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Illicit Reception

by Michael J. Gaynor 

Holy Communion Must Be Denied To Senator Kerry and Other Unrepentant, Nominally Catholic Pro-Abortion Politicians Until They Repent


On April 23, 2004, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, explained at a press conference in Rome that unrepentant pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians should be denied Communion.  Cardinal Arinze put it succinctly:  "If they should not receive, then they should not be given." 

But Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and many other priests in the United States have continued to give Communion to such persons.  Cardinal McCarrick said that he has “not gotten to the stage where I’m comfortable in denying the Eucharist.” 

Concerned that the priests of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States might actually follow the canon law that mandated them to prevent the sacrilegious receipt of Communion, 48 members of the House of Representatives who identify themselves as Catholic wrote to Cardinal McCarrick, ominously warning that refusing them Communion “would be counter-productive and would bring great harm to the Church.” 

Moral authority is derived from upholding principle, even when principle is unpopular or upholding it is costly.  It is diminished when principle is compromised, because it seems expedient to do so. 

The Catholic Church’s moral authority suffered greatly because the problem of sexual abuse of altar boys by priests was handled as secretly as possible for decades instead of acknowledged and dealt with openly.   

Will the Catholic Church’s moral authority suffer further because priests find it easier to give Communion to whomever asks for it rather than follow canon law and refuse persons “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin”? 

In 1971, John Kerry's Massachusetts Senate colleague and fellow nominal Catholic, Ted Kennedy, wrote, “Human life, even at its earliest stages, has a certain right which must be recognized—the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” 

Then Roe v. Wade was decided and political expediency prevailed over Catholic principle for many ambitious politicians who publicly support abortion as a legitimate choice that they personally would not make.  At the same time, they claim to be practicing Catholics and line up to receive Communion as though they are fit to receive.

Priests and bishops are obligated to uphold the tenets of their faith, to identify sin, and to rebuke sinners.  St. Augustine wrote: “Medicinal rebuke must be applied to all who sin, lest they should either themselves perish, or be the ruin of others…. Let no one, therefore, say that a man must not be rebuked when he deviates from the right way, or that his return and perseverance must only be asked from the Lord for him.”  (Emphasis added.)

Bishop William K. Weigand of Sacramento led the call on pro-choice Catholic politicians to refrain from taking Holy Communion. He stated:  “As your bishop, I have to say clearly that anyone—politician or otherwise—who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk, and is not in good standing with the Church. Such a person should have the integrity to acknowledge this and choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until he has a change of heart,” he said.

Last year, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, then Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, went further.  He publicly decreed that Catholic legislators in his diocese who “support procured abortion or euthanasia may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion” and are to be denied Holy Communion if they nevertheless present themselves “until…they publicly renounce their support of these most unjust practices.”  His prior private efforts to persuade had been rudely rebuffed.

Archbishop Burke emphasized that he did what a bishop is required to do.  He explained that “[t]he duty of Catholic legislators to respect human life is….God’s law,” and that  a bishop who “remain[s] silent while the faith, in one of its most fundamental tenets, is…openly disobeyed by those who present themselves as sincere adherents of the faith, [has] failed most seriously and should be removed from office.”

Pope John Paul II explained in his 1988 Apostolic Exhortation:

        “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and condition to all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”                                                                                                                                                       

For what has become a scandalously long time, the Roman Catholic Church has neglected to bar from Holy Communion many prominent nominal Catholics who publicly and proudly support abortion, in blatant violation of the fundamental Church teaching that human life is sacred and begins at conception.

John Kerry, a nominal Catholic, is the presumptive presidential candidate of the Democrat Party.  He is supporting partial-birth abortion, calling abortion a woman's right instead of a wrong and vowing to appoint only pro-abortion justices.   At the dinner hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, Kerry proclaimed, “We are not going to turn back the clock. There is no overturning of Roe v. Wade. There is no packing of courts with judges who will be hostile to choice.”  

Kerry has created a public scandal by receiving Holy Communion while flagrantly rejecting fundamental Church teaching.  Therefore, the sanctioning of Kerry and his kind is necessary.   Like racism, abortion is a grave sin. Its tolerance is intolerable.  Like covering up child abuse, tolerating the receipt of Holy Communion by pro-abortion politicians is an abomination.

In 1975, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) described the right to life as “among basic human rights.”  In 1998, the USCCB issued a pastoral letter chastising Catholic politicians for supporting abortion and euthanasia.  Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, its president, welcomed a Vatican doctrinal note denouncing Catholic politicians who support abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and human cloning.  Bishop Gregory explained that “Catholic politicians cannot subscribe to any notion which equates freedom or de­mocracy with a moral relativism that denies these moral principles.” 

In 2003, the Vatican decreed that Catholic politicians “who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life” and “[f]or them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them….”

On March 25, 2004, the Vatican issued a statement specifying that “anyone who is conscious of grave sin should not celebrate or receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession” when possible and that it is for “the Pastors prudently and firmly to correct such an abuse” when “Christ’s faithful approach the altar as a group indiscriminately.” 

Despite authoritative Vatican opposition to the receipt of Holy Communion by persons professing to be both Catholics in a state of grace and abortion supporters, ardent pro-abortion “Catholics” like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have said they “fully intend to receive communion, one way or another.”  Ms. Pelosi said that receiving Holy Communion is “very important” to her.  That makes good sense politically, since a Catholic who presents herself or himself for Communion thereby represents that she or he is in a state of grace, and being in a state of grace (or at least appearing to be) is still a political plus. 

Will America’s Catholic bishops cooperate with secular opinion,  or will they cooperate with the Vatican, and chastise nominal Catholics such as Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy, and Mario Cuomo? 

The bishops should act without fear that the Church's tax exemption will be lost.  The First Amendment was adopted to protect freedom of religion.  Thomas Jefferson explained in his second inaugural address that “free exercise [of religion] is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general government.” 

Unfortunately, a mixed message is being sent, when complete clarity is needed.  For example, Archbishop O’Malley of Boston proclaimed that “[a] Catholic politician who holds a public, pro-choice position should not be receiving Communion and should refrain from doing so.”  But the Archbishop then abdicated his responsibility for protecting the Holy Eucharist by adopting a policy of leaving it “up to the individual” to decide whether or not to receive instead of denying Communion.  However, Pope John Paul II’s Holy Thursday 2003 encyclical stated:  “In cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly, and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, those who ‘obstinately persist in manifest grave sin’ are not to be admitted to Eucharist Communion.” 

The Roman Catholic Church’s Canon 915 specifies that “[t]hose… who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

Canon 915 protects the Holy Eucharist and prevents the public scandal that would result from ineligible persons receiving Holy Communion.

It is for those who dispense Holy Communion to follow the mandate of Canon 915.  Bishops who are reluctant to embarrass prominent politicians need to recall that Jesus had no patience for the moneychangers in the Temple.  Protecting the sanctity of the Temple was His paramount consideration then.  The protection of the Holy Eucharist must be the bishops’ paramount consideration today.

Averting public scandal is vital.  St. Thomas Aquinas explained that a distinction “must be made” between secret and open sinners, and “Holy Communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it,” because “[h]oly things are forbidden to be given to…notorious sinners….”

A priest who knowingly gives Communion to a pro-abortion politician commits the grave sin of sacrilege, as does the unfit recipient.  Neither political correctness nor political expediency excuses sin. 

"Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things, or places consecrated to God.  Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us."  Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 2120. 

St. Paul was unambiguous: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup."  1 Corinthians 11:27-28. 

"Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in a state of grace.  Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance."  Catechism 1415. (Emphasis added.) 

"The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church." Catechism 1395 (Emphasis added.) 

Holy Communion was not intended to provide a photo opportunity. 

 The case of Louisiana racist Leander Perez illustrates why Communion must be denied to those who are publicly rejecting fundamental church teaching.  In 1962, an exasperated Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans finally excommunicated Leander Perez for opposing desegregation in Catholic schools.  Perez eventually repented (as did others of his ilk), and the school integration succeeded.

As a state judge and political boss of Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, Perez made the lives of African-Americans miserable.  But Perez could not intimidate Archbishop Rummel, who not only knew that racial segregation was sinful, but that it needed to be ended.  The Archbishop noted that "enforced racial discrimination inflicts incalculable mental and emotional cruelty and pain, physical and social privations, educational and economic restrictions upon 16 millions of our fellow citizens, and that these discriminations are unjustifiable violations of the Christian way of life and the principles of our American heritage."

In 1953, the Archbishop's pastoral letter, “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” was read aloud in the archdiocese’s churches. It declared  "the unacceptability of racial discrimination."  Perez and his allies were unmoved. The Archbishop threatened in 1956 to excommunicate them, but they held protest rallies and withheld church contributions instead of repenting.

Interestingly, segregationist Catholics formed the Association of Catholic Laymen of New Orleans and it "asked the Pope (Pius XII) to stop Rummel from taking further steps to integrate white and Negro Catholics and to decree that racial segregation is not 'morally wrong and sinful'" ("Morals" 36). The Vatican's response was a reminder that that "the Pope had condemned racism as a major evil, asserting 'that those who enter the Church... have rights as children in the House of the Lord.'"

In 1962, the Archbishop at last acted decisively.  He announced that in the fall, the city’s Catholic schools would admit black students. Perez and his allies persisted in their opposition, so the archbishop excommunicated them for continuing "to hinder his orders or provoke the devoted people of this venerable archdiocese to disobedience or rebellion in the matter of opening our schools to all Catholic children." They were barred from the Mass and sacraments as well as Catholic burial.

By the fall, 104 black children were admitted to the city’s Catholic schools. By 1968, Perez repented and, after his death in 1969, was given a Catholic burial.

The barring of John Kerry and other pro-abortion nominally Catholic politicians has been too long delayed.  The sooner the ban is imposed, the better.  Perhaps they too will repent before death and receive a Catholic burial.  Jesus did not pander to politicians, much less put monetary considerations (such as tax exemption) before principle. America's Catholic bishops should follow His example.

Michael J. Gaynor can be reached at