Catholics & the 2004 Presidential Election - Collected Readings & Resources

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Respecting Conscience  

Posted by Oswald at 3:45 PM

A popular argument by some clerics who argue that they are not comfortable with denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion political celebrities is that the decision to receive is up to the conscience of the celebrity. In prior posts, I have indicated why this highly subjective view of conscience is contrary to Catholic teaching and even to relevant canon law. But today it is time to consider one of the most effective ways of exposing fallacy: reductio ad absurdum, that is, showing that a point of view is mistaken by showing that it leads to absurd results-- to "a reduction to absurdity."

Let us take a hypothetical bishop who goes to the media and says that he is not comfortable with denying the Eucharist to a pro-abortion celebrity--in reality, some have already actually done this. But now let us go to a local priest who has a correct grasp of Catholic teaching and canon law on this issue and as a result is firmly convinced in his conscience that for him to give the Eucharist to the local pro-abortion governor or legislator or to John Kerry would make him as a priest an accomplice to the profanation of the Eucharist. Our hypothetical priest has an informed and correct conscience. Moreover, he is certainly obligated to protect the Eucharist from profanation. How can our hypothetical bishop expect that priest (or for that matter a lay person who is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion) to act contrary to a well-formed conscience and give the Eucharist to a pro-abortion celebrity?

The hypothetical bishop can forbid the priest from denying the Eucharist, but, in that case, the bishop has contradicted his own public statement that the individual conscience is supreme on this issue. Or the bishop can let each priest make his own decision on giving or denying the Eucharist. That latter option would at least be consistent with the bishop's public statements on the supremacy of individual conscience. Yet, even this latter option is not desirable because it introduces chaos into the sacramental life of the Church within a particular diocese and between different dioceses.

In other words, the best our hypothetical bishop can do is to recognize that both theology and canon law require a consistent policy of refusing the Eucharist to pro-abortion celebrities. The Eucharist is protected, and Catholic sacramental life remains orderly and uniform within and between dioceses.

Some may object that a policy of denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion celebrities would itself be the source of chaos because there would have to be a complex laundry list of political positions that preclude one from receiving the Eucharist. The truth is that there would be no chaos. Any political celebrity openly and obstinately contradicting Catholic teaching on what is grave sin should be told not to approach the Eucharist and should be denied the Eucharist if he or she does approach. We are not talking about the death penalty issue--the Church has no absolute prohibition against the death penalty, contrary to the implications of some who speak publicly. We are not talking about the mechanics of economic policy about which Catholics can and do legitimately differ. We are not talking about the Iraq War because the Church recognizes that Catholics can legitimately differ on the application of just war criteria to a particular situation.

Any laundry list of obstacles to communion would involve grave and intrinsically evil matters about which the Church recognizes no right to diversity of opinion. In addition, the only practical and feasible targets would be celebrities who persist in denying such Church teaching and thus create scandal--not the average anonymous parishioner.

Catholic liberals are continuing to spout what can only be called "whoppers" in the news media that misrepresent Catholic teaching in their eagerness to defend pro-abortion Democrats. As noted before, one common misrepresentation is that the abortion issue and issues such as the death penalty or the Iraq War are on the same plane. The other great misrepresentation is that denying the Eucharist to a political celebrity is equivalent to denying the Eucharist to an anonymous parishioner where scandal is not a factor.

The biggest misrepresentation was recently made by that reliably unreliable source of Catholic teaching, the Rev. Richard McBrien of Notre Dame University, who is quoted as saying that "Abortion is not a dogma." Here is an excerpt from the news article containing the McBrien quote:

"The only way that you can separate yourself from the church is by knowingly and deliberately denying a dogma of faith," said the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a professor of theology at Notre Dame and a liberal in such matters. "Abortion is not a dogma."

"Communion Becomes a Test of Faith and Politics," by Daniel J. Wakin, N.Y. Times online, May 9, 2004 (free reg'n required).

Well, a "dogma" is a divinely revealed teaching. It may be defined solemnly as was done in the case of the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary, or it can be defined "in an ordinary way, as with the constant teaching on the malice of taking innocent human life" (John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary s.v. "Dogma"). As Hardon notes, a dogma is a "[d]octrine taught by the Church to be believed by all the faithful as part of divine revelation" (Ibid.). And it is clear that the grave immorality of the direct and voluntary taking of an innocent human life--which includes deliberate or procured abortion--is a divinely revealed teaching:

This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

John Paul II, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), section 62.3 (i.e., 3rd paragraph in section 62).

Consistent with the Pope's declaration, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed that the grave immorality of the direct and voluntary taking of innocent human life is a divinely revealed teaching (see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the 'Professio fidei,' June 29, 1998, section 11 (also refer to section 5), available at

So McBrien, not surprisingly, is again wrong. The only remedy for this mess is exposure of these wild misrepresentations and a constant reiteration of the truth. The power of the truth cannot be suppressed by sound bites.

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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Kerry's Critics


Ad Limina Apostolorum
The Black Republican
The Blog From The Core
Catholics for Bush [Blog]
Catholic Light
Defensor Fidei (Jimmy Akin)
Domenico Bettinelli, Jr.
The Galvin Opinion
Just Being Frank
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News Resources

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Kerry Communion Watch @

The Candidates on Abortion: Where do they stand?




National Catholic Reporter
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Crisis Magazine
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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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