Sunday, April 20, 2008

"No hard line" on giving communion to pro-choice pols? - Think again.

John Allen Jr. asserts that "no hard line from pope on communion for pro-choice pols" (National Catholic Reporter's NCRcafe April 20, 2008):

At least three times during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States, a prominent pro-choice Catholic politician has received communion during a papal Mass. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, both Democrats, took communion during the Mass on Thursday at Nationals Park in Washington, and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican, received communion in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday.

In none of these cases did the politicians receive communion directly from the pope, but it nonetheless happened during a papal Mass, and it took no one by surprise. Pelosi, for example, announced her intention to take communion in response to a question I asked her during a conference call with reporters the day before the Thursday Mass.

While it would be a stretch to say that Benedict XVI authorized what happened, one can at least infer that the pope did not issue strict instructions to the contrary. The cumulative effect of these events will likely be to weaken the case that the Vatican wants the American bishops to take a stricter stance against communion for pro-choice Catholics in public life.

Several thoughts:
  • Pope Benedict XVI made his wishes explicitly known on this matter in 2004 letter, "Worthiness to Receive Communion: General Principles":
    4. Apart from an individuals’s judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

    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.

    It simply doesn't get any clearer than that, does it?

  • Pope Benedict XVI also took the opportunity to bring attention to the specific matter of Catholics and abortion in his address to U.S. Catholic Bishops, when he lamented:
    a growing separation of faith from life: living “as if God did not exist”. This is aggravated by an individualistic and eclectic approach to faith and religion: far from a Catholic approach to “thinking with the Church”, each person believes he or she has a right to pick and choose, maintaining external social bonds but without an integral, interior conversion to the law of Christ. Consequently, rather than being transformed and renewed in mind, Christians are easily tempted to conform themselves to the spirit of this age (cf. Rom 12:3). We have seen this emerge in an acute way in the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion.
    To mention this issue explicitly, above numerous others, as an example of the "growing separation of faith from life" is a good indication Benedict takes this seriously.

  • According to John Allen, "While it would be a stretch to say that Benedict XVI authorized what happened, one can at least infer that the pope did not issue strict instructions to the contrary." I don't think Allen's "argument from silence" will hold up. After all, one might just as well infer from this that Pope Benedict is expecting the U.S. Bishops to assert some individual authority over "pro-choice" Catholic legislators in their dioceses and make their own decisions on this matter -- the Holy Father has given his recommendation. He doesn't need to hold their hand.