Commentary by Judie Brown
Ever since the first American Life League Crusade for the Defense of Our Catholic Church advertisement appeared in the Washington Times in January of 2003, there has been an attitude among many that people like me, who persist in begging the bishops of the Catholic Church to enforce canon law, are simply criticizing the bishops rather than respecting their holy office.
Such demonizing comments are fashioned, I presume, to shut me up, but it is highly unlikely that they will succeed … at least while I am breathing.
However if, in the course of doing this work and begging our bishops to enforce Church law, we are perceived to be in any way disrespectful, it bears examination. For if that were truly the case, then our effort would surely be counterproductive. Nobody is perfect. It is completely accurate to say that each of us can always improve on what we are doing, saying, writing or otherwise communicating.
Most recently, upon the publication of my new book, Saving Those Damned Catholics, I had occasion to visit this question again. I happened to read an article by a remarkably astute priest focused on the danger of criticizing priests and bishops. The article inspired me to do a bit of self-examination. Could it be, I asked myself, that our advertising campaigns and the new book are actually counterproductive and harming the Church rather than helping?
The premise for the ads, and certainly for the book, is that as practicing Catholics, each of us has an obligation to defend the Church, to exercise prudence in that defense and at the same time seek the leadership and guidance of our shepherds. In the process of doing that we have encountered a few problems. For example, we have experienced the cold shoulder from many bishops who have thought it inopportune or unacceptable to warn pro-abortion Catholics in public life that they cannot receive the sacrament of Holy Eucharist until they publicly repent of their public support for the abortion of preborn children.
We were gratified, of course, when then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger issued his famous memo, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion.” In that memo, he was quite clear in writing:
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.
This memo sets forth what is, as many American bishops have said, the proper process for a bishop to follow in an effort to persuade the public supporter of evils such as abortion to come back to Christ, cease support for those things that are abhorrent to God, and save his soul. Our effort to seek such action from our bishops is based on the fact that souls are at risk of suffering eternally. We know, for example, that it is the objective facts about a particular pro-abortion Catholic public figure, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that should inspire the bishop to do everything he can to persuade such an individual to abandon support for evil.
By asking a bishop to do this we are not criticizing him; we are simply begging him to protect Christ from sacrilege and minister to the public figure who is flaunting his or her support for child killing while claiming to be Catholic. We are also imploring the bishop to protect his flock from the ensuing scandal that occurs when nothing is done to expose the hypocrisy of such a public figure.
I ask you, what must the average Catholic think when he realizes that a well-known fellow Catholic is pro-abortion and yet is free to receive Holy Communion? Well, I would imagine that the person who observes this would over time think it entirely possible that anybody can be Catholic and pro-abortion. What else could the unknowing observer think? Such a situation is scandalous. It misleads those who do not know better and it could well result in more than one soul arriving at a heated residence upon death.
It seems to me that this situation in particular should concern every bishop.
And this is precisely what provoked me to write Saving Those Damned Catholics. I have witnessed too many people, well-meaning and faithful people, who have been hurt by such scandals, have left the Church, have fallen into despair, and have perhaps justifiably grown to detest the very faith in which they were raised. I’ve spoken to them; I’ve prayed with them and I have decided that rather than curse the darkness it is better to try to shed some light on this travesty.
I honestly believe in what the Bible says. In the Old Testament, we read in Ezekiel 32:7:
So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity but you will have saved your life.
Each of us who know and understand Church teaching is such a watchman; we are obliged to “give them warning.”
In the case of a particular bishop, we are not being disrespectful nor are we criticizing nor are we passing judgment when we ask that he lead us by making clear what Church law says, why the law is so specific and what that law means for those who disregard it out of ignorance or arrogance. Each bishop is a shepherd; our efforts to implore him to teach and preach what the Church teaches are a sign of respect.
To do otherwise, to engage in hand wringing or name-calling, or worse to toss in the towel and give up on the Church, would be a grave error. American Life League’s ads and Saving Those Damned Catholics are affirming Church teaching and exploring the sometimes ominous crisis that occurs when a bishop fails to make those teachings crystal clear.
To my mind, we are engaged in a work of charity; seeking through the mercy of God to make sure that objective truth dispels the objective acts of scandal that occur daily among pro-abortion Catholics in public life. We pray for our bishops; we encourage our bishops but we also express our grave concern when we witness the confusion that abounds when truth is not made crystal clear for one and all.
Release issued: 17 Feb 07