Speaker out of Line

In a recent interview, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California and outspoken advocate of abortion rights, told a C-SPAN reporter that her abortion advocacy has not resulted in her being refused Holy Communion. She said: “I think some of it is regional. It depends on the bishop of a certain region and fortunately for me, communion has not been withheld, and I’m a regular communicant so that would be a severe blow to me if that were the case.”

Speaker Pelosi was one of several Catholic lawmakers who support abortion rights to receive Communion in April during a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Washington, D.C.

The application of Church law in this area is generally the responsibility of the politician’s bishop, and it’s no secret that the bishops of the United States are not of one mind on this subject. So in that sense, Speaker Pelosi is right, in practice the application of Church law is merely “regional.”

However, the principles at play here indeed are universal and objective. Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law provides: “Those . . . who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Some prelates have said, “I would never withhold Communion,” but such a view flatly contradicts the Church’s law in this area.

Similarly, Pope John Paul II, in his final encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, citing Canon 915, wrote:  

“The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience. However, in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly, and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who ‘obstinately persist in manifest grave sin’ are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion.”

Bishops who have upheld the plain, intended meaning of Canon 915 are not witchhunters or political activists. One thinks of the measured, pastorally sensitive approach of Archbishop Burke, who now holds the highest judicial office in the Church. Rather, such bishops are concerned about three S’s:

Scandal: Allowing public figures who actively promote abortion rights to receive Communion is a cause of scandal to the faithful, leading to confusion regarding the Church’s teaching and the need to be ”in communion” with the Church in order to receive the Eucharist.

Sacrilege: Allowing those who are obstinately persist in manifest grave sin to receive Communion compounds the evil, as St. Paul clearly teaches in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30. See also Catechism, no. 1385.

Salvation: Above all, the bishop is concerned about the eternal salavation of the politician and realizes that this seemingly harsh medicine is the best way to pastor some members of his flock. 

But let’s be clear. There can be no question that those Catholic politicians who actively promote abortion are engaging in “manifest grave sin.” That’s an objective reality that wouldn’t vary from bishop to bishop. The discussion instead seems to surround the phrase “obstinately persist,” as all bishops are rightly interested in addressing such matters privately and in a less drastic way if at all possible. Surely a person is not being “obstinate” if he or she is never called to repent. Most bishops take such dialogue very seriously; others for various reasons don’t want to single out this issue for pastoral attention. 

Surely the requirement that the Catholic politician must be obstinately persistent can neither be glossed over by zealous pro-life activists nor used as an excuse for inaction on the part of Church authorities.

I think Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City has struck the right balance in his pastoral dealing with pro-abortion Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius. Click here for a prior post on that subject. 

I do hope that Speaker Pelosi’s bishop in California will have the courage and grace to address this situation with her–not as a matter of political expedience, but as a matter of pastoral necessity that transcends party lines.

As a postscript, a friend recently sent me this video regarding Senator Obama’s failure to protect the life of children who are already born. This alarming video is further evidence that we are moving beyond abortion to the area of infanticide. 

12 responses

  1. Leon,
    When a bishop imposes the discipline of refusing communion to a particular person in his diocese, isn’t it the equivalent of a personal interdict? If so, would change of locality liberate that person from such “interdict”? Would appreciate clarificaton. thanks

  2. Willy,

    Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a canonist and I recognize that these canonical issues can be more complex than they might appear at first blush.

    Anyway, interdict really presents a different situation. I quoted only a portion of canon 915. Here is the entire text:

    “Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

    Excommunication and interdict are specific canonical penalties that result, among other things, in a person’s not being able to receive Communion until he or she is formally reconciled with the Church.

    You’re right, the person under such circumstances cannot “diocese shop,” because the fact of the excommunication or interdict itself is an independent, objective basis for withholding Communion. This in part explains the move a few years ago to have Sen. Kerry declared a heretic so that such canonical penalties could attach.

    It’s not like a person who is under interdict wears a scarlet “A” (I guess in this case for “Abortion” instead of “Adultery”) to alert unwary ministers of Communion, and sadly some who are under interdict might not be deterred from still presenting themselves for Communion. So I’m not convinced that this would always be a satisfactory pastoral approach.

    By the same token, canon 915, in my estimation, has been made too subjective or “regional” in its application, at least in part because of political ramifications. In theory, an unrepentant notorious sinner shouldn’t be able to receive Communion anywhere until he or she is reconciled with the Church. But, as is typically the case, the problem is putting the theory into practice.

  3. In any case Speaker Pelosi seems to entertain too much thoughts of forum shopping. I believe the big factor of fraternal deference among bishops, the high-profile attention, and potential scandal, should strongly deter her from doing so. At any rate, you’re right in that the pastoral factor must be emphasized, but since her case touched on one of the three non-negotiables in the public square, it is right that we expect a firm stand among the bishops, with solidarity.

  4. Everytime Pelosi receives Communion she recrucifies Jesus. And if a bishop is aware of it and allows it, or worse distributes the Communion to her, then he will have to explain to Mary on Judgement day why he crucified her Son again. This is a vile sin by Pelosi and any bishop involved. We should have great pity for these cowardly bishops and pray for them.

    As far as addressing it privately, we have to conclude that Pelosi’s bishop has been aware that Pelosi supports abortion, and for some time. Taking care of it privately means the bishops has a month or two to act. Since nothing has happened (for years), the bishop is guilty of the sin of omission. We should pray for this bishop.

  5. Dear Leon,

    Thank you for a great blogsite. This as well as its parent web site, https://www.cuf.org/, are most welcome discoveries on the web.

    As to Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, John Kerry, Rudy Guiliani, Dennis Kucinich, and like-minded politicians who call themselves Catholic but support infanticide, the words of 1st John 2:18 and 19 ring loud and clear:

    18
    Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour.
    19
    They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.

    In the upcoming election season, I see no real means at our disposal to prevent the election of Barack Obama, an openly pro-infanticide candidate. We shall repeat the lesson of the children of Israel in 1st Samuel Chapter 8. Verses 4 through 7 apply:

    4
    Therefore all the elders of Israel came in a body to Samuel at Ramah
    5
    and said to him, “Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.”
    6
    Samuel was displeased when they asked for a king to judge them. He prayed to the LORD, however,
    7
    who said in answer: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.

    God then gave the children of Israel exactly what they wanted, because God is a Gentleman. Verses 11 through 18 go on to say:

    “The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot.
    12
    He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.
    13
    He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers.
    14
    He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials.
    15
    He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves.
    16
    He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work.
    17
    He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.
    18
    When this takes place, you will complain against the king whom you have chosen, but on that day the LORD will not answer you.”

    Father John Corapi summarizes this whole situation quite well in his essay, “Death Wish: The Impending Suicide of a Once Great Nation” which can be read at the following web link:

    http://www.fathercorapi.com/PDF/Death_Wish.pdf

    As for me, I shall vote for Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party:

    http://www.baldwin08.com/

    The platform of the Constitution Party is the one most closely aligned with Church teaching:

    http://www.constitutionparty.com/party_platform.php

    In Caritate Christi,

    Paul P.

  6. Dear leon,
    Praised be Jesus and Our Lady.
    I asked Judy Brown, founder of the American Life League three questions and she has answered them publicly.
    The Three questions are:-
    1) Are pro-abortion Catholic politicians in mortal sin? And are they excommunicated automatically?
    2) Are the Catholic priests and Eucharistic Ministers who give pro-abortion politicians the Eucharist, also in mortal sin?
    3) Is the Archbishop of Washington, Archbishop Donald Wuerl also in mortal sin?
    Judy Brown answered YES.
    She has said in e-mails to me that Catholic bishops and priests who give the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians are in mortal sin.
    Please let me know your answer to the three questions.
    In Christ
    Lionel

  7. Dear Lionel,

    I don’t think posing this sort of question to various Catholic leaders and mixing/matching the responses is all that helpful, especially when all the questions are somewhat leading and lack a certain precision. But I will try to take them at face value and briefly answer them for you, realizing that this is simply my opinion and that I’m not a canon lawyer.

    (1) The pro-abortion advocacy of some Catholic politicians is grave matter. Or, using the terminology of canon 915, they are engaged in what may be called “manifest grave sin.” However, I don’t think any of us are able to go a step further and declare that they are in a state of mortal sin, as that requires a judgment of the interior disposition of another. Even when it might appear on the outside to be an “open and shut” case of mortal sin, judgment is God’s, not mine. But most certainly we’re talking about gravely sinful conduct.

    Automatic excommunication under canon 1398 applies to “a person who procures a completed abortion.” I can see the argument that can be made here, but this provision has never to my knowledge been extended to those who advocate on behalf of liberalized abortion laws. It’s a penal provision and as such is very strictly interpreted. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a pro-life politician couldn’t or shouldn’t be excommunicated; it simply means that this automatic provision doesn’t apply. I think that was part of the motivation four years ago in bringing the charge of heresy against Sen. Kerry.

    (2) Not enough information is provided in the question. I suppose it’s possible, if Communion is administered out of defiance of one’s bishop or to make a “pro-choice” political statement or as a deliberate act of sacrilege. But anyway, your question doesn’t posit all the qualifications of canon 915, so there’s no duty to withhold Communion.

    (3) I have no way of knowing whether Archbishop Wuerl is in a state of mortal sin. I certainly pray he isn’t. The Archbishop of Washington, D.C., whoever it is, always comes under fire, especially during an election cycle. Would I like to see him take a harder line with some notorious politicians? Yes. Archbishop Wuerl is a bishop in union with the Holy Father who has been placed in a most challenging and delicate situation. I understand where pro-lifers are coming from in their criticism of Archbishop Wuerl on this issue, but I don’t think it’s accurate or particularly helpful to accuse him of “mortal sin” in his pastoral approach.

  8. DearLeon,
    Praised be Jesus and Our Lady.
    Thank you for your answer.
    In asking these questions I am trying to clarify the Catholic teaching. Your answers seem contrary to Veritatis Splendor
    1) Are pro-abortion Catholic politicians in mortal sin? And are they excommunicated automatically?
    Leon answers:
    (1) The pro-abortion advocacy of some Catholic politicians is grave matter. Or, using the terminology of canon 915, they are engaged in what may be called “manifest grave sin.” However, I don’t think any of us are able to go a step further and declare that they are in a state of mortal sin, as that requires a judgment of the interior disposition of another. Even when it might appear on the outside to be an “open and shut” case of mortal sin, judgment is God’s, not mine. But most certainly we’re talking about gravely sinful conduct…

    L.A:According to the Fundamental Option Theory (FOT) one could say like you Leon ‘I don’t think any of us are able to go a step further and declare that they are in a state of mortal sin, as that requires a judgement of the interior disposition of another’.

    Veritatis Splendor 55. According to the opinion of some theologians, the function of conscience had been reduced, at least at a certain period in the past, to a simple application of general moral norms to individual cases in the life of the person. But those norms, they continue, cannot be expected to foresee and to respect all the individual concrete acts of the person in all their uniqueness and particularity…

    Veritatis Splendor 68…With every freely committed mortal sin, he offends God as the giver of the law and as a result becomes guilty with regard to the entire law (cf. Jas 2:8-11); even if he perseveres in faith, he loses “sanctifying grace”, “charity” and “eternal happiness”.114 As the Council of Trent teaches, “the grace of justification once received is lost not only by apostasy, by which faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin”.

    Veritatis Splendor rejects the FOT. This is the liberal moral theology I was taught and rejected in 1999 at a Catholic Theological institute.

    70. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia reaffirmed the importance and permanent validity of the distinction between mortal and venial sins, in accordance with the Church’s tradition. And the 1983 Synod of Bishops, from which that Exhortation emerged, “not only reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the existence and nature of mortal and venial sins, but it also recalled that mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent”.

    Veritatis Splendor 56. In order to justify these positions, some authors have proposed a kind of double status of moral truth. Beyond the doctrinal and abstract level, one would have to acknowledge the priority of a certain more concrete existential consideration. The latter, by taking account of circumstances and the situation, could legitimately be the basis of certain exceptions to the general rule and thus permit one to do in practice and in good conscience what is qualified as intrinsically evil by the moral law…

    Leon, you have said that an action is grave matter (abortion) but no one can ever say that the person has done it willingly, freely and voluntarily.So it is not a mortal sin.The three conditions of the Catechism.
    This is the false moral theology of Fr.Haring and others.

    Is Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry in mortal sin? You have not replied but have provided general statements which are already there in an article on this subject on the CUF website. That report also contained the‘ yes and no’ approach as above.

    Veritatis Splendor 81. In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states: “Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).

    Leon writes
    (2)Not enough information is provided in the question. I suppose it’s possible, if Communion is administered out of defiance of one’s bishop or to make a “pro-choice” political statement or as a deliberate act of sacrilege. But anyway, your question doesn’t posit all the qualifications of canon 915, so there’s no duty to withhold Communion.

    Veritatis Splendor dealt with this particular error on the CUF blog. It says whatever a persons subjective motivation, a mortal sin is a mortal sin. This means whatever be ‘the interior disposition’ of Pelosi, Kennedy and Kerry, they are in mortal sin.
    The Eucharistic Minister who gave Ted Kennedy the Eucharist is saying that promotion of abortion is not a mortal sin, if it is, he cannot be sure, since he does not know Kennedy’s mind. This was the message to all the people seeing him give the Eucharist to Kennedy in the photograph of the Mass at Washington when the Pope was there.

    Leon writes :
    I have no way of knowing whether Archbishop Wuerl is in a state of mortal sin. I certainly pray he isn’t…I understand where pro-lifers are coming from in their criticism of Archbishop Wuerl on this issue, but I don’t think it’s accurate or particularly helpful to accuse him of “mortal sin” in his pastoral approach.

    Veritatis Splendor 56 ‘…On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called “pastoral” solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a “creative” hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept.
    Please clarify.
    In Christ
    Lionel Andrades

  9. From Sam Rodriguez of Ocala, Florida:

    I am very happy to see my bishop speaking out definitively about the stance of our church regarding this issue. I pray many Catholics in this diocese read his response and begin to re-examine their consciences through the filter of the church to make better decisions at the ballot box.

    This seems to be coming to a head as we get closer to the elections as we saw some spirited commentary on your post “Speaker out of line”. I believe we must be careful not to devour one another on this topic by placing blame on leaders in our church for what they are perceived to do or not do.

    First, we must pray for the politians that their hearts will be open to the will of God regarding this issue. We must also pray for our bishops and priest to discern God’s will in what is right practically when it comes to dealing with these people. Lastly,we must also take some responsibility for trying to correct our brothers and sisters in our church following the instructions of Jesus himself in Matt 18:15-17. Are we not our brothers keeper? Is it not a good thing to admonish the sinner? Is it not a good thing for us to bring someone back into full communion with our Lord? I would pray that members of the the parishes where these politicians go to mass would step up and speak with these folks face to face quietly and tell them what a scandal they are causing to Jesus, their church and fellow parishoners. If that does not work then a few of them together should confront the person. If that does not work then they(as a group) should take the problem to their bishop(preferably in a sit down meeting at least in several letters from many people). If that does not work they should try Rome. By that time there should be such a public outrage by Catholics pressure would mount on the politician to change their public position or refrain from scandalizing our Lord by receiving communion.

    Leon please post this on the the “Speaker out of line” post if at all possible.

  10. No church,,no clergyman can or dare to refuse Holy Communion to anyone! who in God’s name do they think they are. Jesus gave this gift of Eucharist to all,,if you folks prefer the power curve of a man OVER GOD and His Love,then i feel sorry for you. This clerical power that was used to replace God,,is what made the Holy Spirit to create the Reformation,, sounds like we need another one.

  11. John, the Code of Canon Law was revised in 1983 to incorporate the teachings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Church law, reflecting traditional Church teaching and practice, calls for the withholding of Communion in certain extreme cases. And those tend to be more public situations, such as the case of notoriously pro-abortion politicians. But nobody should receive Communion if they are conscious of having committed a mortal sin, as that’s an act of sacrilege (1 Cor. 11:27) that only makes things worse.

    As St. John Chrysostom wrote about 1,600 years ago:

    “I too raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called ‘communion,’ not even were we to touch the Lord’s body a thousand times over, but ‘condemnation,’ ‘torment,’ and ‘increase of punishment.’”

    Sometimes the love of God that you rightly extol must be exercised medicinally, as He disciplines us as His sons and daughters for our own spiritual welfare and happiness. See Hebrews 12:5-11 for a wonderful teaching on the subject, which concludes as follows:

    “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

    The goal in the case of Speaker Pelosi or whoever it may be who is estranged from the Church and can’t receive Communion is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” through conversion of heart, not permanent excommunication.

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