Commentary by Judie Brown
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has finally released the long promised teaching statement on the Sacrament of Holy Communion. While we awaited this document with great hope, our expectations were very far from being fulfilled.
The bishops tell us in their document, "Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist," that "Eucharist brings us into closer conformity to Christ" and that "we should be filled with a truly Christ-like love for our neighbor that takes us beyond a narrow concern for ourselves and moves us to promote the common good and to uphold the human dignity of every human person."
The document repeatedly uses the word "worthily" to remind Catholics that there are certain circumstances in which it is not appropriate to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Eucharist.
But sadly, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' statement does not incorporate the compelling words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who told the bishops in his 2004 statement , "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion - General Principles":
5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
6. 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" , 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.
On the contrary, in Footnote #3 of the USCCB statement we find this caveat:
This document is directed to the Catholic faithful in general. As such, it does not intend to provide specific guidelines on the interpretation and application of canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which 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."
So while the recent statement by the American bishops contains much that is beneficial to assisting the average Catholic in understanding the wonder and holiness of the sacrament, it specifically sets aside the most burning question we Catholics face today: How can a Catholic who publicly and repeatedly supports abortion be admitted to Holy Communion?
The bishops' statement makes it clear that violation of God's laws is grounds to disqualify someone from receiving Holy Communion. They write, "Committing murder, including abortion and euthanasia," is of such a grave sinful nature that the one who does such things should not receive the sacrament. And yet they fail to address the public figure that claims to be Catholic and at the same time supports the murder of the preborn.
While we commend the bishops for making it clear that those who "give selective assent to the teachings of the Church" deprive themselves of the full benefit of Church teaching, we find it odd that in this current culture of death specificity is not applied to the public figure who is clearly and arrogantly defying Church teaching.
The bishops' statement teaches, "If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain."
What does this mean? Apparently it does not mean that the bishops authorize the priest, deacon or Eucharistic minister to deny the Body and Blood of Christ in Eucharist to such a person.
For a Catholic public figure that is obstinately supporting Planned Parenthood or abortion funding or direct abortion for any reason, this should mean that the individual will be refused the sacrament after appropriate reminders are given to the individual that his or her public advocacy of evil acts is a source of grave error.
The bishops' statement explains scandal, and precisely what scandal is. In fact for the first time in the document, we find the word "evil," but only in the context of quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Scripture. The document stops short of defining the obligation of those who administer Holy Communion to protect Christ from sacrilege and to protect Catholics in the pew from the scandal created by the pro-abortion public figure who receives Eucharist.
As a matter of fact, the word "sacrilege" does not appear in the document. This omission is a source of serious concern. Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law 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.'"
Yet the USCCB statement avoids defining when and how the Catholic person in public life who is obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin should be denied the body and blood of Christ.
While we commend the bishops for setting forth the basic teachings of the Catholic Church regarding the incredible Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, we continue to register our humble appeals with them that they deal with those who pursue manifest grave evils in the public square while claiming to be Catholic.
We had hoped that Pope Benedict XVI's memo of 2004 addressed to the American bishops would have had a powerful effect on this current statement, but that was not meant to be. It saddens me deeply, as a Catholic who adores Christ truly present in Eucharist to know that once again the Nancy Pelosis, John Kerrys and Arnold Schwarzeneggers of America have been let off the proverbial hook.
What a tragedy. What a failure to take the opportunity to clarify the fullness of Church teaching. Let us pray for the American bishops.
Release issued: 16 Nov 06