls, and the good of the souls who would otherwise be given scandal. Otherwise, the Church would not include in Her Code of Canon Law a canon mandating their exclusion from Holy Communion, because the guiding principle of canon law is salus animarum suprema lex (The salvation of souls is the highest law).

  • Zippy

    You aren’t reiterating “the fact” that I am missing “the point”. You are making a gratuitous assertion that the Church licenses disregard for the good of the communicant in the specific case in question (note that I haven’t claimed that it is the only good at issue; merely that it is a central good which cannot be ignored or treated as peripheral).

    Thus far, as far as I can tell, you haven’t given me any reason to believe that my argument is with the Church as opposed to with you and your own personal (and rather novel given the way the Church treats rule enforcement and pubishment generally) interpretations.

  • Zippy

    In your 1:29 comment you seem to be coming around to agreeing with me, Ut. My point (once again) is that the good of the communicant himself is central to the question of whether or not he should be denied Communion.

  • Ut videam

    And finally: when I speak of “giving scandal,” I mean it in the theological sense, i.e., leading others to sin by example. Your dismissal of it as “silly” is extremely misguided. Allow me to illustrate. When a pro-abortion politician blithely presents himself for Holy Communion after shamelessly stumping for public funding for abortion, requiring a pro-Roe litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, etc., and that politician is admitted to Holy Communion, the faithful are confused and scandalized. The Church is saying one thing (abortion is intrinsically evil, and to support and promote it is gravely sinful), but contradicting Herself in practice (admitting to Communion those who publically flout Her irreformable teaching). This contradiction deforms consciences regarding the seriousness of abortion, and it erodes the credibility of the teaching Church. These are the matters that canon 915 addresses.

    To repeat once more: the consideration of the good of the sinner’s soul is entirely appropriate in the context of whether he should be punished with a canonical penalty. The denial of communion, however, brings a broader set of factors into play.

  • Zippy

    It seems to me that you’ve mostly stopped disagreeing with me.

    If you go back and reread my original comment in this thread – the one that you said missed the point – (and leaving aside irrelevant semantic quibbles over the word “punishment”), I wrote that the centrally legitimate purpose of denying Communion is to correct the putative communicant and redress the particular wrong he is doing. To this we might add “and prevent him from doing further wrong”, which is one of the functions of (e.g.) incarceration as punishment. You don’t seem to disagree, although your last paragraph in your 1:41 post might be taken as equivocal on the matter. I’ve never denied the relevance of other factors, I’ve just stated (repeatedly) that the good of the communicant himself is central and cannot be made peripheral. I don’t at this point have any idea what specific thing I’ve said that you object to.

  • M.Z. Forrest

    The problem Zippy is as much as I want the politician to be disciplined for his abortion rhettoric, denial of communion under Can. 915 is not doing it. For arguments sake, let’s assume a goth was approaching communion in full goth apparel. Any interest in the goth himself is subsidiary to the concern of protecting the sacrament from desecration. This doesn’t mean the denial of communion might not serve in the reform of the goth, but the denial is not ordered to the reform. This is also why I’m increasingly convinced that 915 isn’t being used properly outside a penal canon like 1369 or local legislation.

    I personally don’t see what’s the problem of placing someone under interdict. Rhetorical support for legalized abortion doesn’t stirke me as prima facie evidence of lack of fitness like a drunk approaching communion or a person scantily dressed. Judging when rhetorical support merits punishment seems to be a pastoral judgement. And I do think such judgement should be rendered freely. Archbishop O’Conner watching and advising Cuomo and Ferraro seems to be a better exercise of the pastoral office than an amibigious standard of rhetorical support. And considering that Abp Burke has been in the practice of notifying politicians that they can’t receive communion, I have difficulty seeing how it isn’t an interdict. But, I’m no canon lawyer.

  • Zippy

    Well, I did come to this discussion from the Res Publica et Cetera blog, where the specific focus was on excommunication and interdict, not on-the-spot denial by an EUM or priest. But frankly I don’t see how the less formalized “on the spot” denial of Communion is any different other than in its immediacy: it doesn’t seem to be fundamentally different in kind, it merely authorizes the EUM to make on the spot judgements in certain circumstances in much the same way a policeman has authorization to make on-the-spot judgements in certain circumstances. Ut videam seems (or seemed, above) to think I had missed the point because there is something uniquely different about the non-interdict, non-excommunicated case of an EUM denying Communion on the spot on the basis of manifest grave sin: as if the theology of that case is somehow utterly distinct from the theology of a case of interdict or excommunication. I’m not buying it. and I haven’t seen any authoritative reason to buy it.

    I think I’m pretty much on the same page as you are, MZ, when it comes to denial of Communion as interdict. It looks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck. For whatever reason there have been non-magisterial rumblings from Bishops that it “isn’t strictly speaking a punishment”. I am sure that is true, depending on particularly how we strictly speak, and one might argue that the same could be said of excommunication depending on the particular concept of “punishment” which is being denied. But that wouldn’t mean that the denial of Communion was not about correcting the guilty party, redressing his wrong, and preventing him from doing further wrong.

    And when I’ve used the term “punishment” in these discussions what I have meant by it is “correcting the guilty party, redressing his wrong, and preventing him from doing further wrong”.

  • Ut videam

    Don’t worry, Zippy. You’re still missing the point. I agree with M.Z. Forrest above in his example about the goth approaching communion in full goth apparel. The denial of communion is not a penalty or sanction. It is not ordered toward correcting the offender. It is a defensive measure ordered toward protecting the dignity of the sacrament and preventing the public sins of sacrilege and scandal. OF COURSE the good of the offender is served by preventing him from committing a further public sin. But it’s not the primary or central consideration, as you insist.

    Another example: if I am confronted by an unjust aggressor, my decision to defend myself against his unjust aggression is not motivated by my concern for his good. My motivation is to prevent harm to myself. If I succeed in preventing that harm, then I have at the same time benefitted the aggressor by thwarting his attempt to commit a greater sin. But the suggestion that defensive measures require any measure of hand-wringing about the good of the offender is just plain silly. The good is served by preventing further offense. Full stop.

  • Zippy

    Your misstatement of my view (“the central consideration” rather than “a central consideration”) is becoming hard to credit as a genuine misunderstanding after I’ve explicitly corrected it so many times.

    If you are engaging in self defense your choice of means had better take into consideration as a primary matter the good of the aggressor who is the target of your counter-attack: the means you choose had better be proportionate to the end of stopping the attack, and at least according to that infamous hand-wringer Aquinas you’d better not intend to kill the attacker as a means or an end.

    But a discussion in which the objective requirements of Christian charity are disdained as “hand wringing” isn’t the sort of discussion that can hold my interest. So thanks for the conversation, and all y’all have a nice day.

  • Ut videam

    Zippy, you just don’t get it.

    OF COURSE one must only use proportionate means to defend against an unjust aggressor. And OF COURSE one had better not intend an evil end such as the death of the attacker. To suggest that I meant otherwise is an incredibly uncharitable distortion of my argument. In the use of proportionate means to defend against an attack, the good of the attacker is innately respected. No separate consideration of that good is necessary. Such superfluous consideration is what I meant by hand-wringing.

    I apologize if I’ve misrepresented your argument. But you’ve been distorting mine all along. I do not now, nor have I ever disdained the requirements of Christian charity. I have stated repeatedly that the denial of communion is primarily ordered to defending the dignity of the sacrament, the Church, and the consciences of the faithful. Such a defense by its very nature respects the good of the offender who is denied communion, by preventing him from further offense. Hence, to insist upon external consideration of “is this really the best thing for him?” is superfluous and sounds like a convenient excuse to do nothing. I have repeated again and again that the primary consideration of the offender’s good belongs in the context of his bishop’s decision whether or not to impose a penal sanction upon him, as outlined in canon law. Denial of the sacrament according to can. 915 is defensive, and while indeed ordered toward the good of the offender by its very nature, need not concern itself with an extended consideration of that. Indeed, its requirements are clear and concise: those who are publicly unworthy to receive (by virtue of a declared or imposed excommunication, interdict, or notorious public sin) must not be admitted to communion. It’s really quite black and white.

  • Zippy

    Zippy, you just don’t get it.

    I am at somewhat of a loss as to how to respond to this repeated assertion. (“Yeah, but your mother wears Army boots” or something?)

    Hence, to insist upon external consideration…

    I don’t know where you are getting “external” from my characterization of the good of the putative communicant as central. It isn’t an external consideration: it is intrinsic (or “central”) to moral consideration of how to act, and in the case of your self-defense example it gives rise to the requirements I mentioned.

    …sounds like a convenient excuse to do nothing.

    Here is what appears to be the nub of the matter for you. Despite the explicit disclamer of any particular conclusion about specific implicated action in my very first comment in the thread, you are concerned that someone will jump to the conclusion “therefore nothing need be done”.

    Usually when I agree with someone on the substance of the matter but I am concerned that others may jump to what I believe to be a wrong conclusion, I’ll say something like “I agree with you on the substance of the matter, but we have to be careful not to jump to the wrong conclusion”.

  • Ut videam


    First of all, mea maxima culpa. My tone has been on several occasions far less than charitable, and whatever my reasons for taking such a tone, it was neither befitting nor helpful to the discussion. I hope you’ll accept my sincere apologies.

    With that out of the way, I think we may be closer to agreement than either of us realize. It’s not the good of the putative communicant that I sought to characterize as external; like you, I fully agree that his good is central and intrinsic to the matter under discussion. What I consider external and extraneous is the consideration of whether or not the good is served by denial of communion. I fail to see how the good could not be served by preventing a person who persists in manifest grave sin from committing the sins of sacrilege and scandal.

    This may (or may not) be rooted in the previous back-and-forth about whether denial of communion under can. 915 is rightly considered “punishment.” I maintain that it is not, for the following reasons:

         * Cardinal Ratzinger, the then-prefect of the CDF, and Archbishop Burke, a renowned canonist, are in agreement on the point;
         * The canon’s context in the Code of Canon Law;
         * The canon’s distinction between those who have been punished by canonical penalties and others who have not; and
         * It is not ordered toward correcting the offender and redressing his wrong, required elements of punishment as you have correctly stated.

    To expand, denial of communion under can. 915 in this particular case is not meant, in my view, to make the offender aware of the serious sinfulness of his abortion advocacy and to move him toward repentance. It is meant solely to prevent the commission of a further sin namely, the sacrilege and scandal that would be constituted by the reception of communion by one who persistently and publicly advocates abortion. This ordering is primarily defensive, not punitive.

    Therefore, I’m entirely in agreement that when discussing the denial of communion to persistently pro-abortion politicians, we should frame the issue in terms of the good of the offender himself: denial will prevent him from committing sacrilege and scandal, and thus redound to his good. What I’m not comfortable with is the suggestion that the good of denial is in question, i.e., that it’s up for discussion.

  • Zippy

    Think nothing of it. Please accept my own apology for any transgression of charity in any of the preceding.

    What I’m not comfortable with is the suggestion that the good of denial is in question, i.e., that it’s up for discussion.

    OK. I think at this point that you are right that this, and seemingly only this, is where we may disagree. (It is also a distinct and new point that you and I haven’t yet discussed).

    In my understanding the enforcement of positive law – that is, taking action to prevent another’s act or punish another for acting in a certain way (stipulating that the on-the-spot case of a priest or EUM denying Communion is a case of the former not the latter) – is always a matter of prudential judgement. Now (and I’ve written a number of times on this in other places) “prudential judgement” is not code which means there is no right answer in a particular case. It just means that we cannot say categorically that in all cases the positive requirements of the law should be enforced in a particular way, or even enforced at all. (Reference Veritatis Splendour on the universality of negative precepts and the circumstance-dependence of positive precepts: “…what must be done in any given situation depends on the circumstances, not all of which can be foreseen; on the other hand there are kinds of behaviour which can never, in any situation, be a proper response — a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person.”). It is not intrinsically evil to fail to enforce or carry out a positive precept of the law in a particular way: it can be conclusively evil in particular circumstances, indeed in many or most circumstances; but it cannot be categorically evil in all circumstances.

    Given that, while my sympathies do lie in the direction of denial of Communion in the case of blatantly abortion-supporting politicians, I have some inclination to leave it to the local ordinary to make the determination. I think local ordinaries should write letters directing that it be so, but I am less sympathetic to the idea that EUM’s and Priests should in general (though there may be specific cases) take matters of Church governance – the enforcement of Canon law – like this into their own hands. Taking the law into my own hands, though justifiable in very rare cases, is a very different matter – even when I am right about the requirements of the law – from thinking that the Bishop or the Pope should enforce the law in a particular way.

  • Ut videam

    My understanding of denial of communion under canon 915 is that it is not a matter of positive law as you describe, i.e. “taking action to prevent another’s act.” Rather, it seems to be a negative precept: “… are not to be admitted to holy communion.” To administer communion to someone who is publicly unworthy is to cooperate in the sins of sacrilege and scandal. Thus, the minister of communion must not do so.

    Incidentally, Alexham has posted a reference to Archbishop Burke’s paper from Periodica de Re Canonica here. He makes the case for the reading I’ve advocated here, but far more persuasively than I have!

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