Dr. Peters on can. 915 and “catholics” who cause scandal and yet receive Communion

The Canonical Defender, Ed Peters, has comments on can. 915, a very important canon which has in the opinion of many been little observed.

Go to Dr. Peters page for his bit about Robert Mugabe’s reception of Communion at the Mass of Beatification of John Paul II.  I will assume that you know about this and who Mugabe is and edit that part out.

My interpolation of images, my emphases and my comments.

Questions over Canon 915 are not going away

As long as Canon 915 is so widely misunderstood and virtually ignored, neuralgic controversies over the public reception of holy Communion by certain notorious figures are going to keep arising, over, and over, and over again. And not just in America.


Now, about those flawed explanations of Communion discipline.From Vatican Insider (English, 28 June 2011) we read: Cardinal Wilfried Napier tried to throw water over the firestorm of problems, explaining that “for any Christian, the reception of communion is a personal matter, consciously made in front of God. As such, it is a matter for the ‘internal forum’, in other words the space between God and the believer. No one, except Mugabe, and perhaps his confessor, can know if he was in a state of grace when he presented himself to receive communion in St. Peter’s Square. It is not up to us to ask Mugabe about his ‘internal forum’.  [A problem arises when the person is a public figure, well-known for some public activities which would exclude him or her from Holy Communion.  There is the matter of public scandal created when a person who are not publicly repented and tried to correct the damage she has done nevertheless receives Communion publicly.]

That’s mostly* true, but it’s also mostly beside the point. [* For example, no human being, not even a confessor, can ever know whether a sui compos adult is in the state of grace.]

Not all Communion-reception questions are answered by resort to Canon 916. Canon 915 is also relevant, and Canon 915 does not operate in the internal forum, rather, it operates in the external forum. One’s eligibility, or lack thereof, under Canon 915 to receive holy Communion does not depend on the state of one’s soul, it depends on whether one’s public actions manifest obstinate perseverance in grave sin[There it is.]

[Cdl. Napier] continued “Also, since Mugabe is not under interdict (as are some pro-choice politicians in the United States, at the discretion of local bishops) he can continue receiving communion. We should hope that his personal chaplain will provide him with adequate spiritual guidance”.

First, to my knowledge, no politician in the USA is under interdict, but if one were, it would not have been as a function of episcopal discretion, but as a function of objective canon law. Second, interdict (specifically, imposed or declared interdict) is not the only disqualifier for the reception of holy Communion under Canon 915, for excommunication or obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin also disqualifies one from reception of Communion.

As I have said many times before, none of the above relies on “canonical rocket science”, nor does it take special divining skills to see that, someday, the chronic discrepancies between canon law and pastoral practice regarding Communion reception are going to have to be reconciled. + + +

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  1. vox borealis says:

    Dr. Peters is rockin’ it, as always. It’s too bad that he has felt compelled to write so much good stuff lately on the likes of Mugabe and the younger Cuomo, et al. Such is the sad state of affairs.

  2. Mundabor says:

    I am astonished that there should be the discussion in the first place, seen that Cuomo manages to give great scandal both with his anti-Catholic political stance *and* with his own private life. What must he do next do be denied communion, convert to Islam?

    I know for certain that in Italy communion was refused to a man living more uxorio mere months ago.
    He was not governor of an important US State.
    He didn’t go around promoting abominations.
    He was “simply” living more uxorio with his concubine and *obviously* this excluded him from communion, therefore the priest refused to give communion to him.


  3. Panterina says:

    Ed Peters makes his point with lucidity, as always. I really enjoy reading him.

    Re: “First, to my knowledge, no politician in the USA is under interdict”
    OK, but then I ask: What does it take for someone to be excommunicated or interdicted, so that Can. 915 applies? For crying out loud, do they have to desecrate the Eucharist to get a Bishop to act? To me, the whole “denial of Holy Communion” is a secondary issue: The primary issue is the excommunication/interdiction.Some Catholic politicians are getting away with murder (literally, when they’re pro-abortion), without any canonical consequence.

    Even so, the ultimate goal should not be to deny Holy Communion, but to get the sinner to repent, and sometimes it takes some strong measures. Pope Gregory VII had to first excommunicate Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV before the latter was moved to repent and walk to Canossa. When done with charity, excommunication can be pastoral, too.

  4. JP Borberg says:

    Wrt the comment “no human being, not even a confessor, can ever know whether a sui compos adult is in the state of grace”, can’t an individual know whether or not they’re in the state of grace?

    I’ve had a priest tell me this before, but if you’ve just stepped out of the confessional having honestly recounted all the mortal sins you are aware of and received absolution then surely you can be confident you are in the state of grace.

  5. vox borealis: good thought. yes, a lot of time is indeed repairing messes, instead of building up new things. sigh.

    jpb: very tricky area, but i’d advise a bit caution about that conclusion. having a clear conscience, and being in the state of grace, are overlapping, but distinsguishable, concepts, so i did not bring it up in my post, nor need to, to make to the point i did.

  6. Stephen D says:

    About 50 years ago, my then local Parish Priest, went to the pulpit (you won’t remember those things) at the end of Mass to say that he had given Communion to a woman who had never made any attempt to bring her children up in the faith and that he had failed to recognise her at the moment of reception or he would have denied her the host. He said, nearly in tears, that sacrilege had occurred and that the woman involved should attend confession urgently and that she should not present herself at the altar rail again until she had repented of the sacrilege and undertaken to do all in her power to teach the faith to her children. I wish he were alive and a bishop. Give me that old time religion!

  7. HighMass says:

    Che Vergogna! Santo Giuseppe pergo per la nostra Chiesa

  8. Mundabor: I am astonished that there should be the discussion in the first place, seen that Cuomo manages to give great scandal both with his anti-Catholic political stance *and* with his own private life. What must he do next do be denied communion, convert to Islam?

    Unfortunately, I cannot say that I am astonished. There has been this mentality in the Church that we must govern by love and not by fear — forgetting that chastisements are acts of love.

  9. jfm says:

    I can see how getting same-sex married would be a sin for the 2 getting married — although chances are neither of them would consider themselves Roman Catholic and would already be estranged from the church with their active homosexual lifestyle, etc. (Therefore no communion.) Would being same-sex married be an additional sin above and beyond their active homosexuality?

    How sinful is it for a politician to vote for same-sex marriage? He is not getting same-sex married, not having same-sex relationships. He’s voting for a civil procedure. (Yes, a civil procedure that is a harbinger/symtpom of the downfall of civilization, like divorce, pornography, etc.) Can a Roman Catholic politician support laws about divorce? Can a Roman Catholic politician support free-speech laws which include obscenity, depictions of extra-marital sexuality, pornography, etc? Is same-sex marriage support worse than some of these others?

    Can a Roman Catholic politician ever vote to support something that the church considers a sin?

    How sinful is it for a Roman Catholic to vote for the reelection of a politician who supported same-sex marriage? Or any other sin (divorce laws, free speech which includes obscenities, abortion, availability of artificial contraception, research into artificial contraception, etc.)?

    I struggle so much with how much latitude I want my political leaders to have. I know many Americans do not agree with Roman Catholic positions – but should these positions be codified into civil law? Do I want my fellow citizens, who may not believe what I want, to have available to them options which the church considers sinful?

  10. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    A related question, what about a gay “married” couple who attend a Catholic parish and throw an elaborate bash after their adopted child receives first Holy Communion (with an ovation from the very liberal congregation)? Under canon law, would the scandal of the living situation in the home preclude the child’s communion, since it is not certain s/he is being brought up appropriately in the faith? Is it up to the pastor to decide whether the child is ready to receive communion?

  11. benedetta says:

    If a leader presents self publicly as a Catholic in communion then the faithful have a right to expect that leader to also translate the teachings of the Church faithfully and accurately, at the very least to prevent “scandal” or the engendering of harassment towards Catholics defamed as bigots over the course of political wrangling, and if one cannot prevent legislation which is harmful then to articulate the positive aspects of social teaching and help to guide that into policy. If politicians contribute to anti-Catholicism and hatred of Catholics, that certainly seems to be a step which places that person by own actions outside of the Church. Since all politicians and elected leaders govern in many areas one has to look at the policy and the quality of leadership. Regarding pornography, this seems controlled mostly through interpretation of federal law at the judicial level. Regarding abortion, it would be most predictable that even a liberal Catholic would make practical the wish expressed by senior leaders in the party that it be rare. When a Catholic politician acts to expand the number of abortions then that action distances from the communion of the Church. One cannot imagine a more destructive and vicious policy than to aid in destroying the next generation of one’s own people that politician has sworn to faithfully represent. The Church’s teaching is solid and good for all and should be articulated, developed. Politicians, leaders have a responsibility as Catholics to at least explain why he or she chooses to be a practicing Catholic and why the Church’s moral voice assists in the formation of policy especially with respect to human rights.

    Should Catholics be disqualified from all contribution in the public square on that basis alone?

    If one does not desire the good of one’s fellows and actively pursue after it I am not sure how Catholic or Christian one really is. The faith is not to be compartmentalized as a personal hobby. It could never be divorced from every single relationship even if one is a believer and one is not, regardless, faith permeates one’s life. Are we as Catholics supposed to say, in the public square, “I desire salvation, for myself only, and to heck with the rest of you, you can do whatever you want so long as you stay out of my way”. I suppose this would be the libertarian solution?

    But even if we think that is a fine approach, the grim fact is that we as Catholics no longer really have time or use for politicians who are willing to throw average Catholics under the bus. If it is all about brute power and who we send of our own to speak for our tribe, then we should select someone who will defend the needs and interests of Catholics to live our lives in peace and to be free to worship. A Catholic who goes to the capital claiming to be a Catholic but willing to sell out Catholics in favor of the secularist regime which does seem to propose an almost total dominance, then we might say the same to him, his salvation is of no moment, just leave us alone…

    If a Catholic politician is totally in favor of the secularist agenda starting first and foremost with more and more slaughter of children, then, he should keep his “Catholic life” totally private and not go around making statements “I am a Catholic” and not going around showing up for Mass and communion as a press opportunity. A secularist, first and foremost, when it comes to policy, with a Catholic hobby on the side, keeping it private and separate so as not to “impose” on others. It shows you really how much actual consideration of faith or sin is at work when it is the other way around, a Catholic for the compartment of media appearance with the policy and daily life informed by secularism all the way. With that formula conscience and being in a state of grace seems not to enter into it at all.

    It is true that it is commonplace for people to receive communion while not being in a state of grace. It is no secret that confession is de-emphasized as a useful spiritual gift in the life of faith. But increasingly people will expect that receiving communion means, something. It is not only the Catholics who expect Catholics to follow the quite basic guidelines of the Church, which are not just rules and regulations but are there to aid and help us along. I know the media won’t buy it (and there lies the trap for the politicians) but people of all faiths quite naturally expect Catholics to be Catholics and many are just as disappointed as we are when public persons seem by their actions to portray that it means little to nothing at all or only so much as what one personally feels like it should mean at that moment.

  12. smad0142 says:

    RE Latitude given to political leaders:

    The difference that needs to be made is between intrinsically evil acts and potentially evil acts. Gay marriage is always and everywhere wrong. On the other hand, a free speech law can be passed without anybody ever using such law as a defense for swearing like a sailor in public. The same goes for situations like divoce. There are plenty of people married legally but not sacramentally. Would the Church object to such divorces? There are many issues in the political arena that Catholics can disagree about in good conscience, but a few like abortion and gay marriage are non-negotiables.

  13. muckemdanno says:

    jfm has raised some very good questions above.

    Does a Catholic politician commit a sin by voting to legalize an act which is sinful?

    There are many intrinsically evil actions which are not forbidden by the law of the state. (Intoxication, contraception, divorce, fornication, blasphemy…the list could go on and on.) If a politician votes against outlawing such things, has he committed a sin? Certainly, there can be, and are, prudential reasons to avoid making at least some of these issues matters for the state to punish.

    As far as so-called “non-negotiables” – the entire Catholic faith is non-negotiable. It’s not all about abortion and “gay” marriage. Blasphemy is non-negotiable. Fornication is non-negotiable. Contraception is non-negotiable. Intoxication is non-negotiable. Divorce is non-negotiable.

    Do you all say that the state should outlaw all these things that the Catholic Church says are gravely immoral? Dignitatis Humanae teaches against this:

    This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

    Many people who believe in and practice the false religions (who have a right to do so, according to Vatican 2) don’t accept that these things are wrong, so how can the state forbid them, given what D.H. says?

  14. Re: First Communion rabbit hole

    Once a kid has achieved the age of reason (necessary for Communion in the Latin Rite), the kid is to a certain extent responsible for his own actions. Children of thieves, prostitutes, and dirty politicians are all allowed to present themselves for First Holy Communion, even if their parents are excommunicated, because they are not sockpuppets of their parents but individuals with their own human dignity. Children are not slaves; and the Church gave more dignity and individual choice to slaves than that.

    And yes, of course politicians can be excommunicated for voting for objectively evil, unjust laws. What the heck do you think kings got in trouble with the Church for, back in the old days? Sure, sometimes it was marrying and divorce troubles; but usually it was choosing to create a bad law on the grounds that it was realistic and secularly useful. (Never mind if it were tyranny and injustice.)

  15. albizzi says:

    In my opînion a priest (a bishop, a cardinal, a pope) who gives communion to a person whom he knows is without any doubt in a state of mortal sin places his own soul at great risk regarding his personal salvation.
    The communicant may be mistaken or ignorant that he must not receive the Eucharist while the priest isn’t, and in doing so he allows his brother to “eat or drink his own condemnation” thus partaking in the desecration of the Body of Christ

  16. benedetta says:

    muckemdanno, Well with respect to abortion (I use it as example but you are free to inquire into all of those which you raise with the same analysis) one could argue that in the very beginning when the Supreme Court legalized it that Catholic leaders never countenanced that Catholics would themselves employ abortion as contraception. So perhaps in a very short window of time, not knowing what is known today, before, one could give the benefit of the doubt as far as that initial action by a politician or Catholic leader, that they were only supporting something that, I guess this would have to be the criteria, an overwhelming number of nonbelievers mandated. Which isn’t reality but it could be stretched I guess to give someone an out if desired. But now for a Catholic politician to support it, yes, it is a very different picture. The same goes for pornography. The Supreme Court Justice’s quip back in the day about knowing it when one sees it could never ever dreamed that under cover of their legal framework, children could have access to violent or vile and soul-numbing and unhealthy stuff instantly for the asking. So, now the support of it by a Catholic politician given what we know, what is obvious, is a different story. It’s just a failure to be relevant and to keep up with the times. It is as if a certain group wants to relive their discovery of free love over and over again to the gross neglect of the realities that relatively innocent persons in their care are confronting.

    Here is the thing which should be addressed. Are our processes in our democracy healthy? Can a Catholic contribute at this point, at all? In this latest political achievement, a well financed, media empowered relatively small lobby had to engineer a last moment, middle of the night with some due process protections, suspended, and exert untold pressure on a few individuals to change their votes, with the bill signed forthwith not waiting for the participation of the people in a bill signing ceremony, and, most significantly in all of this, any attempt at reasonable discussion about it were immediately condemned, vocally, personally, with harshness, as bigots and shut out. So it was a well financed and empowered lobby that demonized the opposition through ad hominem attack. Could it be said under such circumstances as the passage of this legislation that the democratic process was engaged, at all? If people are afraid to even discuss by angry threats, that does not speak well for our process or for the supposed aims of tolerance, justice, equality for all.

    The fact is that the Church’s teachings on any of these issues that you raise have basis in reason. If reason cannot play a role in the process then the fears of many Catholics that with this legislation their children will now be attacked as bigots for professing the faith would be justified. If the secularism cannot be reasoned with, and it seems looking at the historical arc of all of the things you raise over a long period of time reason has not played a role in quite a long time, then what exactly is the point of politicians running a campaign promoting themselves as “Catholic” but not the sort of Catholic who is in solidarity with the people?

    With so much of what people now dismiss out of hand having bought into the anti-Catholic drumbeat, I for one no longer put any trust in what they suggest for “the good of all”, or regard them as leaders, as I feel that people who have just tacitly agreed in the Catholic world that something such as adoration is “medieval and a step back” or the rosary or just plain old regular practices and teachings no longer suit, without even trying it out in their own life as a way to go forward in faith, have committed themselves to being led themselves by quite a different spirit than the one that Catholics profess to follow by virtue of baptism. Secularism does seem to be a god of sorts and I for one try to resist worshipping that, in every moment it seems. But in conscious choices I am trusting in a different path altogether. But I am still a citizen and if the people for whom I am responsible for are going to be threatened or harmed for trying to live out their baptismal call, well. I will take whatever action is available in a democratic state which protects freedom of religion.

  17. Glen M says:

    Here’s another reason to do away with EMHCs. Can you imagine the scandal if a Republican EMHC denied Holy Communion to a pro-abortion Democrat politician in accordance with C215 and to avoid being an accessory to another’s mortal sin?

  18. Gail F says:

    I “liked” a similar post, by the OTHER Peters, on Facebook, not realizing (hey, I’m new to this) that it went up on my wall and everyone who cared could see it. I got two vehement and long comments — one from a relative, who said that religious opinions have no place in the public square and should be private only, and that Gov. Cuomo is a hero; and one from an old friend who said that “gay marriage won’t hurt my marriage — if two dudes want to get married, let ’em.” They BOTH thought that the Catholic Church’s response to Cuomo was wrong. The former thought that Cuomo was even more of a hero if “that’s the kind of pressure he was facing,” and the latter thought that the Catholic Church was coming “very close to extortion” if not actually extorting.

    I was not surprised by the first comments, but I was by the second. I think we are going to have to be prepared for this kind of thinking and have a good response to it.

  19. benedetta says:

    Gail F, Would someone tell that to the Dalai Lama, or to MLK Jr or to Gandhi, that because they adhere to religion and because their views are shaped by religion that they are disqualified from participation or expression of opinion at all? Throughout history there have been other regimes which convert great numbers to atheism and doubt even sometimes using the Church leaders as instrumentality (which is after all the big promise of secularism) all without awareness or acknowledgment. People are mistaken if they actually believe that the Church will cease to exist, even if driven underground. People who believe that Catholics actually practice their faith according to dissenting teachings without any intervention from the Holy Spirit toward the truth are totally mistaken.

    Just taking abortion as an historical example, it is clear that reason has played no discernible role in terms of what politicians carried out. It is only through grassroots organizing and through people unwilling to accept deception that the facts about what is happening is discovered. Again, to show how far we have come from the Supreme Court’s agonizing parsing through the viability at each trimester (according to medicine at that time which is now totally out of date) the media has barely registered the Gosnell situation in Philadelphia where the state was supposedly all about health for women and similarly the media doesn’t care whether or not PP is entirely willing to support, underage, undocumented sexual slavery.

    Families will instruct their children to attend the public schools, listen quietly to the indoctrination, and keep their mouths shut. It is commonplace today that if one speaks out for prolife, it seems even on some Catholic campuses, one gets penalized, and of course that translates into loss of future earnings which professors know full well. If that is not religious bigotry I do not know what is. But even among people who see heroics, have they chosen it, having listened with respect to all sides or has the media’s presentation been unquestioningly accepted.

  20. benedetta says:

    People like homeschoolers, Catholics who ask politely for reverent liturgy, orthodox Catholic colleges often receive the brunt of unbelievable hatred and disparagement from within the Church, because the means of controlling people are thereby removed. And this causes some to put on the appearance of agreement with those assumptions especially when their families are supported through some established Church structure. But can it be said they have made a free choice, in good conscience, to persecute other believers? It is not reasonable, not informed by spirit of faith with reason.

  21. Brad says:

    Gail F, that is amazing. Funny and scary at the same time that you are told you can’t (how readily the tyranny of leftism will ban things, acts, words, thoughts!) say such and such on your facebook page. Wow. What would they say/do if you literally said something in a public square? Drag you off to the snake pit?

    I live in a very liberal town. Sometimes I have moments of realization that if the 85% liberals surrounding me in, say, a karate class, knew my thoughts on topics, they would yell at me, get in my face, ask me to leave their sight, etc. Similarly, I wonder what people (liberal people I mean) think when I mention going to Mass, say when I run into someone at the grocery store. If they are not Catholic they probably have lots of problems with me, statue-worshiper, immediately. If they are Catholic, they probably assume I am also a “dissent is good” type who goes, lukewarm, only to ritualistically disbelieve all the doctrine -n- dogma I’m presented with during the hour. I can hear them saying to me, “You don’t actually BELIEVE in transubstantiation, do you? I mean, I know you and I both joined the line, but you’re as smart as am, RIGHT??? And by the way, weren’t Father’s remarks about women’s ordination being the new civil rights issue just so great???”

  22. tealady24 says:

    the chronic discrepancies between canon law and pastoral practice regarding Communion reception are going to have to be reconciled. + + +

    And just what day will this be. . . the day AFTER the second coming?

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