Friday, March 27, 2009


from NCR:

Politicizing Communion harms interests of the church

Ambassador Thomas P. Melady

It was only a few decades ago that no one questioned a fellow Catholic’s decision either to receive or not to receive the Eucharist. This tradition has been slowly and regrettably compromised over the past 20 years. Holy Communion has become, in some circles, a political football.
The trend is unmistakable:

The vice president of the United States was told by the bishop of his native city that he should not present himself for Communion there. The full body of the U.S. bishops at its general meeting in November 2007 approved an election guide called “Faithful Citizenship” intended for all U.S. Catholics. However, the bishop of the vice president’s diocese said he did not regard it as “official.”

A former Republican official is circulating a petition among Catholics urging all bishops to bar Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, from receiving Communion in every diocese in the country, including Washington.

Most recently, disturbing statements have been made severely criticizing the archbishop of Washington and the bishop of Arlington, Va., because they refuse to politicize the Eucharist. A few individuals claiming to be “courageous and dedicated Catholics” have publicly criticized these two fine shepherds for allegedly violating their responsibilities to respect the sanctity of holy Communion. How disappointing it is when there is every appearance that the motives of those criticizing these bishops are political.

I’ve had some personal experience with those who question the motives instead of the ideas of their political opponents.

In the early stages of the 2008 presidential election, a few of us noticed the bitter tones being used by some Catholics to describe several prominent candidates. They were openly referred to as “baby killers.” A friend and I coauthored a statement on civility, which called on both sides of the partisan aisles to be frank, candid and forceful in their analysis of the candidates, emphasizing, however, that a respectful tone ought to be used in presenting their findings in the public square.

The statement was warmly greeted by many, though my wife Margaret (who authored a book on Pope John Paul II) and I were publicly informed by one rabid partisan that we were “damned to hell” for advocating civility in the discussion of these issues.

I fear that the situation is getting out of control. Many had hoped that once the presidential elections took place, Republicans, especially Catholic Republicans, would practice engagement with the Obama administration and those on the other side of the political aisle — that we would present our ideas without the rabid emotionalism that serves only to question the integrity of our opponents. Our role, in the best traditions of a pluralistic democracy, would be that of the loyal opposition.

Pope Benedict XVI modeled this sort of behavior when he met in mid-February with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who favors abortion rights. The Holy Father spoke clearly and candidly in calling the Speaker’s attention to the responsibilities of Catholic public officials to support Catholic teachings on life. There was no mention of not being allowed to receive Communion.

Likewise, when Benedict visited the United States last year, a few partisan activists wanted the Holy Father to forbid a select few Catholic members of Congress who attended the papal Mass from receiving the Eucharist. That, of course, did not occur.

As a lifelong Republican, I am concerned by the actions of a few party activists who claim that the Republican Party is the only party appropriate for Catholics. Their method has been to involve a few Catholic prelates in criticizing Democratic candidates. This small group of lay Catholic Republicans is actively campaigning to pressure the bishops with petitions to ban certain high Democratic officials from receiving Communion. This is not their responsibility.
Bishops, like all citizens, have the right and duty to engage in public debate on all issues. But the activity of a very few is harming the influence of a majority of bishops who are seeking to engage the opposition in a civil manner. When these actions are combined with those of a few lay Catholics who use the church’s teachings to achieve political goals, it harms the long-term interests of the church.

I suggest that we carefully study and follow the official position of the U.S. Catholic bishops as pronounced in their November 2007 statement on “Faithful Citizenship.”
Further, I urge all American Catholics to look to the inspiration of Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father was very clear on the teachings of the church when it came to the life issues and to questions of marriage. He was, however, never uncivil or negative in describing individuals who were not following the teachings of Christ in these matters.

He set a high standard for civility and human decency. It is one we should all aim to emulate.

Dr. Thomas Patrick Melady is the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. He was also ambassador to Burundi and Uganda. The president emeritus of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., he also served in the administrations of three Republican presidents.


Anonymous said...

Let us not forget the law of the church. I have listed the cannon laws that pertain to the Eucharist. We have to remember, the law is the law. It is not our law it is GOD’s law. The cannon law is from the laws and rights of the Jews that Jesus (GOD) himself created.

I am not saying that you are wrong to feel the way you feel but let’s remember GOD is in control of the his church. We are the community in which GOD wants us to do what is right; even if we think that it may not be our way

I begin with Canon 213 which declares that "It is the right of the Christian faithful to receive assistance from sacred Pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially from the word of God and the sacraments."4 The grammatical use of the dative of the possessor construct (Ius est christifidelibus) emphasizes the high priority to be given to the exercise of this right. More specifically, Canon 912 states that "Any baptized person who is not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to Holy Communion.5 The canon is strongly preceptive (debet admitti), though qualified (qui iure non prohibetur).

Next, under Canon 18, the imposition of a penalty or the denial of the free exercise of a right is subject to strict, that is, narrow interpretation. This terse canon represents one of the oldest and finest aspects of canonical tradition. It places the burden of justifying any penalty or restriction of rights squarely on ecclesiastical authority. Finally, as additional protection against improper ecclesiastical coercion, Canon 221 § 1 states that "The Christian faithful are able, in accord with the norm of law, legitimately to defend and vindicate in a competent ecclesiastical forum the rights which they enjoy in the Church." Canon law, like every respectable legal system, seeks to offer an impartial forum with opportunities for rehearing.

Canon 1331 on the censure of excommunication prohibits participation in any of the sacraments or sacramentals as well as the exercise of ecclesiastical governance. In the present case, though, the bishop's prohibition extends only to receiving the Eucharist. In addition, his letter informed the politician that she could return to Holy Communion basically upon going to sacramental confession. This is certainly not the typical method for the remission of excommunication under Book VI, Part I, Title VI-The Cessation of Penalties, which usually directs a juridical resolution of a penal situation. In any case the bishop himself eliminated Canon 1331 as a defense for his action for, as noted above, he explicitly stated that the politician was not excommunicated.

Nor does the politician labor under the censure of an interdict according to Canon 1332. While an interdict does not affect matters of Church governance, the prohibition entailed again extends to all of the sacraments and sacramentals. As was the case with excommunication, the application of an interdict demands certain indispensable penal procedural formalities which the bishop made no claim to have followed. Moreover, because modern Church law no longer uses distinctions such as major and minor excommunications or (penal) anathema, the bishop cannot be relying on some sort of "quasi-interdict" to justify his action. I conclude, then, that the bishop's action cannot be defended by reference to the two canons found within the penal law of the Code.

The third canon that speaks of denial of the Eucharist is Canon 1722, located among the provisions governing the formal criminal process. By this canon, the bishop can indeed prohibit public participation in the Eucharist in order, among other things, to prevent scandal. But at least three factors force the conclusion that this canon, too, would not support the bishop's action. First, Canon 1722 operates only in service to the formal penal process and there is no indication that any penal process was invoked in this case. (Whether this lack of penal process was itself illegal remains, of course, to be answered.) Second, and more decisively, Canon 1722 explicitly demands the citation of the accused (as well as the promoter of justice) prior to its implementation. It appears that no formal contact with the politician, let alone any formal citation, took place prior to delivery of the bishop's letter. Third, Canon 1722 authorizes the denial only of public participation in the Eucharist,7 whereas the bishop's prohibition apparently extends to both public and private reception. Once again, one must conclude that the bishop's action could not be defended by appeal to the provisions of canonical penal procedure.

I would like to comment on the way you fell about the political parties in America. I feel that with FOCA that Obama (will sign) will answer many of my questions. I do not know about you, but I lost my (life) wife to abortion. I will no do that again. What he believes about abortion is what he believes, but I do not want the streets of America filled like the streets in Zimbabwe. This is the question that GOD will ask us. Why didn’t you help my children? That will be the question we have to answer.

GOD Bless,

Kurt said...

The Obama-haters in the Catholic have gone so far, they have become a total joke. There is no longer any reason to worry about them -- unless you are a conservative and then you need to worry about being associated with this freak show.

Katherine, do all you can to encourage them to speak out. They are doing our work for us.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that you shout about them so much that you must actually worry! You protest way too much about their ineffectiveness. If you were so confident about your ultimate victory over everything they stand for you should be able to let some of this go by without comment, Kurt.

Kurt said...

I do worry. I actual WANT there to be an effective pro-life movement that has success. With the current cast of crazies at the helm, there is little hope for that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Kurt. There can never be an effective pro-life movement with Obama as president. He is dead set against it.

Anonymous said...


So if you have given up, why don't you go away and stop bothering people?

Anonymous said...

Kurt, how would you construct your effective pro-life movement?

Would it include legislation protecting the unborn from conception to natural death?

Would it include appointing judges that can be identified as pro-life or at least recognizes the right of the unborn as a person?

Obama is against the above as his actions have demonstrated.

Anonymous said...

Kurt said...
"I do worry. I actual WANT there to be an effective pro-life movement that has success. With the current cast of crazies at the helm, there is little hope for that."

Kurt you are a lying sack of shit.

phlojd said...

Wow. Judging the heart of hearts, the very soul, and intent of someone. Can't you zealots leave that to God? It seems you are challenging God for power.

Anonymous said...

More and more Catholic bishops are speaking out against Obama's visit to ND -- and they aren't mincing words. I wonder if you will reprint any of those letters.

The best one is from the Bishop of St. Paul MN. Now he does comes out and says what most of us alreay know - Obama is anti-Catholic.

Katherine said...

see the latest blog entry