When an educated professional with qualified staff and other available resources gives a superficial and erroneous analysis of an issue within his area of responsibility with harmful results, our culture calls it malpractice. Recent statements by clerics, such as Cardinal McCarrick in Washington, DC, respond to the issue of pro-abortion politicians receiving the Eucharist by saying that you cannot deny them the Eucharist because we cannot see into their hearts and minds and know what lurks therein. Here is what Cardinal McCarrick is quoted as saying in a recent Catholic News Servicestory:
I would be very uncomfortable to have a confrontation at the altar, because it implies that I know precisely what's in a man's heart or in a woman's heart, and I'm not always sure.
That is the analysis presented to the public and to fellow Catholics. It is devastatingly wrong. It is clerical malpractice. In a recent Zenitinterview, priest-theologian Thomas Williams, the dean of the School of Theology of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome, gave a professional analysis of the issue based on canon law. You can and should read the entire interview. But let's get to the heart of the issue: to deny the Eucharist to these politicians, does a bishop have to know what lurks in the hearts of men? Canon law clearly says no. Here are the words of Fr. Williams:
Four essential elements come into play, all of which are necessary to fulfill the conditions laid out in Canon 915.
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. (emphasis added)
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.
No judgment of subjective culpability is required. What canon law requires is "objectively evil conduct of a serious nature." This objectively evil conduct creates scandal. Canon law contemplates denial of the Eucharist to squelch the scandal. So for Cardinal McCarrick and other bishops, such as Bishop Mengeling of Lansing, MI, for example, to speak of not being able to judge the hearts of communicants is to miss the boat. Here are Bishop Mengeling's remarks as reported in the Lansing State Journal:
Mengeling said denying Communion to Granholm [the pro-abortion Michigan governor] and other politicians who support abortion rights would force the church to judge every Catholic, a task he said is up to God.
"We assume that (people) are in good standing with the law in terms of their own conscience," Mengeling said. "The Lord knows that. I don't."
No one is making the straw man argument of reading anyone's heart or conscience. In the same Zenit interview, Fr. Williams points to the absurd situation of effectively open Communion created by irrelevant talk of reading someone's heart:
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.
Canon law is not speaking here about reading anyone's heart. Canon law does not contemplate impossibilities. The issue of reading someone's heart is a red herring that is, from all indications, a convenient way to dodge the issue and avoid confrontation. Avoiding confrontation over the truth is episcopal malpractice. The People of God deserve better. And, thanks to Zenit, the People of God now know better.
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.