Catholics & the 2004 Presidential Election - Collected Readings & Resources

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Questions Regarding Denial of the Eucharist 

Posted by Earl at 12:47 AM

As posted by my fellow pundit Barbara Kralis on Fidelis . . .

Several U.S. bishops have recently voiced their opposition and ersatz reasoning why no one should be denied the Eucharist according to Code of Canon Law n. 915.

Those in the pews are perplexed. Which bishop is correct? Why would some bishops teach that the laws are binding and other bishops teach that they are not?2

Quizzically, people are asking ten questions:
1. Why should the Church deny the Eucharist to hundreds of "Catholic" pro-abortion politicians?
The Catholic Church condemns abortion3, euthanasia4, sodomy5, cloning6, embryonic stem cell research7, as well as other attacks against the sanctity of life and the family. It is the obligation of the bishop to follow canon law. Canon 915 mandates the denial of Communion to all "manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners," including but not exclusive to politicians.8

Canon 915 not only protects the Eucharist from sacrilegious reception, but also prevents the faithful from sorrowful scandal.

It's important to understand what "manifest, obstinate, persistent" means. Many wrongly think it applies only to politicians.9 This is not so.

If a Catholic is a "manifest" sinner, that means he is known, or public. This must be differentiated from the Catholics who are in the state of private grave sin, whose sin is known only to themselves and God. The private grave sinner cannot be denied the Eucharist because their sin is unknown to the bishop, to his priests, and his ministers of the Eucharist.

If a Catholic is gravely "manifest" and "obstinate" in his sin, that means he pigheadedly continues to persist or stand firm in grave sin that is public in nature and causes scandal to others. This is quite different from those who persist in private sin.

"Catholic" pro-abortion politicians are certainly manifest, obstinate and persistent sinners and they are thus subject to the provisions of Canon 915.10

2. If they deny politicians, then shouldn't they deny all public sinners?
Not only does this canonical discipline, Canon 915, include the estimated 500 so-called "Catholic" pro-abortion politicians in the United States, but it also includes other manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners such as homosexual couples approaching the Eucharist arm-in-arm or with sodomite rainbow banners over their shoulders, those divorced and "remarried" without benefit of annulment11, directors of abortion mills and Planned Parenthood, Mafia figures, drug lords, notorious criminals, couples living openly in fornication or adultery (this is certainly not an exhaustive list of manifest sinners).

3. What about the couple or individual who lives in grave sin privately and their Pastor is made aware of their sin? Should the Pastor deny them the Eucharist?
No. Not if most people do not know this. He cannot make their sin known to people. The priest cannot make know the sin of another, if it is not already manifest. This is related to the seal of confession.12 If it becomes known by most in the parish, then the priest might then be obliged to deny the Eucharist under Canon 915 so as not to cause scandal.

4. Isn't there supposed to be a separation of Church and State?
The Founding Fathers of our nation believed in the promotion of religion. Thus, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
The Fathers merely wanted to avoid a state church or any other favoring of one Christian denomination over another. In other words, the object was to avoid favoritism and compulsion, nothing more.13

It would be a sad day in America if only Catholics believed in protection of innocent life.14

5. Can the Church tell its members how to legislate and vote?
The Church is not asking Catholic legislators to impose her beliefs on unwilling populace. Rather, the Church is calling upon her Catholic legislators to defend human life, which is a basic responsibility of all civic institutions.15

The Church is not trying to influence legislation but instead is protecting the dignity of the Sacrament and addressing the grave scandal of Catholic legislators who fail to defend innocent life.

Implying that the Church is trying to tell its members how to vote is erroneous. It never directs its members to cast their vote for any specific party or candidate. It is reiterating that abortion, euthanasia, sodomy, cloning and embryonic stem cell research (this is not an exhaustive list) are intrinsically evil in and of themselves; all other human rights pale in comparison to the right of life of the unborn.

6. Isn't the Church turning the Eucharist into a weapon? No one should be denied the Eucharist. Where is the freedom of conscience?
It is true that Canon 912 does say, "Any baptized person who is not forbidden by law may and must be admitted to Holy Communion." However, the canon's commentary further explains: "unless the existence of some impediment is evidence in the external forum of Canon 915."16

Canon 915 states:
Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are forbidden by law from receiving Holy Communion.
It is dishonest to use Canon 912 to justify permitting grave manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners to the Eucharist. It is a mockery of the faith and belies ones identity as a Catholic believer.

True freedom is not doing what you want to do, but doing what you ought to do.17 The Church teaches, "Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions."18

Conscience is not the same as your opinions or feelings. Conscience is the voice of truth within you and your opinions and feelings must reflect your well-informed conscience.19

A well-informed conscience is one that is totally in accord with the church's magisterial teachings. If one is well informed (catechized), their conscience will be correctly informed. This transcends any choice for political party or candidate.

No pope or ecumenical council has ever said that Catholics who hold public office are excused from living by the teachings of the Church.20

Christians, like all people of goodwill, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts, which he personally performs; no one can be exempted from the responsibility, and on the basis of it, everyone will be judged by God Himself.21
7. Why not deny Communion to politicians and laity who support the death penalty and the Iraq war?
The Church has never taught, and does not teach now, that the death penalty and war are evil in all instances. But, the Church has always clearly condemned abortion, sodomy, euthanasia, cloning, and embryonic stem cell research in all instances.

The Church teaches that it is the right and responsibility of the legitimate temporal authority to defend and preserve the common good and citizens against the aggressor, even if it has to resort to the death penalty if no other means of defense is sufficient.22

8. All I hear about is the "right to life." What about the right to employment, the right to water, the right to food and clothing, the right to protection of the environment?
Without the right to life, no other rights are possible.

As men and women of good will we strive to achieve true justice for all people and to preserve their rights as human beings. There is, however, one right that is inalienable, and that is the right to life. This is the first right. This is the right that grounds all other human rights. This is the issue that trumps all other issues.23

The Didache24, written around A.D. 80, declares:
You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb and you shall not murder the infant already born.
The Catholic Church's social teachings are vast and complete. However, faithful Catholics may legitimately disagree on different points of view and on how to implement these social teachings.25 One can never disagree on the teachings regarding the right to life of the unborn, persons with disabilities, and the elderly.26

9. When "gays" and lesbians march up to the altar arm in arm for Communion, should they be denied?
Canon 915 states that if they are gravely manifest, obstinate, and persistent in their sins, then they must be denied. The Church condemns the sin of sodomy.27

Sodomites who approach the Eucharist wearing Rainbow sashes or who are living known lives of perversion are certainly manifest, obstinate and persistent in their grave sin.28

Legal recognition of same-sex unions actually does homosexual persons a disfavor by encouraging them to persist in what is an objectively immoral arrangement.

There are absolutely no grounds for considering same-sex unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts "close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."29

10. What is Canon Law 915 that I hear so much about?
You may remember that Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, D.D., J.C.L., a canon lawyer, on January 8, 2004, promulgated a canonical notification in the diocese of La Crosse, WI, based on Canon 915. In other words, he imposed sacramental disciplines or regulations concerning the unworthy reception of the Holy Eucharist.

Canon 915 is a sacramental law, not a penal law, and applies only to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, not other Sacraments. It is not an excommunication or interdict.

Canon Law is the Church's Sacred Discipline and is binding on all Catholics, not just politicians, who reject Church law.

There are, however, other legislative powers that the Pope and diocesan Bishops possess which gives them the right to enact laws for their dioceses, including penal laws which impose latae sententiae ("automatically without sentence") penalties (Canons 1311, 1315, 1318, 1369, 1398). Here we are discussing only Canon 915.

When the diocesan bishops ignore enforcing Canon Law, they are giving license to all manifest sinners to commit Eucharistic sacrilege and cause grave scandal to the faithful.30

Editor's Note: A complete annotated edition of this article with endnotes can be found on

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.


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Contributing Editors:

Oswald Sobrino of
Catholic Analysis

Earl E. Appleby of
Times Against Humanity

Jeff Miller of
The Curt Jester

Ad Limina Apostolorum

Christopher Blosser of
Against The Grain

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Related Documents & Articles

Worthiness To Recieve Communion: General Principles
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Evangelium Vitae
Pope John Paul II

Worthy to Receive the Lamb: Catholics in Political Life and the Reception of Holy Communion, from Archbishop Donoghue (Atlanta, GA), Bishop Baker (Charleston, SC) and Bishop Jugis (Charlotte, NC).
August 4, 2004

Catholics in Political Life U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. June 7, 2004.

Catholic Politicians and Bishops. By Most Rev. Raymond L. Burke, Archbishop of St. Louis. America June 21-28, 2004.

A Time For Honesty, Pastoral Statement by The Most Reverend John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark. May 5, 2004.

Why Communion Could Be Denied to Anti-Life Legislators. Interview with Father Thomas Williams, dean of the School of Theology of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Why Don't Catholic Politicians Practice What the Catholic Church Preaches?, by Judie Brown. Washington Dispatch April 19, 2004.

How to tell a Duck from a Fox: Thinking with the Church as we look toward November, by Archbishop Chaput. Denver Catholic Register April 14, 2004.

On the Dignity of Human Life and Civic Responsibility, a Pastoral Letter by La Crosse Bishop Raymond L. Burke.

Blood On Their Hands: Exposing Pro-abortion Catholic Politicians, by Mark Stricherz. Crisis May 2003.

The Failure of Catholic Political Leadership, by Robert P. George & William E. Saunders. Crisis 18, No. 4 (April 2000).

Denying Holy Communion: A Case History, by Bishop Emeritus Rene Henry Gracida. [PDF Format].

Ten questions regarding the denial of the Eucharist, by Barbara Kralis.

Recommmended Reading

John Kerry, Abortion and the Catholic Church

Irreconcilable Differences", by Matthew Mehan. NRO Sept. 16, 2004.

John Courtney Murray and the 'Liberal Catholic' Justification of Abortion Investigative report by Christopher Blosser. August 30, 2004.

"Please answer the question, Senator Kerry", The Mighty Barrister. August 2, 2004.

You wouldn't even ask. Fr. Pavone (Priests for Life). July 2004.

Kerry isn't making abortion stand clear, by Raymond J. Keating. Newsday July 27, 2004.

Senator Kerry May Be Human . . . But is He a Person?, Catholic Kerry Watch. July 23, 2004.

Kerry's Catholic Problem, by Brent Bozell. July 7, 2004.

The Body Politic and the Body of Christ: Candidates, Communion and the Catholic Church. Debate btw/ Thomas J. Reese, S.J. and George Weigel. June 23, 2004.

The Kerry challenge, by George Weigel. May 5, 2004.

Rites and Wrongs: Why John Kerry should not take communion, by Philip F. Lawler. Wall Street Journal April 30, 2004.

John Kerry's Catholic Problem", by Cal Thomas. April 26, 2004.

Kerry Distorting Catholic Doctrine. interviews George Weigel. April 16, 2004.

"Personally Opposed, But…" Five Pro-Abortion Dodges, by Todd M. Aglialoro. Crisis April 1, 2004.

On Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

Reagan vs. Reagan and The Stem-Cell Cover-Up, Catholic Kerry Watch, August 14, 2004.

Senator Kerry dismisses religious convictions as "ideology"  Catholic Kerry Watch. August 9, 2004.

Ron Reagan & Functionalism, Revisited, Catholic Kerry Watch. July 29, 2004.

Out of Touch, by Michael Fumento. Refuting Kerry's claims on the use of embryonic stem cells. Citizen Magazine August 2004.

Stem Cell Defection, by Ramesh Ponnuru. National Review August 16, 2004.

Stem Cell Research: Fact Sheets, Letters to Congress and Articles from the USCCB.

On Voting, "Proportionality" and Cardinal Ratzinger's Memorandum

What Ratzinger Said, by James Akin. Sept. 9, 2004.

Bishops Refute Flawed Theology (of Andrew Greeley) Barbara Kralis. August 22, 2004.

Thoughts on Proportionality, Catholic Kerry Watch. July 12, 2004.

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