There is an excellent interview via Zenit News Service today with American theologian Father Thomas Williams, dean of the School of Theology of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, addressing the issues involved in withholding communion to Catholic politicians supporting abortion. Suffice to say Fr. Williams covers the issue from every possible aspect, including the criteria (four essential elements in Canon 915) involved in determining when one "obstinately persists in manifest grave sin":
The first element is "gravi peccato," or grave sin. This can only be taken to refer to the matter of the action -- or omission -- without necessarily implying a judgment of subjective culpability. "Grave sin" in this case simply means objectively evil conduct of a serious nature.
The second requirement specified by Canon 915 refers to the "manifesto," or overt, character of the sin. This stipulation limits the sanction to sins of a public nature, and reiterates the public and ecclesial dimension of Holy Communion, which signifies moral, spiritual and doctrinal union with Christ and with his Church.
Thirdly, to be refused Communion a person must persist -- "perseverantes" -- in this openly sinful behavior. To say that a person persists in a public sin means that he somehow makes it known that he plans to continue engaging in his sinful behavior.
Finally, the code speaks of obstinate persistence. The Latin adverb "obstinate" here means that the person has been duly informed of the evil of his behavior but deliberately chooses to persist in it anyway.
There is such a thing as inculpable persistence in evildoing, when a person is unaware that a certain habitual activity is sinful. But once the evil of his actions has been brought to his attention, his persistence qualifies as obstinate.
Judging from the foregoing considerations, it seems clear that a politician who votes in a way that fails to defend innocent human life on a consistent basis and gives every indication of his intention to keep doing so despite warnings from ecclesiastical authorities can be said to obstinately persist in objectively evil behavior of a public nature. And in this regard he fulfills the requirements of Canon 915.
Also addressed is the meaning of grave public sin and scandal ("Because of their high public visibility and moral authority, politicians can, by their example, lead others to good or to evil"); the possibility of such refusal by the bishops as being construed as "partisan politics." Fr. Williams own opinion on the matter is apparent:
Where a political party takes an anti-life stand as a fundamental component of its platform, the Church may have no choice but to denounce it.
If the Church's pastors were to make it clear to politicians that abortion is truly a non-negotiable question and one on which they were prepared to "go to the mat," they would exert considerable moral, and political, pressure on all politicians to give this moral issue the weight it deserves.
Sometimes a prophetic voice is needed to shake people out of their moral lethargy, especially when people have come to accept as "normal" something which by rights should provoke moral outrage.
If publicly supporting abortion doesn't constitute a sufficient pastoral reason to justify the denial of Holy Communion, it is hard to imagine when recourse to this measure would be appropriate.
Thanks to Dan Jasmin for the link, who has a fine post on his own blog "Working It Out" on the subject.
Ongoing commentary by the editors of CatholicKerryWatch
Sen. John Kerry stands with Kate Michelman (right) President of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Since 1995, Michelman's group has given Kerry a 100% rating for his voting record to defend abortion.