Recently, I decided to read the essay by Archbishop Burke in which he lays out the case for applying canon 915 to politicians who support abortion. Although I disagree with his conclusion, he certainly makes his case well. But the point of this post is not to argue the “communion wars”. Rather, it is to address a neglected implication of Archbishop Burke’s reasoning, that canon 915 should also be applied to public figures who support torture, rather than simply restricting it to abortion alone. The implication is quite obvious, yet rarely addressed.
Canon 915 states:
“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.”
Archbishop Burke lays out the case that it should be applied to Catholic politicians who publicly, after admonition, “continue to support legislation favoring procured abortion and other legislation contrary to the natural moral law.” He claims that the “gravity of the sin of procured abortion and of the sins involved in the commission of other intrinsically evil acts” means that politicians who support such activities meet the standard of “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin”. The reason for applying the discipline is to avoid serious scandal and to safeguard the sanctity of the Eucharist. After a detailed canonical history of the matter, he concludes:
“The discipline applies to any public conduct which is gravely sinful, that is, which violates the law of God in a serious manner. Certainly, the public support of policies and laws which, in the teaching of the Magisterium, are in grave violation of the natural moral law falls under this discipline.”
As I said, the point of this post to not to challenge Archbishop Burke’s conclusion. Rather, it is to tease out the full implications of his conclusion. On these grounds, it seems patently obvious that politicians who support torture obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin, and ought to be denied Holy Communion. After all, as noted by the US bishops in the context of the US political scene, torture is one of the intrinsically evil acts that can never be supported or condoned in the current political environment (the others are abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, genocide, racism, and the targeting of non-combatants in acts of terror or war). A public figure who supports torture then, by the logic of Archbishop Burke, should be refused Holy Communion.
I also think that the focus on politicians is too narrow, as in our day, “public” has broader connotations. There are many important public figures with no elected position whose voice is still important. I’m thinking of media personalities, pundits, commentators, journalists, people like that. When they speak or write something in defense of an intrinsically evil act, something that violates the natural moral law, then the very same conclusion arises, for “manifest public support” is grounds for applying the discipline. To take the torture example, that would include not only politicians who have supported and voted for Bush’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” but prominent Catholics like the National Review’s Kathryn Jean Lopez who publicly defend these acts, including waterboarding.
Let me end on a note of irony: the newly-formed, but predictable Catholics Against Joe Biden blog spends a lot of time discussing the worthiness of Senator Biden to receive Communion, while simultaneously giving a big shout-out to none other than Kathryn Jean Lopez. Funny they miss that.