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Pillar: Life

Bishops’ Stand on Eucharist and Sinners Nothing New

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, an ardent abortion supporter and nominal Roman Catholic, "fully intend[s] to receive communion, one way or another," despite Vatican opposition to the receipt of Holy Communion by persons professing to be both Catholics in a state of grace and abortion supporters.

Should pro-choice Catholic politicians be denied communion?

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Ms. Pelosi explained that receiving Holy Communion is "very important" to her. ....Will America’s Catholic bishops cooperate or chastise America’s Nancy Pelosi's, Tom Daschle's, Ted Kennedy's and John Kerry's? ... [and] some nominally Catholic Republicans ... such as Maine Senator Susan Collins.

Canon 915 provides that "[t]hose... who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion."

Canon 915 protects the Holy Eucharist and prevents the public scandal that would result from ineligible persons receiving Holy Communion.

Averting public scandal is vital. As St. Thomas Aquinas long ago explained, a distinction "must be made" between secret and open sinners, and "Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it."

Bishop William K. Weigand of Sacramento has called on pro-choice Catholic politicians to refrain from taking Holy Communion. "As your bishop, I have to say clearly that anyone -- politician or otherwise -- who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk, and is not in good standing with the Church. Such a person should have the integrity to acknowledge this and choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until he has a change of heart," he said.

Last year, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, then Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, went further. He publicly decreed that Catholic legislators in his diocese who "support procured abortion or euthanasia may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion" and are to be denied Holy Communion if they nevertheless present themselves "until...they publicly renounce their support of these most unjust practices." Prior private efforts to persuade had been rebuffed.

Archbishop Burke emphasized that he did what a bishop is required to do. He explained that "[t]he duty of Catholic legislators to respect human life is....God’s law," and that bishops who "remain silent[s] while the faith, in one of its most fundamental tenets, is...openly disobeyed by those who present themselves as sincere adherents of the faith, [has] failed most seriously and should be removed from office."

As Pope John Paul II proclaimed in his 1988 Apostolic Exhortation:

Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights -- for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture -- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and condition to all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.

For what has become a scandalously long time, the Roman Catholic Church has neglected to bar from Holy Communion many prominent nominal Catholics who publicly and proudly support abortion, in blatant violation of the fundamental Church teaching that human life is sacred and begins at conception.

John Kerry, a nominal Catholic, is the presumptive presidential candidate of the Democrat Party. He is supporting partial-birth abortion, calling abortion a woman's right and vowing to appoint only pro-abortion justices. At the dinner hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, Kerry proclaimed, "We are not going to turn back the clock. There is no overturning of Roe v. Wade. There is no packing of courts with judges who will be hostile to choice."

Kerry has created a public scandal by receiving Holy Communion while flagrantly rejecting fundamental Church teaching.

In 1971, Kerry's Massachusetts colleague and fellow nominal Catholic, Ted Kennedy, wrote, "Human life, even at its earliest stages, has a certain right which must be recognized—the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old." Then Roe v. Wade was decided and political expediency prevailed over Catholic principle for many ambitious politicians.

In 1975, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) described the right to life as "among basic human rights." In 1998 it issued a pastoral letter chastising Catholic politicians for supporting abortion and euthanasia. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, its president, welcomed a Vatican doctrinal note denouncing Catholic politicians who support abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and human cloning. Bishop Gregory explained that "Catholic politicians cannot subscribe to any notion which equates freedom or democracy with a moral relativism that denies these moral principles."

The case of Louisiana racist Leander Perez illustrates why Communion must be denied to those who are publicly rejecting fundamental church teaching. In 1962 an exasperated Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans finally excommunicated Leander Perez for opposing desegregation in Catholic schools. Perez eventually repented (as did others of his ilk), and the school integration succeeded.

As a state judge and political boss of Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, Perez made the lives of African-Americans miserable. But Perez could not intimidate Archbishop Rummel, who not only knew that racial segregation was sinful, but that it needed to be ended. The Archbishop noted that "enforced racial discrimination inflicts incalculable mental and emotional cruelty and pain, physical and social privations, educational and economic restrictions upon 16 millions of our fellow citizens, and that these discriminations are unjustifiable violations of the Christian way of life and the principles of our American heritage."

In 1953 the Archbishop's pastoral letter, "Blessed Are the Peacemakers," was read aloud in the archdiocese’s churches. It declared "the unacceptability of racial discrimination." Perez and his allies were unmoved. The Archbishop threatened in 1956 to excommunicate them, but they held protest rallies and withheld church contributions instead of repenting.

Interestingly, segregationist Catholics formed the Association of Catholic Laymen of New Orleans and it "asked the Pope (Pius XII) to stop Rummel from taking further steps to integrate white and Negro Catholics and to decree that racial segregation is not 'morally wrong and sinful'" ("Morals" 36). The Vatican's response was a reminder that that "the Pope had condemned racism as a major evil, asserting 'that those who enter the Church... have rights as children in the House of the Lord.'"

In 1962, the Archbishop at last acted decisively. He announced that in the fall, the city’s Catholic schools would admit black students. Perez and his allies persisted in their opposition, so the archbishop excommunicated them for continuing "to hinder his orders or provoke the devoted people of this venerable archdiocese to disobedience or rebellion in the matter of opening our schools to all Catholic children." They were barred from the Mass and sacraments as well as Catholic burial.

By the fall, 104 black children were admitted to the city’s Catholic schools. By 1968, Perez repented and, after his death in 1969, was given a Catholic burial.

St. Paul was unambiguous:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 1 Corinthians 11:27-28.

[What the Catechism says today:]

Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things, or places consecrated to God. Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us." Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 2120.

Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in a state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance." Catechism 1415. (Emphasis added.)

The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church. Catechism 1395 (Emphasis added.)

Excerpted from a commentary, "Holy Communion Should Be Denied To Kerry" by Michael J. Gaynor, 23 May 2004.

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