Card. Burke on the application of can. 915

Raymond Card. Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, is probably the expert on can. 915.

I picked this up from EWTN:

Cardinal says no communion for Irish politicians who support abortion

As the Irish parliament considers legalizing some abortions, Cardinal Raymond Burke says that local Catholic politicians who support the procedure should be refused Holy Communion in hopes of inspiring their conversion.

“There can be no question that the practice of abortion is among the gravest of manifest sins,”Cardinal Burke told the Irish newspaper Catholic Voice in an interview published Feb. 1.
Once “a Catholic politician has been admonished that he should not come forward to receive Holy Communion,” the cardinal added, “as long as he continues to support legislation which fosters abortion or other intrinsic evils, then he should be refused Holy Communion.”
The American cardinal heads the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest legal tribunal that rules on canon law.
Cardinal Burke said that the local bishop and parish priests [and parish priests] must ensure that Holy Communion is properly received to avoid “the grave sin of sacrilege” from those like Catholic politicians who receive Communion in spite of “grave moral evil.” The bishops and clergy must also prevent the “scandal” caused by this kind of reception because it “gives the impression that the Church’s teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is not firm.” [and not only abortion]


The cardinal said Catholic politicians have the duty to support all legislation that will “most reduce the evils which attack human life and the integrity of marriage.” [not only abortion]

Politicians cannot vote for any legislation which would confirm or advance “evil,” but a politician may support legislation to reduce such evils if he acknowledges these evils and the need for his voters to work to eliminate them.

Cardinal Burke stressed that the Catholic Church’s rules on the need to receive communion worthily are based on Christians’ relationship with Jesus Christ.

Someone who persists in “manifest grave sin” should not receive Holy Communion “because of his love of our Lord and his sorrow for the grave sin which he is committing against our Lord and His Holy Church.”

Recognizing this “grave offense” against God will “most inspire a conversion of heart” in Catholic politicians who support abortion, the cardinal said. He cited St. Paul’s admonition in the First Letter to the Corinthians that those who receive communion unworthily “eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”



Canon 915.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in 1983 CIC can. 915, Emanations from Penumbras, One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Bob B. says:

    Seems like this applies everywhere, doesn’t it? Can the politicians be admonished publicly so all (including other priests) know they should withhold communion from them? I may be mistaken, isn’t this a way to finally take Catholic politicians to task? There is no doubt that the bishops have not wanted to deal with this problem, so how about the USCCB (and the other national conferences) getting together and puttting out a list of these pseudo-Catholic politicians and putting them on their website? The list will surely be long…..

  2. acardnal says:

    Thank you ++Cdl. Burke.

    I pray the Holy Spirit will use you to influence AB Muller in the CDF and His Holiness to make this a universal norm.

    Pro-abort politicians are a scandal to the faith and influence the laity into believing that this immoral behavior is not gravely sinful.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    What about the Catholic politician in the neighboring parish who voted for the re-definition of marriage? There was more than one Catholic MP who voted against Church teaching on Tuesday.

  4. jhayes says:

    Here is what +Burke said in the interview. Essentially, he is encouraging Irish bishops to apply Canon 915. However, just as in the US, it is up to each bishop to decide if he will do this. As I understand it it, a ferendae sententiae interdict would not be imposed on a person until after a meeting with his or her bishop and admonition by the bishop. I am unclear as to what +Burke is suggesting a pastor ould do on his own. I think he could refuse Communion in his church but I haven’t understood that he could impose an interdict that would trigger Canon 915. Perhaps Dr. Peters could clarify his.

    Bishop Burke is quoted as saying:

    “With regard to Canon 915, it states that those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin should not be admitted to receive Holy Communion. There can be no question that the practice of abortion is among the gravest of manifest sins and therefore once a Catholic politician has been admonished that he should not come forward to receive Holy Communion, as long as he continues to support legislation which fosters abortion or other intrinsic evils, then he should be refused Holy Communion. In my own experience, when I have informed Catholic politicians who were supporting anti-life or anti-family legislation not to approach to receive Holy Communion, they have understood and have followed the discipline of the Church as it is set forth in Canon 915.

    Depending on the situation, the Diocesan Bishop may be involved directly in admonishing the politician, but it is also within the pastoral care of the parish priest to admonish anyone in his congregation who is persisting obstinately in manifest grave sin not to approach to receive Holy Communion. The local Bishop should teach clearly in the matter and also encourage his priests to make sure that the Church’s discipline is observed, in order to avoid the grave sin of sacrilege on the part of the Catholic politician who approaches to receive Holy Communion when he is persisting obstinately in grave moral evil, and to prevent the scandal which is caused when such individuals receive Holy Communion, because their reception of Holy Communion gives the impression that the Church’s teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is not firm.

  5. off2 says:

    Thank you Cardinal Burke! May this be the opening volley of a newly energized campaign.

    To any American Bishops ordinary who read this site – I am deeply scandalized by the myriad self declared Catholic politicians who regularly vote to promote sin and then publicly receive Communion. What is the message you, Excellencies, are sending me by your inaction?

  6. Ray says:

    Cardinal Burke should be lauded by all Catholics for his willingness to take on this issue. He was my Archbishop in St. Louis for quite a few years and never sought refuge in the desk well when a hard decision was necessary. Others can seek lay folks ideas on his pronouncement but it is not needed. He is the head of the Church’s organization that rules on Canon Law. We need to all pray that our bishops and priests will be given an extra dose of testosterone. This will help them stand up to the unrepentent politicians who refuse to obey our Church’s teachings. Hopefully, this will be addressed by the USCCB at their next gathering or before if possible.

  7. Two thoughts: 1. would a politician, for whom Holy Communion holds a great (or any) importance vote for the legalisation of abortion? In other words: would someone who votes for the legalisation of abortion care about Communion?

    2. Has any of the readers here ever seen anyone being refused Communion? A few months ago at the church I usually attend on Sundays I witnessed two young children being accepted into the Church. The sponsors were a couple in their twenties. The man spent the whole Mass with his hands in his pockets and chewing gum. He went to Communion – and was given Communion by the priest, who is rather traditional, celebrates in the Extraordinary Form on any possible occasion etc. Now chewing gum is not a grave sin, but it was pretty manifest in the first row and he definitely persisted at least during the Mass. Yet if he was given communion by a trad. priest, I just cannot see the scene of anyone being refused… I may be wrong: if anyone on this blog has ever seen a refusal, please do tell.

  8. raitchi2 says:

    I am a bit uneasy about this. What counts as “supporting legislation that fosters abortion”? I sign a bill that limits abortions from being performed at 8 months to 7 months and under does that make me subject to canon 915? What if I’m doing this because I don’t politically see the possibility of eliminating abortion through a single piece of legislation (brick by brick right)? In a similar light there are legitimate reasons a Catholic in good conscious could obtain a CIVIL divorce. Is it really the best allocation of resources to require them to go through a process not only ecclesiastical courts, but also civil courts?

  9. Supertradmum says:

    raitchi2, I think you misunderstand the reference to marriage. Divorce is necessary if one has had a civil marriage in most countries owing to custody of the children and property laws-although some separation agreements cover those. In the Catholic Church, an annulment is necessary if the marriage is to be dissolved by the Church. A sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved without an annulment, so a person who is separated or merely divorced civilly is still married. If that person stays single, they may go to Holy Communion, if there is no other obstacle. However, if that person remarries, they are living in a sinful, non-sacramental, non-recognized marriage according to Church teaching. An annulment means that one of the necessary criteria for the marriage to be sacramental was missing on the day of the marriage to allow it to be declared invalid.

    We, as Catholics, do not recognize divorce and remarriage, or valid marriage, civil divorce, and remarriage. That, sadly, separates one from the sacraments. If one applies for an annulment and it is refused, one must remain “single”, although separated or divorced, as one is still married in the eyes of the Church. One may receive the sacraments as long as one remains alone.

  10. Supertradmum says:

    CatholicCoffee, I have not seen anyone refused Communion except years ago when an Anglican minister (they are not priests) kept coming up for the sacrament in a chaplaincy situation and had to be repeatedly refused by the two Catholic priests. He was being difficult and repeatedly trying to make a point.

    I have seen lay people in the Catholic Church asked not to read or be EMs because they were in irregular marriages, which seems good and fair. On the positive side, I know of some Catholics in irregular marriages who have attended Mass for years and not gone to Communion, as they know they cannot, but continue to at least hear Mass. God bless them and bring them “home”.

  11. Ray says:

    The marriage part of this is the gender confusion marriages that are in the news daily. Federal and State governments wanting to validate same sex marriages. For us as Catholics this is inherently wrong. If a pol says it is okay and votes for it, they are wrong just as much as when they do it on abortion issues.

  12. Supertradmum says:

    CatholicCoffee, a friend of mine’s daughter was a Washington intern and went to Mass at the same church as Biden, told her mom, that he went up and received every time he was there. So the answer to your first question is yes, at least for the VP. Nancy Pelosi also regularly receives, as she herself noted. Sadly, at least one cardinal is not on the same page as Burke and the Vatican. Remember this article

    Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. has stated that he would not deny Holy Communion to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of the most notoriously pro-abortion “Catholic” politicians in the U.S., because he says historically “the Church just didn’t use Communion” as a “weapon.”

    In an interview published in a Politics Daily article today, Bishop Wuerl said he disagreed with refraining from giving communion to manifestly pro-abortion politicians, which was equated with “Communion wielded as a weapon.” “That’s the new way now to make your point,” said Wuerl.

    “We never – the Church just didn’t use Communion this way. It wasn’t a part of the way we do things, and it wasn’t a way we convinced Catholic politicians to appropriate the faith and live it and apply it; the challenge has always been to convince people.’’ On the other hand, sanctioning Catholics tends to alienate them, he said.

    Wuerl said he will make no effort to keep Speaker Pelosi from receiving Communion, saying first “there’s a question about whether this canon [915] was ever intended to be used’’ to correct Catholics in grave error.

    The weakness of the Church in America…

  13. mamajen says:


    Yes, I have seen someone refused communion. As a kid I belonged to a NO parish that nevertheless used the altar rail and communion was distributed on the tongue only. The priest was extremely strict. One day a visitor approached and wanted to receive in the hands, which the priest refused. It created quite a scene in our tiny church. The priest may have been aware of some other reason the man shouldn’t have received, but I and everyone else were left with the impression it was because he insisted on receiving in the hand. I doubt it was Can. 915 in action, or appropriate, but a refusal in any case.

    Canon 915 is not something to be invoked willy-nilly. Public refusal of communion is not a small thing. That said, I do think our bishops have been much too lax with certain public figures in the US.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    PS of course, Wuerl is a Cardinal now

  15. mamajen says:

    Also @CatholicCoffee,

    The example you cited is certainly NOT grounds for Can. 915, and I don’t think the priest could have refused him. Maybe it was nicotine gum, which might fall under the category of medication. You just never know.

  16. Ray says:

    Part of the problem is the effete hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America. Many of them have too much estrogen flowing in their bloodstream and that is why in an earlier post , I asked for testosterone prayers.

  17. raitchi2 says:

    @supertradmum: I know the Church’s rules on marriage. I will still hold the position that in certain situations a Catholic can in good faith obtain a civil divorce. I’m not saying that they could then get remarried as if the civil law somehow changed the spiritual reality. For example, if I were in a valid marriage and my spouse were to become violent drug abuser, getting a civil divorce could be appropriate to protect myself and children from physical and even financial harm that the spouse could inflict on me and my children. I wouldn’t even need to have the Church involved at all to take this action. My spouse and I would still be married in the real spiritual sense, so neither of us could remarry and still be sinless, but in terms of legal and financial aspects of marraige we would be divorced. Obviously Christian charity would apply in this situation (I couldn’t very well allow my spouse to starve to death, but I certainly do not have to support a drug addiction). This is why I am uneasy about Cardinal Burke’s statement that canon 915 should be applied in cases of civil divorce laws, because there are situtations where civil divorce might be the appropriate action for valid marriages (that is to be divorced in the eyes of the law, but married in the eyes of God).

  18. albizzi says:

    “Wuerl said he will make no effort to keep Speaker Pelosi from receiving Communion, saying first “there’s a question about whether this canon [915] was ever intended to be used’’ to correct Catholics in grave error.”
    Before advising the parish priests to “admonish” those purported catholics who, like Mrs Pelosi, support abortion in order to welcome them in receiving communion, I think that Card. Burke would be better inspired in “admonishing” his colleague Card. Wuerl and the many likes of this distinguished prelate in applying the Canon [915] stricto sensu instead of questioning the exact intents of those who wrote it, with the cowardly afterthought to escape their duty.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    raitchi2, you can go to Holy Communion is you are divorced, not annulled and not remarried.
    I am sitting with a friend at dinner right now in this position. You can check several sites on this; EWTN is one. I do not understand your question. It is only the remarriage that prevents the reception of Holy Communion, not the civil divorce if one remains unmarried.

  20. wmeyer says:

    Supertradmum: a minor tweak: canonically, I understand that the civil divorce is not the impediment, but that adultrery (with or without civil remarriage) would be.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    I did not list all the other impediments, but of course, that is an obvious one. I did mention remarriage in the longer post above.

  22. wmeyer says:

    Trust me to underscore the obvious. ;) Still, I have been through enough in the annulment process to value a very careful response. There were occasions when some things were assumed, and should not have been. In my own case, of course.

  23. Bob B. says:

    Speaking of Cardinal Wuerl, what happened to Father Marcel Guarnizo, the priest who denied communion to a lesbian in his archdiocese a year ago?

  24. Ray says:

    Good point, Bob B. That is the overabundance of estrogen I referred to earlier. Pray for TESTOSTERONE!!!!

  25. Ray says:

    Thanks for the site acardinal. Anyone who reads this and feels the Godly priest should have been reprimanded is beyond help. God Bless Father Guarnizo. What could motivate any Catholic official to castigate this type of action by the good Father!! God help us!!!!

  26. acardnal says:

    God bless Fr. Guarnizo. I knew him personally when I lived in metro D.C.

  27. gracie says:

    Perhaps Cardinal Burke should be invited to be a guest speaker at the next USCCB Conference where he could repeat his message.

  28. Arkanabar says:

    It is to be hoped that we will see more bishops (and parish priests!) admonishing sinful politicians publicly supporting grave evils among their congregations. Recall, please, that admonition is the crucial first step, and that it remains up to the local ordinary and priest (as it should). As for Cdl. Wuerl, let us pray that he comes to realize how dangerous it is to receive the Eucharist unworthily, and so recognize that Can. 915 is pastoral in nature, not a weapon of punishment.

  29. APX says:


    I have seen someone refused communion at the communion rail during daily Mass, and I wish I hadn’t. I have no idea why the young woman was refused communion, and it was none of my business. Unfortunately, it became a distraction for me for quite awhile. I had to keep constant custody over my thoughts trying to think of possible reasons why she would have been refused.

  30. jhayes says:

    acardnal wrote:

    “Latest on Fr. Guarnizo:

    Dr. Peters wrote a responsse to that article. It begins:

    “Fr. Marcel Guarnizo’s statement evidences misunderstandings of several aspects of Catholic law on the administration of holy Communion and confirms my sense that Guarnizo erred in withholding holy Communion in this case. Regarding those errors, I believe that he, and those inclined to support or even imitate him, need correction.”

    Read the rest:

  31. Ray says:

    Mr. Peters can advise the head of the archdiocese of Detroit. Cardinal Burke is someone we should all as Catholics follow. As Roman Catholics we need to take all our guidance from Rome and the leaders of the diocese in which we reside.

  32. Jean Marie says:

    Raymond Burke will be our next Pope. You heard it here first! Seriously, I think he would be wonderful. It would be a huge shot in the arm for the American faithful. Perhaps by that time persecution of the Church in America will be in full swing. I believe when Michael Voris had visited Australia, I think it was last year, in one of his talks he said that in one of history’s great ironies protestant America may be the scene of the great showdown between the Catholic Church and the diabolical. It struck me as truly prophetic. We already know WHO is playing the part of the diabolical. Who will champion our side?

  33. jhayes says:

    Mamajen wrote ” One day a visitor approached and wanted to receive in the hands, which the priest refused.”

    The only legitimate reason I can think of is that the priest thought that the stranger was going to profane the host. Redemptionis Sacramentum makes clear that someone who wishes to receive in the hand (in a country like the US, where it is authorized) must be given it unless here is risk of profanation.

    “[92.] Although each of the faithful always has the right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, at his choice,[178] if any communicant should wish to receive the Sacrament in the hand, in areas where the Bishops’ Conference with the recognitio of the Apostolic See has given permission, the sacred host is to be administered to him or her. However, special care should be taken to ensure that the host is consumed by the communicant in the presence of the minister, so that no one goes away carrying the Eucharistic species in his hand. If there is a risk of profanation, then Holy Communion should not be given in the hand to the faithful.[179]”

  34. wmeyer says:

    For my part, I think we may all benefit from reviewing our own failings, and being more prepared to give charity before judgment.

  35. robtbrown says:

    Jean Marie says:

    Raymond Burke will be our next Pope. You heard it here first! Seriously, I think he would be wonderful.

    Perhaps Fr Z’s buddy, Card Ouellet. Or Card Scola.

  36. robtbrown says:

    Or Card Bagnasco.

  37. acardnal says:

    Unclean hands is one reason for not presenting the host. Another is holding a baby and putting forth only one hand. Both examples risk profanation.

  38. acardnal says:

    jhayes, I am sure you must be aware that Dr. Peter’s opinion is subject to dispute and is not definitive. Even Fr. Z has disagreements with Dr. Peters. For every lawyer – civil, criminal or canonical – there is an opinion. On the other hand, I certainly give more weight to Cardinal Burke’s opinion.

  39. Medjugorje Man 07 says:

    I like it

  40. eulogos says:

    Fr. Guarnizo has my support. In the particular circumstances he relates, it was clear that the woman involved was not under any misapprehension about the church’s teaching and that “counseling” was not what was required; she made her announcement and then presented for communion in order to challenge that teaching, otherwise she would just not have said anything. He did exactly what he ought to have done.
    Susan Peterson

  41. trespinos says:


    Or Card Cipriani Thorne?

  42. jhayes says:

    acardnal wrote: “jhayes, I am sure you must be aware that Dr. Peter’s opinion is subject to dispute and is not definitive. Even Fr. Z has disagreements with Dr. Peters. For every lawyer – civil, criminal or canonical – there is an opinion. On the other hand, I certainly give more weight to Cardinal Burke’s opinion.”

    acardnal, I don’t have any reason to think that Cardinal Burke’s and Dr. Peters’ opinions are different.

    Despite the somewhat misleading headline, I think all Cardinal Burke is doing is urging the Irish Bishops to implement Canon 915 with respect to politicians who support the proposed abortion legislation. He has been urging U.S. bishops to do the same.

    There is a several step procedure that a bishop has to to through before refusing Communion to any Catholic. This article from he USCCB news service (CNS) describes the process between Bishop Nauman and Secretary Sebelius. Notice that the bishop met with her to discuss his concerns and, when they couldn’t be resolved, asked her to voluntarily refrain from receiving Communion.

    “The column comes after the archbishop said he learned that Sebelius recently received Communion in a Kansas parish. He said he had previously met with Sebelius and discussed his concerns about her position on abortion and her vetoes of legislation to limit abortion in the state.

    Archbishop Naumann told Catholic News Service May 12 that he sent a letter in August to the governor requesting that she refrain from receiving Communion because of her actions in support of abortion. He also said after discussing the issue with his fellow Kansas bishops he sent Sebelius a second letter asking that she respect his earlier request.

    While the archbishop said he has the option of asking priests and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion not to give Communion to Sebelius, he said he is not ready to take that stand.

    “That’s certainly an option that’s available,” he said. “I’ll have to evaluate it at that point. I’m hopeful she will be respectful of my request and not put the Communion ministers in an awkward position.”

    I incorrectly mentioned an interdict in my first post. The CNS article describes the correct procedure – which does not involve an interdict.

  43. Jerry says:

    re: Supertradmum – “you can go to Holy Communion is you are divorced, not annulled and not remarried”

    It would be interesting to get the opinion of a canonist as to whether this is universally true for the spouse initiating a separation or divorce without ecclesiastical approval, giving consideration to canons 1152 and 1153.

  44. robtbrown says:

    respinos says:
    Or Card Cipriani Thorne?

    I doubt that. He’s a good man, but it’s usually someone from the Curia or from an Italian archdiocese.

  45. Ambrose Jnr says:

    Following Pope Benedict’s resignation, Jean Marie’s mentioning Card. Burke as the next pope seemed very timely….however, Card. Ouellet and Card. Scola have a much better chance, realistically…Card. Burke or Card. Ranjith would be magnificent though: the Holy Spirit can always create surprises!

  46. I am saddened that the Pope’s health is such that he must retire. It will raise some interesting issues and stories as well, no doubt. Ad multos annos! What use will now be made of the ‘prophecies of St. Malachy’? We need to start praying for his successor.

    On the issue of abortion-supporting Catholic politicians and others receiving communion I can understand the reluctance of some bishops on the matter of refusing communion. The true Catholics will not vote for abortion. Among those Catholics who do some will listen to the bishops and refrain from communion. There are others though who are on the margins. Publicly declaring that all who vote for abortion (or vote for pro-abortion politicians) will be refused communion opens one up to all sorts of misrepresentations and distortions. It might also push waverers over into the enemy camp! In justice the local bishop must approach each individual Catholic politician and inform them of the consequences of supporting abortion and urging them to rethink their position. When this proves fruitless one can move on to public statements. The problem is that there are bishops and priests who are not willing to do this.

    Pray for Ireland!

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  49. Scott_Alt says:

    Cardinal Raymond Burke for the next pope. Just saying.

  50. discipulus says:

    I agree with everyone. I pray that Cardinal Burke (or someone else outstanding in good faith) will be elected the next Pope.

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