Faithful Catholic, Faithful Citizen

At their semi-annual meeting November 10-13th in Baltimore, the United States bishops will discuss the “practical and pastoral implications of political support for abortion.” Some might question the timing of this discussion, coming days after a national election featuring a candidate whom Princeton professor Robert George described as being the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the presidency. At the same time, better (barely) late than never, and perhaps the timing will allow for a candid discussion relatively free of USCCB-speak (read “Faithful Citizenship”) or charges of partisanship.

In my own discussions with bishops regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the November meeting, I have urged them to consider these three concerns: 
(1) I think it’s important that the bishops clearly distinguish the canon 915 issue (i.e., withholding Communion from notoriously pro-abortion Catholic politicians) from the sinful exercise of one’s vote. Apart from the automatic excommunication provision of canon law (which to my knowledge has never been applied to politicians) or the possibility of a heresy trial, I believe that canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law should be engaged on its own merits.

Namely, can it be said that a Catholic politician who for decades has fought for liberalized abortion rights “obstinately persists in manifest grave sin”? If yes, then he or she must “not . . . be admitted to Holy Communion” until he or she repents. If not, however, then it would be helpful for the faithful (and probably for the bishops, too) to understand why not, especially given the clear language of canon 915.

I understand both the disinclination to withhold Communion as well as the desire to respect the discretion of individual bishops to make pastoral judgments pertaining to Catholics in their own jurisdiction. All I’m asking for is that the canon be applied consistently. Each umpire during the World Series called balls and strikes a little differently, but at least they were all working from the same criteria as to what constitutes the strike zone.

Similarly, the bishops should at least be on the same page as to the objective meaning of canon 915 and thus be using the same “strike zone”–and at present they’re not.

When it comes to canon 915, there seems to be some bishops who confuse “visible communion” with “invisible communion” (of course we can’t make judgments about the latter), and others who flat out say that they would never refuse Communion under any circumstance. That conflicts with the parameters of canon 915 and leads to scandalously inconsistent applications of Church law.

Of course canon 915 applies only in exceptional situations, but when it does apply, it should not be seen as a penalty or taking sides politically, but rather as an act of pastoral charity to the sinner as well as to all the faithful.

(2) Church documents say that it is “formal cooperation with evil” to vote for a candidate because of their permissive views on abortion, euthanasia, and presumably same-sex marriage. Even material cooperation is forbidden in the absence of “proportionate reasons.” That’s all well and good. But in the case of the pro-abortion politician himself or herself, he or she is the one with whom the faithful are forbidden to formally cooperate. In other words, what the Church has to say about “formal cooperation” in this situation seems to presuppose the fact that the pro-abortion politicians’ views constitute “manifest grave sin.”  If that’s not the case, then it shouldn’t constitute “formal cooperation with evil” to align ourselves politically with such people.

Let me be clear about this. The Church says that I would be committing mortal sin in voting for a Catholic politician like Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi if I do so because of their pro-abortion views and policies. How could we deny, then, that such public figures are persisting in “manifest grave sin,” especially as they work to bring others to accept their dissident, sinful views?

The bishops’ failure to take appropriate corrective action pertaining to these politicians undercuts anything they might say about the faithful’s obligation not to support the intrinsic evils championed by these politicians.

(3) Clarifying the narrow issues of canon 915 applicability and the sinfulness of voting for candidates who support abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage would put the much broader Faithful Citizenship document in its proper context. As it is, I have not encountered anyone who has had his or her conscience formed by that document. Instead, I run into many people, including a shamefully large number of Catholic school teachers (who have already decided to vote for a pro-abortion candidate) who quote Faithful Citizenship selectively and use it to rationalize their pre-determined conclusion. I know it’s not intended as such, but in practice it’s a pastoral filibuster used to neutralize (to put it mildly) the teaching of the Holy Father and the individual bishops.

Clearly the first order of business in making a prudent decision of conscience is to rule out any alternatives that are morally unacceptable. Once that’s accomplished, then a document like Faithful Citizenship can do much good. There are, after all, many important issues facing our country, and we should understand them in the context of an authentically Catholic worldview.

But the make-or-break issues of our time are abortion (life) and institutionalized homosexuality (family). History will judge us harshly if we as the Church in the United States lack the resolve to be at the forefront of resisting these grave societal evils.

I pray that that’s the direction the U.S. bishops take in Baltimore.

Suprenant is the director of program development for School of Faith, a public association of the faithful based in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

10 responses

  1. “God is not measured according to his power for the saving of souls,but the saving of souls is confidently enfolded in the mystery of his inscrutable ways.” E. Przywara. I’ll pray with you. I’ve went from anger to great sorrow over the great spiritual dangers many catholic politicians have placed in and about themselves and so many,many others. Our Bishops receive an abundant grace of God to perform their mission for and in the Church. Let them do it faithfully. Your request to resolve these concerns is reasonable and necessary for the good of the Church. I hope the Bishops concur.

  2. You are all too correct about “Faithful Citizenship” being used to rationalize voting for Obama on the basis of an allegedly good stand on other issues. Today (Friday, Oct 31, Fr. Euteneuer gave good tribute to the bishops who have been outspoken about the immorality of voting for the most radical pro-abortion candidate ever to run for President. The unfortunate thing is that the list is short. Too little and too late. The process of building a truly pro-life Catholic community in this country needs to start in early grade school. It needs to get back to such basics as learning and believing the traditional “Act of Faith.”

  3. In a much-ignored declaration on Canon 915 issued on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist in 2000, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts discusses the meaning of the phrase “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin” and states that it is “the responsibility of the Priest who is responsible for the community” to decide from whom to withhold Holy Communion. This priest is “to give precise instructions to the deacon or to any extraordinary minister regarding the mode of acting in concrete situations … no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it.” Foremost in the pontifical council’s mind is the situation of “those who are divorced and remarried.”
    Bishops, whether individually or collectively, can educate the clergy and the faithful about this document and can encourage parish priests to fulfill their duty to implement it, both in the more common case of “those who are divorced and remarried” and in less common cases such as those involving legislators. Bishops can certainly let priests know that punitive action will not be taken against them for fulfilling their obligations under the canon. In doing so, they can create a climate in which the implementation of Canon 915 is neither unthinkable nor politically charged, but rather is a more typical part of the life of the Church, as the pontifical council envisions.
    Ultimately, though, it is the duty of “the Priest who is responsible for the community” to implement the canon. Parish priests, you have the teaching of the Church, the prayers of the sinful People of God, and the intercession of the saints, including St. John the Baptist, on your side. Viriliter agite. or

  4. Bravo,

    Leon once again you focus directly on the main problem and articulately request the bishops to look at the problem. Encouraging our bishops to finally to deal with the issue is someting we as Catholic leity must all do. I encourage all Catholics to loving email their bishops office using Leons argument as to how dissenters are taking Faithful Citizenship out of its full context and using it to validate their relationalization for voting for death.

    Last week we received a rather weak video messege based on Faithful Citizenship as our homily. I understood the point but many others did not. The messege did not emphasize clearly the issue of abortion as standing above all other issues combined in this election. Those who cannot protect babies in the womb cannot be trusted to protect anyone. They will rationalize anything for convenience and economics. Be careful what you wish for i.e. universal healthcare. Can we say Terry Schiavo.

    Sometimes I think the bishops try to speak in parables like Jesus. So that “those who have ears will hear.”

    God Bless,


  5. Jeff, it’s true that the canon envisions the easier, more local situation of, say, a married man who leaves his family and is openly living in a state of adultery.

    It’s also true that the canon speaks directly to pastors. However, as a practical matter this issue speaks to a statewide, in fact nationwide controversy where the leadership needs to come from the bishop, who too often says things like “we never withhold Communion in our diocese.”

    In my opinion, it would be a better use of their time to provide more guidance to pastors on the use of canon 915 (I can see some liberal pastors retaliating by withholding Communion from pro-capital punishment, pro-Iraq War politicians without firm, proper guidance), rather than tinker with Faithful Citizenship.

  6. There could not be a greater example than this election of how people are being led into scandal by the actions of Catholic politicians distoring authentic Catholic teaching in an effort to get votes for themselves or others. By this I mean, votes for culture of death Candidates, and Obama is the crown prince of them all.

    Many of us are in dialogue with many Catholics daily who are citing the words of pro-choice Catholic pols, dissident Catholic professors, and others, such as the Knights for Obama and Catholics for Obama.

    Why should a Catholic professor, who has literally thumbed his nose at the bishops, be permitted to teach at ANY Catholic institution. Not only should Canon 915 be used, but they should be barred from speaking or teaching at Catholic colleges, universities, and on any diocesan property.

    I have a feeling the bishops will be reflecting and discussing deeply, how their words in Faithful Citizenship permitted people to distort it. We can ill afford explanations that allow for any kind of loophole. They need to be clear.

    Further, we need to all pray for our bishops. May God grant them the grace of courage and may they act on that with the holy boldness called for by Bishop Vasa.

    If the culture of death wins this election, we need to all get on our knees and make reparations for the offenses against God committed on campaign trails, and in voting booths.

  7. Looking ahead, in case Sen. Obama is elected, and the Democrats acquire a super-majority in the Senate, is there not a bright line to be drawn by the bishops regarding the FOCA? Given the absolute horror that that bill will be, should not the bishops solemnly advise that no Catholic legislator could vote in favor of it without formally cooperating in a grave evil. Under those circumstances, there should be no doubt that a vote in favor by Catholic legislators would constitute a clear rejection of the Church’s teaching and signal their intention to sever themselves from communion with the Church.

  8. Folks, we should pray as we have never prayed before. I feel as though we as a nation are on the edge of a precipice. We should re-read about the life of Rehoboam in 1st Kings chapters 12 through 14. Rehoboam was son of Solomon and grandson of David. He was annointed. But he rebelled and did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the King of Egypt came and took from Jerusalem all the gold, silver, ivory and marble that Solomon had used to build the temple. Shields made of gold were taken away and Rehoboam replaced them with shields of bronze. Thus began Israel and Judah’s decline. It took the first five years of Rehoboam’s 17 year reign for all the work his grandfather David and his father Solomon had done over the previous 80 years to be completely undone. We in the United States are NO different. How long will it take for us to lose our greatness now that we are following the example of Rehoboam? Sadly, most people don’t even learn from history but insist on repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

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