Online petition that Communion be withheld from pro-abortion pols.

The excellent canon law blog of Edward Peters, In the Light of the Law, there is an interesting post about a … well… read it.

Be sure to go to the site and look at comments and the rest. Spike those stats as only you WDTPRSers can!

The Pewsitter Petition on Canon 915

Pewsitter.com has published an on-line petition by which Catholics may call upon bishops to withhold holy Communion from Catholic political figures who gravely disregard Church teaching on certain fundamental life issues. The petition invokes canon law in support of some of its propositions. I know nothing about the organization behind the petition, but I feel confident in commenting on its canonical aspects.

The petition seems to me to qualify under 1983 CIC 212.3 as one way of helping the faithful to express "to sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful." I do not think the petition pretends to an expertise it cannot claim, nor does it seem to be violative of basic norms on faith, morals, and reverence toward pastors, etc. It does not impugn the fidelity of those who choose not to sign.

The petition calls for withholding of holy Communion under Canon 915 and in this regard it avoids the highly contentious, and I think erroneous, claim that certain politicians should be subject to excommunication for their actions. Moreover, the petition avoids identifying specific politicians for action under Canon 915, even though a strong case can be made for such action in the case of, say, Nancy Pelosi. Each politician’s situation, as I have said, needs to be examined individually by competent experts; this is by no means an impossible task, but it is not one best conducted in the blogosphere.

The petition highlights the scandal [this is a key] being created under the continued reception of holy Communion by those Catholic politicians who routinely ignore Church teaching on the sacredness of innocent human life; in this respect, the petition seems securely grounded in the arguments of Abp. Raymond Burke whose landmark article on Canon 915 makes correction of scandal a centerpiece of his position.

I would not have offered, however, in the petition any speculation on whether certain politicians need to be ‘reconciled with the Church’, for such language sounds more in the internal forum than the external. Given, however, that the rest of the petition has in view only observable political behavior and demonstrable Church teaching, and calls for action only in regard to one’s external conduct, I am inclined to think that petition language about ‘reconciliation’ is the result of the authors’ unfamiliarity with the nuances of certain phrases used by professionals, and that they intended no judgment of the state of the souls of Catholic politicians. In short, such language, to the degree a bishop might think it approaches an assertion about the internal forum, can and will be simply disregarded.

In the same vein, the petition’s use of the word ‘discipline’, while it is canonically correct, is liable to confusion in the public mind, and I would have avoided it. Canon 915 is a sacramental disciplinary norm (unlike, say, Canon 1331 on excommunication, which is a penal norm) but, to describe a bishop’s action under Canon 915 as a way to ‘discipline’ recalcitrant Catholic politicians seems to imply that some punishment is being inflicted on them. It is not, but it’s a distinction one would not expect lay readers to make. Thus, while the word ‘discipline’ is defendable here, I would have phrased it differently to avoid public confusion on the nature of the action being petitioned.

Interesting!

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13 Responses to Online petition that Communion be withheld from pro-abortion pols.

  1. Luigi says:

    Would I like to see Catholic pro-abotion politicians turned away from Holy Communion for their own good and the good of the Church? Absolutely.

    Am I inclined to sign or even encourage online petitions to that effect? No.

    The presence of scandal is self-evident. Bishops who are disinclined to refuse Communion to these politicians aren’t likely to consider a petition the just cause they couldn’t previously see. In fact, it could create exactly the opposite effect that it seeks.

    No bishop is going to want to appear to be influenced by a petition. God forbid one of them is about to make the call to refuse Communion only to have this petition arrive on his doorstep before his decision is made known. Will he think twice about the timing and the appearance of being a puppet to a petition?

  2. Coletta says:

    I did sign this a few days ago and I am glad. But after submitting it I read the line that the Bishops will get a copy of our names too. Well, I hope that goes down ok with my boss/my Pastor. :)

  3. Rancher says:

    I generally don’t think a petition to our Bishops is a good idea. However, on this subject of great importance I decided to sign it. The Bishops SHOULD have taken strong action against certain well-known politicans a long time ago and with rare exception they have not. The result has been great scandal and a substantial amount of ridicule from the secular press. Perhaps the greatest harm has been to fence sitter Catholics who have used the Bishops’ inaction to justify their own positions similar to those of the errant politicians. If it takes a petition to get the Bishops to do what they should have done months ago so be it.

  4. Ed Peters says:

    Thanks for the links, Pater. Speaking of Canon 915, I just came across, as it happens, a post over at America magazine that, I felt, really needed a reply, even if a brief one. It has been added to my post, as above, but I include here for wdtprs’ convenience:

    I just came across Michael Sean Winters’ post on Canon 915 over at the America magazine group blog. Winter’s qualifications to opine on matters canonical were not immediately evident to me, but he assures readers that applying Canon 915 in the response to the scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians would be “a radical innovation that should be resisted”, that it “requires applying the canons in ways that are novel and dubious” and that canon law “should be applied with gentleness not vengeance” (you know, as if everyone agrees on what those terms actually mean in the concrete order), and so on.

    Winters bravely confronts the evil unnamed blogger who, in a series of obvious misstatements, paints a picture of Canon 915 run amok. This device allows Winters to assume the mantle of moderation and warn us against those dangerous “cranks” who would substitute a blogger’s opinion for that of pastor. Nice way to dispatch opposing views, that, present an obvious caricature, then tsk-tsk it away.

    Ironically, it does not seem to occur to Winters that he quite willing to substitute his opinion on how canon 915 should be applied for that of actual pastors like Abp. Raymond Burke (a prelate whose credentials in canon law dwarf mine and, I’m guessing, Winters’). Burke offers a powerful, and I suggest compelling, case for the application of Canon 915 in the face of the metastasizing scandal of the prominent pro-abortion Catholic politician. Has Winters has read it?

    In any case, I echo Winters’ concern about “judgmentalism” being “profoundly uncharitable”. Such concern should, I think, forbid labeling those who call for the correct application of Canon 915 as “cranks”. Or is “judgmentalism” a temptation to only one side of this debate?

  5. PaulJason says:

    Fr. Z or Dr. Peters,

    Are we as faithful lay Catholics meant to instruct our Bishops on this matter?

    Is that what this petition meant to do?

    Please do not misunderstand me. These are both serious question from someone who is torn about signing such a petition.

  6. Patronus says:

    I think a petition of this nature is wrongheaded, for the reasons expouned above.

  7. RBrown says:

    I will preface my remarks by saying that I am strongly opposed to giving Communion to pro abort politicians–and that I am a theologian not a canonist.

    Having said that, I am not at all sure that c. 1398 can be applied to all politicians ( Qui abortum procurat, effectu secuto, in excommunicationem latae sententiae incurrit.). The use of the word procurat definitely includes all formal cooperation. Although there are obviously politicians whose pro abort vote would definitely be formal cooperation, I don’t think we can presume it all of them.

    IMHO, a good many are probably engaging in voluntary mediate material cooperation: “Yes, I lent him the gun. Yes, I knew that he wanted to kill his wife, but that doesn’t mean I wanted him to do it.”

    I think that canon 1398 should be changed so that it clearly includes voluntary material cooperation.

  8. Johnny Domer says:

    There’s one question about the whole act of refusing Communion to pro-choice politicians that bothers me…it’s just that, with the enormous expansion of publicly-accessible media in the last century, there are a lot more people who are able to be manifest public sinners. For example, Sean Hannity has frequently given scandal by saying he thinks contraception is an acceptable practice. He does it manifestly and publicly. Shouldn’t he be refused Communion? I mean, I feel as though, at a certain point, it’s incredibly difficult to police people to see if they should or shouldn’t be receiving Communion. And now we have blogs, whereby any and every Catholic has the potential to be manifest public heretics.

    I certainly endorse refusing implementing Canon 915 in regards to pro-choice politicians; I just wonder how far one can enforce it.

  9. Gregor says:

    People living in 2nd marriages without annulments are painfully aware of their lack of full communion with the Church. These politicians should be equally aware.

    Note: The text “The Pewsitter Petition on Canon 915″ needs the following link

    http://www.canonlaw.info/2009/02/pewsitter-petition-on-canon-915.html

  10. Matt says:

    Wait a second…I thought you all believed the church was not a democracy…was not something to be subjected to the opopular will of the people?

  11. RBrown says:

    There’s one question about the whole act of refusing Communion to pro-choice politicians that bothers me…it’s just that, with the enormous expansion of publicly-accessible media in the last century, there are a lot more people who are able to be manifest public sinners. For example, Sean Hannity has frequently given scandal by saying he thinks contraception is an acceptable practice. He does it manifestly and publicly. Shouldn’t he be refused Communion? I mean, I feel as though, at a certain point, it’s incredibly difficult to police people to see if they should or shouldn’t be receiving Communion. And now we have blogs, whereby any and every Catholic has the potential to be manifest public heretics.
    Comment by Johnny Dome

    Yes, I think Catholics who intentionally promote dissent from Church doctrine should be refused Communion for the sake of their own souls. In the case of public figures like Hannity or politicians, a priest should first approach him privately and explain the situation.

  12. nathan says:

    I don’t see the petition as instructing the bishops. I see as informing the bishops that are many who will support their decision to instruct catholic politicans who publically go against catholic teachings. I know several priest who are fearful of the congregation turning on them if they speak out to boldly. Our priests and bishops are human. We must support them with our prayers and encourage to preach and teach the orthodox Catholic faith.

    As my anti-spam word said, “pray 4 bishops.”

  13. I see the petition as a way to help en-courage our bishops. I signed for the same reason I sent Archbishop Chaput and others who stood up in the public square last year a note of appreciation and letting them know they’re in my prayers. The Archbishop actually replied and said thanks. I was surprised and touched.

    Our bishops need to know that we would back them up for taking a stand that would doubtless cause some bad press/feelings.

    Another way to look at is why *wouldn’t* a bishop do this? Probably because they’re concerned about negative backlash. If they know there are more supporters, it might help to allay such concerns.