The Catholic News Service is reporting that Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl spoke recently to a Catholic audience and stated that denying the Eucharist was not part of the "pastoral tradition" of the Church. My initial reaction is that canon law clearly envisions denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians, as canonists have pointed out (see, for example, this analysis by Dr. Edward N. Peters). Does pastoral tradition nullify the explicit words of canon law? In my humble view, if it is in canon law, it is part of the pastoral tradition of the Church. Canon law reflects the pastoral tradition of the Church, and cannot contradict it.
The Pope's own words in promulgating the current Code of Canon Law bear witness to this organic and close relation between canon law and the pastoral practice of the Church by noting the purpose of canon law:
[I]ts purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to love, grace and charisms, it at the same time renders their organic development easier in the life of both the ecclesial society and the individual persons who belong to it.
Source: Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges, available at this link (scroll down document).
Canon law, theology, and pastoral practice are intended to reflect the same truth. If American pastoral practice contradicts the carefully redacted text of canon law duly promulgated by the Pope, then it seems to me that something is amiss in pastoral practice in the United States (see Canon 24).
The Diocese of Pittsburgh website provides the entire text of the bishop's address on May 25, 2004. Most of the address is an eloquent affirmation that abortion and voting to keep abortion legal are both grave evils. The surprising problem is that the bishop fails to draw the logically required conclusion from his own eloquent statement of the relevant premisses! Instead, when you think he is about to concur that politicians who obstinately persist in supporting abortion should be denied the Eucharist, he pulls back citing concerns about Church interference in politics. The bishop puts forth three inadequate reasons for pulling back from the conclusion required by his own statement of Catholic teaching on abortion:
1. That the issue of supporting legal abortion is on a par with other issues such as the death penalty--but he himself states earlier in his remarks that the right to life is "the most fundamental of all human rights";
2. That we have to consider under what circumstances we would deny the Eucharist to any Catholic--but the issue, as he himself earlier pointed out, focuses on the peculiarly public position of politicians, not on the situation of unknown Catholics;
3. And that the Church recoils from judging the "state of the soul" of those presenting themselves for Holy Communion--but canon law does not require such a subjective assessment but merely a determination that the individual is in an objective state of grave sin, and certainly the Church makes that sort of determination in her rule barring divorced and remarried Catholics from the Eucharist without delving into the reasons for their marital situation.
The bishop's own analysis begs for the conclusion that pro-abortion politicians should be denied the Eucharist. His eloquent statement of the foundations for that conclusion lead me to hope that he will, sooner or later, come to the manifestly required conclusion.
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.