By Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick
Here is the text of Canon 915: “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.”
Several American bishops have made statements to the effect that a bishop must exercise “discretion” regarding whether to “impose the penalty” of denial of Communion. Among them: Chaput, Dolan, O’Malley, and Wuerl.
All bishops who refuse to “impose the penalty” are participating in a lie. Namely, that denial of Communion is a penalty.
Denial of Communion is NOT a penalty.
So? What is the import of this fact?
It means that denial of Communion is not an option that MAY be chosen. It is MANDATED by Canon 915. No bishop, priest, or other minister of Communion is free to disobey Canon 915, for the simple reason that the action Canon 915 forbids is ALWAYS gravely sinful.
It needs to be emphasized that Canon 915 is NOT a canon that may be “applied” or “not applied.” Canon 915 can only be obeyed or disobeyed. And disobeying Canon 915 is always gravely sinful.
Canon 915 exists precisely because giving Communion to a person “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” is always gravely sinful. Doing so is always to give grave scandal, and to participate knowingly in a sacrilegious act.
LET THAT SINK IN. ALWAYS GRAVELY SINFUL
In terms perhaps more familiar to the laity: To give Communion knowingly and deliberately to ANYONE delineated in Canon 915 is ALWAYS a mortal sin.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl has been the most outspoken of those bishops who refuse to obey Canon 915, but all of them are on record, as he is, as endorsing the commission of MORTAL SINS by their priests and other ministers of Communion. Cardinal Wuerl has even punished those who have obeyed Canon 915.
Of course, this is something he has no right to do, because no bishop has the authority to command anyone to commit a mortal sin!
“Bearing in mind the nature of the above-cited norm (cfr. n. 1), no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it.” Cardinal Wuerl and many other bishops have been doing PRECISELY what they are EXPRESSLY forbidden to do by this statement from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts!
They have also emanated specious arguments. Here are some of Cardinal Wuerl’s preposterous, irrelevant statements, made in these or very similar words:
That’s not my style.
I follow a “pastoral approach” rather than a “canonical approach.
”We need to find out if the canon was written for the purpose of bringing politicians to heel.
I will not deny Communion to anyone who has not been formally excommunicated.
Now, that is a stunning statement, because the divorced-and-illicitly-remarried are not excommunicated. Yet, does anyone doubt that, were Cardinal Wuerl to direct all ministers of Communion in his jurisdiction to give Communion to the divorced-and-illicitly-remarried, the news would flash around the world, and Rome would take action within hours?
But Canon 915 mentions no particular SPECIES of sin! That is, the KIND of sin in which a would-be communicant is publicly involved is of no account!
In other words, Cardinal Wuerl’s long-standing determination to give pro-abortion people Communion is precisely as outrageous and scandalous as would be a directive to give Communion to the divorced-and-illicitly-remarried. Yet, there is no evidence that this massive scandal has attracted the attention of Rome.
It is said by many, including Cardinal Wuerl, that Communion should not be used as a political weapon.
Absolutely true. And the reception of Communion is being used as a political weapon—by pro-abortion politicians. As long as they are permitted to receive Communion, the bishop (e.g., Cardinal Wuerl) endorses their claim to be “ardent Catholics” whose promotion of abortion is NO SIN.
Abraham Lincoln is credited with the statements: You can fool all of the people some of the time. You can fool some of the people all of the time. Cardinal Wuerl and other bishops appear to be relying on the truth of these observations. It appears that it has been left up to the laity to demonstrate the truth of Lincoln’s further statement: But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
If this scandal is to end, Rome needs to hear a great deal more noise from the laity. As Pope Francis told the youth of Brazil: “Raise a ruckus.”
For further reading on Canon 915, please see the following links:
A native of Washington, DC, Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick is a retired priest of the Diocese of Fargo.