If a priest has sure and reliable knowledge that a person ought not receive Communion, is he not obliged to deny it? Tough call.
The great Canonical Defender, Dr. Ed Peters, might not have an open combox on his fine blog In The Light Of The Law, but he does have this interesting post about the denial of Holy Communion according to can. 915, vis a vis the story I posted the other day about the priest in the D.C. area who denied Communion to a woman at her mother’s funeral because he had been reliably informed that she was an active and unrepented lesbian.
With my emphases, take it away Dr. Peters:
A thought exercise occasioned by the lesbian/Communion controversy
March 1, 2012
Perhaps this thought exercise might help folks to think through the lesbian/Communion controversy better. Imagine we’re looking at the line of those approaching for holy Communion one Sunday morning at Mass.
I see ten men approaching. One of them is dressed in Neo-Nazi gear. Quick, which one (in my view) is ineligible for holy Communion per c. 915? Would pretty much everyone there know why I turned him away?
I see ten people approaching. It’s Gay Pride Week and two of them are wearing Rainbow Sashes. Quick, which two (in my view) are ineligible for holy Communion per c. 915? Would pretty much everyone there know why I turned them away?
I see ten people approaching. One of them is Nancy Pelosi. Quick, which one (in my view) is ineligible for holy Communion per c. 915? Would pretty much everyone there know why I turned her away (even if they disagreed with my decision)?
Okay, now, I see ten women approaching. One of them is a lesbian. Quick, which one (according to some) is ineligible for holy Communion per c. 915? And how would anyone there know why I turned her away?
See the problem? Everyone knows what Neo-Nazis, and Rainbow Sashers, and Nancy Pelosi look like, but what does a lesbian look like?
Canon 915 (unlike Canon 916!) is about public consequences for public behavior. But “public” must be taken here as understood by canon law, and not necessarily as assumed from casual parlance.
Some evil conduct is so open, protracted, and well-known in the community (whether locally or nationally) that consequences at Communion time should (in a well-ordered body ecclesiastic) come as no surprise to the faith community. But other conduct, even though it is gravely wrong (one element of Canon 915) is not so open, protracted, or well-known (another element of Canon 915) so as to allow the community in question to understand what is happening to the individual in question.
If Nancy Pelosi is turned away from Communion, no one is going to wonder whether it is because she is, say, carrying on a torrid affair against her husband; if Rainbow Sashers are turned away from Communion, no one is going to suspect that, I dunno, they’ve embezzled money from their employers; and if a Neo-Nazi is turned away from Communion, no one is really going to wonder why. But if a some normal-looking woman in line for holy Communion is tuned away from the Sacrament, even politely, how are people supposed to know why? Did she kill maybe someone? Is she a porno queen or a prostitute? Maybe she runs that abortion clinic. Is she cheating on her husband or taking bribes at work? What?
Unless a substantial majority of the community in question (I assuming them to be adults, reasonably aware of Catholic life around them, etc.) knows at the time why a given individual is being denied holy Communion , that’s a pretty good sign that Canon 915 has not been satisfied, and that Canon 912 (and some others norms) has been violated.
Now, sure, over time, and under certain circumstances, any of the behaviors described above can become so well-known in the community that those involved in such activities should be denied holy Communion, provided the other elements of c. 915—like, say, “obstinacy”— are also satisfied.
A few years ago, Bp. Ricken made exactly this kind of determination about, in fact, two Catholic lesbians who had repeatedly proclaimed their aberrant lifestyle in the local media. He contacted them and told them they were not permitted to approach for holy Communion. He acted entirely appropriately, in accord with canon law (and sound sacramental theology), and his action won support from neutral observers. But, notice, his conduct was a far cry from a quick decision regarding ALL elements of c. 915 (not just one or two of them) made a few minutes before Mass one day.
And the fallout from the two cases has been night-and-day different.
At this point I have a question.
First, since the case that provoked this was not a Sunday Mass, but rather a funeral, and since funerals are generally attended by a much more closely knit group of people, and since it is likely that many of the “community” in that church for that funeral probably (that’s an assumption, I know) knew about this woman’s proclivities, could that adequate for considering denial? Most of the people at that particular funeral would have understood why the priest denied the woman communion. Iffy, I know.
UPDATE 2055 GMT:
The Washington Post has an essay about this issue written by an official of the Archdiocese of Washington DC, Fr.. William Byrne is Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and pastor of St. Peter Church on Capitol Hill. This is about, of course, the denial of Communion to Ms. Johnson by a priest of that diocese.