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Jason Holliston
Tuesday, May 18, 2004  
Denying the Sacrament

Andrew Sullivan has a new essay up on the Time Magazine Web site, entitled, "Showdown at the Communion Rail". It gives his take on the recent pressure from some Catholic bishops on politicians to either toe the Church's line on controversial issues, such as abortion, or face the public refusal for taking Communion. He comes out starkly on the side opposite the bishops, arguing that this line will inherently politicize the most important Sacrament of the Catholic Church -- something that cannot be allowed.

First of all, this differs from my post late last week. That was dealing with the Church instructing people to not take Communion if you publicly disagree with serious Church teachings. This is wholly different in nature -- the actual denial of the Eucharist to someone that wants it. The deacon at my church, last Sunday, spoke of Bishop Vlazny's edict. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "You will not see a stop sign at the end of the aisle." A vast majority of the time, the Church leaves it up to the congregation member to decide if they are qualified to receive Communion, and if you're not, it's between you and God. But, sometimes, they do deny the Sacrament.

I have personally heard, but not witnessed, stories of priests denying Communion. For example, when a person was married outside the Church. I've also heard of denial for people that have converted to other religions, even though that has to be pretty rare. has a page dedicated to who can, and who can't, receive. The key portion that would likely apply to John Kerry and other politicians now under attack by bishops:

" must not be under an ecclesiastical censure. Canon law mandates, "Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion" (CIC 915)."

So, it's all in the details, but apparently bishops do have the power to put up a stop sign. Were John Kerry and the Governor of New Jersey, James McGreevey put under censure for obstinately persisting in grave sin? What exactly constitutes "imposition or declaration of the penalty"? So, the point is, the bishops do appear to be acting in accordance with Catholic law and tradition.

Is it right, though, to do so? Like my post last week about my bishop's declaration, I'm not sure. I'd say probably, but I'm damned uncomfortable with it. I think this is due to a natural conflict between my American side, which values the individual above all, and my Catholic side, which knows that the teachings of the bishops and the Pope on matters Scriptural are absolute. They don't go well together, sometimes, and this is a good example of the uneasiness that I feel when those two sides are in conflict.

The root of the problem is what this particular subject matter is about -- abortion. That's about as hot and divisive an issue as you can get in America right now. Even though the Church has held the same line on it's teaching on the issue for almost 2000 years, what's changed is the political climate. Today, you cannot talk about abortion without delving into a morass of political mud. If John Kerry had converted to the Mormon Church, but still tried to receive Communion and was denied, would this be an issue? Probably not. Given that, I'm on the Church's side on this one, even if it's probably a politically unwise move. If politicians have gone out of their way to support the legal practice of almost the most grave sin imaginable, it's probably the bishop's duty to publicly censure them and deny them the Sacrament of Communion.

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