QUAERITUR: Wearing protest clothing and denial of Holy Communion.

From a reader… I came across this post, and I have some questions. I am not a Catholic, but I am a lawyer, and I wish to understand canon law.


1. You mentioned that “when you come up to Fr. Z for Communion wearing, I dunno, a “rainbow sash” on a day when a pro-homosexuality groups say they are going to churches wearing rainbow sashes, Fr. Z will deny you Communion. It is a manifest, public gesture during the public distribution of Communion.” I understand it is manifest, that is, public, but why is it “grave sin” to be publicly supportive of something the church does not support? [?!?] For example, if I was a baptised Catholic and was wearing a shirt advertising my employer of record, a divorce law firm, should I be denied communion?  [WHOA!  Think this through.]

2. Likewise, is being employed by organizations engaged in sin per se manifest grave sin ? For example, if I am a family court judge and I grant divorces, and continue to do so, is my sin thus manifest and grave? What if I am merely a clerk, or a secretary for that court?

Whew… make some distinctions!  Qui bene distinguit, bene docet.

First, remember that divorce is not objectively sinful, and it is certainly not sinful with the gravity that homosexual activity is sinful. Sad as they are, there are legitimate reasons for divorce.  The Code of Canon Law recognizes this.

NB: Catholics should know that divorce does not free one to enter into a subsequent marriage.  A civil divorce does not break a valid bond of marriage.  If you were married in church in the regular, proper way, according to the Church’s laws, and if you are civilly divorced, merely, you are not free to “marry” again.

Moving on, in general, one should not wear clothing “advertising” anything at Mass. You are not at Mass to advertise.  You are there – seeking to encounter mystery and preparing for your death- as a sinner and a baptized, adopted child of God the Father redeemed in the Blood of Christ and (I hope) a Temple of the Holy Spirit. You are not at Mass as a billboard for whatever – even good – organization that has duped you into promoting their message.  If you must wear some sort of advertisement (e.g., an employee work uniform hearing Holy Mass before a shift begins, or if you are in law enforcement, etc.) it should be little ostentation as possible.  If, however, you work as Donald Duck at Disneyland, leave your inflated head in the car.

On the other hand, if your outfit is clearly purposed to demonstrate opposition to the Church’s teaching – and that is exactly what the rainbow sash means today, now that the rainbow’s deeper theological meaning has been so demonically twisted – or if it clearly expresses support for grave intrinsic evil (e.g., advertising an abortion clinic, support for Planned Barrenhood, neo-Nazi symbols, euthanasia, imitation bacon, that sort of thing), then you should not be surprised when Father – quite properly – denies you access to Holy Communion.

If you are concerned that your current employment doesn’t square with your beliefs as a Catholic, set up an appointment with your friendly local parish priest and have a talk.

Perhaps it’s time for a career change.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Hard-Identity Catholicism, One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. bookworm says:

    “one should not wear clothing ‘advertising’ anything at Mass”

    That was one of my late mother’s pet peeves when I was a kid (1970s). She used to complain regularly about a relative of ours (then high school/college age) who frequently wore to Mass a jacket emblazoned with the name and location of a tavern and the logo of a popular brand of beer. Although I suppose there was nothing inherently sinful about patronizing such an establishment, she was a convert from Protestantism and felt that it made Catholics “look bad” to openly advertise drinking in church. She also didn’t like to see people wearing T-shirts or jackets with sports team logos on them or even with motorcycle-related insignia.

  2. Ellen says:

    I’m not fond of wearing clothing with slogans on it to church either, although I have been known to wear a shirt with my college logo on it to daily Mass.

    Protesting in church strikes me as extremely tacky, rude and and just plain impolite.

  3. Unwilling says:

    It’s nice — an outsider trying to understand more deeply than many of “us”.

    Fr Z says it all in re-focusing on: Why are you there at Mass, anyway?

    I once went to Confession from the neck down as Santa Claus.
    Logistics. All the activities on one day. Some people tittered.

  4. DaveH says:

    “First, remember that divorce is not objectively sinful, and it is certainly not sinful with the gravity that homosexual activity is sinful. Sad as they are, there are legitimate reasons for divorce. The Code of Canon Law recognizes this.”

    “Legitimate Reasons”, Father? There are no legitimate reasons – short of unrepentant and routine physical, psychological or moral abuse on spouse and/or children – for divorce. [Those sound like reasons.] Divorce is evil – and is recognized by the Church as such in CCC #2384 & 2385 – and serves no useful purpose other than fulfilling the selfish desires of one or both spouses. [Not in every case.] As far as I know, the Church gives no legitimate reasons other than a sub-text to CCC #2383 saying “If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.” What #2383 does state definitively is that “The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.” Though I probably should be intimately familiar with The Code of Canon Law as regards to marriage (I am in the 4th year of an unsolicited, unwanted and unnecessary divorce and annulment) I have read many of the Canons that concern marriage and do not recall any that legitimizes divorce (please correct me if I am wrong). There are many, however, that promote reconciliation and the good of the children – 1134,1136,1141,1151-1155 – and there are probably more that promote the healing of the existing marriages. It is this healing that is constantly and routinely ignored by Holy Mother Church and many of the Bishops, especially in the USA. When was the last time anyone read a report that touted the number of troubled marriages saved through diocesan intervention programs? It seems the focus has always been on the divorced and re-marrieds – “the service after the sale” of a civil divorce – as opposed to intervention programs to save troubled marriages and families – “the service before the sale” of civil divorce, which may then remain unnecessary. I know of the USCCB’s For Your Marriage website and the helps they list – but what of the Bishops and Tribunals? Do they even know of its existence? Do they even make a stab at trying to protect and save a SACRAMENTAL MARRIAGE, rather than trying to promote its destruction through a more or less easy annulment process? What is more important in God’s eyes – the good of the children or the good of the spouses?

    My apologies Father, if I appear to ramble…I do not mean to do so. [That’s what happens when people are a little out of their depth.] Divorce may not be objectively sinful within a very precise and defined window, [ERGO….!!!] but what is it then to the children of divorce when that window is laid wide open and they are sacrificed before the secular altar of a civil divorce court? “Irreconcilable differences” is just a catch-phrase for the selfishness of one or both spouses, who have given up their desire to sanctify each other’s Souls. What is divorce then? Is it still not objectively sinful even though it destroys the safety and security of a child’s home and future simply because Mom and Dad aren’t adult enough to reconcile their “irreconcilable differences” or Catholic enough to “live the lie” for the good of their children?

    I have watched with no legal recourse available to stop it because of No Fault Divorce, as my spouse decimated a family through her subjective application of established divorce methods that resulted in destroyed parent-child relationships, and fought every attempt of mine these past three years to heal those wounds. I have children in open violation of the 4th Commandment and basic Catholic Charity, and she has done nothing to prevent it. Nor has the Church done nothing to abet this travesty. They did in fact promote it all throughout her annulment proceedings and eventual re-marriage.

    Divorce is pure evil, Father, and is nothing more than a destroyer of marriages, families and Souls. And it is this that the Catholic Church “tolerates” and tacitly promotes. There can be be no “legitimate” reasons for divorce in the Catholic Church, short of danger to life or Souls. It is a detestable, cancerous, pus-oozing wound and deserves to be treated as such.

    [Now… breathe into a paper bag. I answered the questions.]

  5. Dr. Edward Peters says:


    1. Fr. Z’s approach re Communion and dress is correct. See my Advisory Opinion at the bottom of this page: http://www.canonlaw.info/canonlaw915.htm.

    2. The original question reflects what I see incessantly, namely, not the slightest effort to track down an answer on one’s own. These topics (e.g., working for divorce lawyers) have been handled repeatedly in the literature. Are people truly unaware of the most basic moral and catechetical guidebooks? I’ve lost count of the number of elementary Catholic life questions posted on the internet with an “ah-ha! gotcha!” tone as if no one had ever thought of them before. I suppose this is the price of the last generation’s failure to pass along our tradition. Anyway.

    3. DaveH needs to set aside his obvious grief over divorce and, instead of lashing out at Fr. Z (or at least his reasoned answer), understand what the Church ACTUALLY SAYS about divorce, and accept it. The Truth is true.

    Bottom line: If folks can’t post calmly, they really shouldn’t post at all.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  6. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    I have a question regarding the #2 inquiry in the statement above, employment. I know a town clerk in Massachusetts who is a prominent member of a Catholic parish. (She has been quoted in the newspaper on Catholic issues and identified as a parishioner.) She also regularly presides over same-sex marriage ceremonies in town hall as part of her official duties. This, too, is public knowledge, since it is reported in wedding announcements. What she does is far more active than being an attorney at a divorce firm or a family court judge. Should she be denied communion because she is fulfilling the requirements of her position?

  7. LarryW2LJ says:

    After reading your post, Fr. Z, then I must say that I am happy that I am not part and parcel in the manufacture of Bac-os. ;)

  8. VARoman says:

    I have a follow up question, to your very insightful post:

    What, as a lay faithful, should be my response if I witness my parish priest administering the Blessed Sacrament to someone wearing something like a rainbow sash?

    I’m sure it’s not my place to distrust Mass and call out Father, but it does throw the whole Mass into tumult.

    Maybe the good Dr. Peters can help?

  9. av8er says:

    “but why is it ”grave sin” to be publicly supportive of something the church does not support? [?!?]”

    Strange question from a lawyer. And imitation bacon is eveeeeiiil.

  10. baimac says:

    Fr. Z.

    You wrote, “First, remember that divorce is not objectively sinful, and it is certainly not sinful with the gravity that homosexual activity is sinful.”

    Killing is also not objectively sinful, though procuring an abortion is. Some killing is morally justified and some is grave sin. So too with divorce. I’ve observed that many make no distinction between those who destroy their marriages by abandonment and divorce and those who are victims of this injustice.

    There is a section of canon law regarding separation and divorce that has been disregarded. Canon 1151-1155, 1692. From Libreria Editrice Vaticana (Vatican Publishing House) one can read about application of canon 1692: “All the separations of the baptized spouses are to be decided either through the administrative process that culminates with the decree of the diocesan Bishop, or through the judicial process, which culminates with a constitutive sentence pronounced by the competent judicial body.” LINK

    From Universtiy of Navarra, one can read about the status of those who separate for immoral reasons (like selfishness, general unhappiness, falling out of love, boredom, ect.) Navarra commentary is recommended by the President of the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts: “The concept of malicious abandonment as a sufficient cause for separation is not expressly provided by current legislation. Its autonomous treatment and character regarding the other concepts of separation is the result of a work of jurisprudence and doctrine with the intent of specifically protecting compliance with every conjugal and family duty, and penalizing their omission.” LINK

    Bai Macfarlane http://www.MarysAdvocates.org

  11. Spot on, Fr Z.

    Imitation bacon…eww. I may have the awfulest imitation bacon story ev-uh. A relative (I won’t say who) was, for a time, really into TVP…anyone know what that is? Textured-Vegetable-Protien. Yuk. And yes, there existed (and this relative bought) TVP “bacon-bits”. The ultimate imitation-bacon-experience.

  12. frjim4321 says:

    Oh my, so much time and energy being expended around who to exclude from communion. [WHOM to exclude. And, as a pastor, you should be concerned about this.]

  13. frjim4321, and why not? [And down the rabbit hole we go….]

  14. pappy says:

    Oh my, so much time and energy being expended around who to exclude from communion

    I’d be extremely surprised if is anywhere near the amount of time and energy by those who protest the teaching of the Church. I would also add that if we had paid more attention to this a generation ago, the nation/world/people wouldn’t find itself so immersed in the tyranny of relativism now.

  15. Makemeaspark says:

    LarryW2LJ Exactly what I was thinking! Bac-O’s! Do they still exist?

    Thanks for a good hoot Fr. Z. when i read that bacon comment i about fell outta my chair laughing. Which is highly therapeutic at this point, as i just lost my job a couple days ago.


  16. Arele says:

    Imitation bacon – HAHAHA! Love it!

    That said, great post! I went back and read your original post on c. 915. Thanks for your clarity on that. And thanks for standing up for what’s right!

  17. mamajen says:

    DaveH says there are no legitimate reasons for divorce, then lists several. LOL

  18. Nathan says:

    There must be at least five or six doctoral dissertations waiting to be written on 1) the moral dimensions of and 2) the ontological implications of imitation bacon.

    In Christ,

  19. Pingback: Love for Latin Liturgy More than a Fashion - BigPulpit.com

  20. PA mom says:

    “strange question from a lawyer.”

    From having heard my brother describe what law school and exams were like, it seems like a self inflicted form of brain damage. I suppose the mentally strongest ones can create the appearance of the brain damage required by the professors in order to qualify for graduation, but I suspect that for far too many, the resulting damage is real.

  21. VexillaRegis says:

    What on Earth is imitation bacon?

  22. pseudomodo says:


    If I wear a “Say the Black, Do the Red” t-shirt to one of Fr. Charlie’s whack-a-doodle masses as a protest…..

    [That’s okay! Get EVERYONE to wear one.]

  23. Ben Kenobi says:

    Divorce is not necessarily something to which one has consented. The analogy would be the victim of sexual assault having to refrain from the distribution of communion. Tertullian himself answered this question firmly, many centuries ago. The one who is afflicted by the transgression of another isn’t responsible for the transgression of the other. Thus, there is a distinction that ought to be made from those who are divorced and those who choose to engage in sodomy.

  24. acricketchirps says:

    I’ve done that, pseudomodo, except to protest — instead of wearing a t-shirt — at Communion time I came slowly up in front of him, knelt down and stuck out my tongue at him. He didn’t know what to do!

  25. Nan says:

    For the non-Catholic reader asking the question, a good starting point would be the Catechism; it will provide you with information on Church teaching. If you’re a baptized Catholic but weren’t raised in your faith, it may benefit you to contact your local parish to learn your faith and receive your missing sacraments; your example of being a baptized Catholic and working for a Family Law firm, made me wonder if you’re a baptized Catholic but weren’t raised in a religious household and now want to learn your faith. If so, welcome. While it may not seem so, there are many in that position so you’re in good company if that’s the case; Fr Z shares a lot of good information that can help you but at some point, finding a parish where you can learn more will be a great benefit.

    Note that Canon Law is its own legal discipline, complete with degrees so asking one little question will only get you to the tip of the iceberg.

  26. Papabile says:

    In Blessed Pope John Paul II’s 2002 annual address to the Roman Rota:

    “On the other hand, professionals in the field of civil law should avoid being personally involved in anything that might imply a cooperation with divorce. For judges this may prove difficult, since the legal order does not recognize a conscientious objection to exempt them from giving sentence.

    For grave and proportionate motives they may therefore act in accord with the traditional principles of material cooperation. But they too must seek effective means to encourage marital unions, especially through a wisely handled work of reconciliation.

    Lawyers, as independent professionals, should always decline the use of their profession for an end that is contrary to justice, as is divorce. They can only cooperate in this kind of activity when, in the intention of the client, it is not directed to the break-up of the marriage, but to the securing of other legitimate effects that can only be obtained through such a judicial process in the established legal order (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2383). In this way, with their work of assisting and reconciling persons who are going through a marital crisis, lawyers truly serve the rights of the person and avoid becoming mere technicians at the service of any interest whatever.”

  27. Uxixu says:

    Isn’t willful denial of the Magisterium a mortal sin?

  28. Sorry, Fr Z. I knew frjim4321’s comment was a rabbit hole, I just wanted to call him on it. The trolling gets old real quick.

    Hm…perhaps imitation bacon is good troll-food.

  29. Admonishing David H for his emotional response or understanding of canon law and theology does NOT address his concern about the post. All too often – actually nearly all the time – the discussion on this topic does not deal with the observable and measurable gravity of marital abandonment and the devastation left in its wake. Divorce is not intrinsically evil, which is what I understand Fr. Z means by objective, but it is most often objectively evil. Divorce with marital abandonment is often murder in the heart, neglect of the children’s well being and a direct violation of the natural rights of the abandoned spouse and children.

    Back in September of ’13, Fr. Z addressed the concern of separation and the canon law related to it and of course we should respect the limited focus of this post. However, the ease with which we justify the idea of a divorce firm when little or no effort is made to build family law firms that seek reconciliation and buck the no-fault divorce system. There has been serious neglect within the Church since no-fault divorce hit.

    We should be careful how we compare the gravity of acts of sodomy to divorce as if acts of sodomy are clearly more grave, because they are a sin against nature, than the destruction of the family and violation of vows and natural rights that come with divorce and abandonment. Isn’t justice a higher virtue than chastity and wouldn’t the violation of justice then be more grave? Or, are differences in gravity incommensurable due to the very different nature of the acts?

  30. stephen c says:

    Many people are in a situation similar to David H, and they feel that they have been mistreated either by (a) a legal system itself or (b) by indifferent or unkind people who are misusing the prudential give and take present in any legal system (including, presumably, the system known as canon law) for selfish purposes. As a lawyer for the last 20 years, and particularly as someone who spent a large part of my previous adult life in another profession, I have the utmost sympathy for non-lawyers who are in a situation where they are not sure what is happening, from a legal point of view, but who sense (correctly or incorrectly) an injustice being carried out, with themselves (0r worse) loved ones suffering from that injustice, and I completely understand their desire to speak passionately on the subject (whether I agree with their general opinions or not). Of course, there is no way for someone without the actual details (which should not be set forth in public on the internet, that is for sure) to know how to respond either to David H’s personal situation, or even to that of a lawyer, like the one discussed in Father’s blog post, whose firm or court handles some (or, although one hopes not, almost all) forms of divorce. Anyway, David H, you and your loved ones are in my prayers.

  31. joeclark77 says:

    I can see where DaveH is coming from. My wife is going through RCIA and I have been attending, as her sponsor. During a recent lecture on the Church’s teachings about marriage and divorce, the deacon couldn’t seem to decide whether there was a distinction between a marriage being “valid” and being “sacramental” or “sacramentally valid”. He was practically advertising how easy it would be to “annul” my marriage if the slightest detail wasn’t kosher. If either spouse wasn’t Catholic at the time of the wedding, or if the wedding wasn’t held in church because you didn’t know it was required, or if you can state in hindsight that you weren’t “open to children” because you didn’t then know that contraception was forbidden, the Church seems happy to “annul” your marriage and endorse a divorce. At the same time, the deacon was saying the Church teaches that marriages between non-Catholics were considered “natural and good”. So which is it? Is there any space in which a marriage can be “non-sacramental” but still “valid”? It seems to me that my parish would happily “annul” the marriages of Joseph and Mary, Zachariah and Elizabeth, the couple from Cana, etc, on the grounds that their marriages didn’t count because they weren’t Catholic on their wedding days.

    I would like to hear the Church tell me that it would NOT like to see me abandoning my wife and shacking up with someone new. Instead I’m hearing that if I want to do that, “we’ll find an way” to make it happen. No doubt that’s what DaveH’s parish office told his wife when she asked.

  32. Justalurkingfool says:

    Not enough is done, on the part of the Catholic Church, to foster reconciliation among wonded spouses. This is a tragic reality that abandoned spouses face every single day of their lives and that their children see, each of those same days, as they watch their other parent, often their custodial parent, mock the marriage that gave them life. They also see countless priests support that adultery in everyday life and at the communion rail, with the blessing of their bishop. That, too, is a tragic reality. I know this to be true. I have lived it.

    I wonder if I approached the communion rail with a shirt that decried this reality, that is true,
    would I be, justly, denied communion, as the only faithful spouse in our marriage, for protesting such an injustice?

  33. Scott W. says:

    I think this can be attributed to the recent phenomenon of turning Mass into the “kitchen sink”, into which every need not being met elsewhere within the parish community is thrown. Not enough socializing between parishioners other than at sports events? Ten minutes of yakking before and after Mass in the pews is no big deal. Not enough lay ministry volunteers? Enlist a platoon of EMHCs. Not enough teen interest? Turn up the guitar amps dance your pants off!

    Well, the only way rainbow sash chuckleheads would show up to an EF liturgy was if they intended to deliberately disrupt the worship. But when your OF resembles a town hall, campus quad, concert stadium, etc. are they really to blame when they think their pet insanity belongs there as well?

  34. MarkJ5621 says:

    “DaveH needs to set aside his obvious grief . . .” Did you intend to add insult to injury . . . because that is how your comment “came off”.

    Dave: I went through a horrible divorce.
    Dr. Peters: Get over it!

    Jill: I was tortured in Auschwitz for three years.
    Dr Peters: Get over it!!

    Henry: My entire race of people was destroyed. My family was tortured and killed in front of me.
    Dr. Peters: Get over it!!!!

    Jesus: I am the Son of God. I was brutally flogged and crucified.
    Dr. Peters: Get over it!!!!!

    Really, Mr. Peters? Absolutely NO compassion for a man who obviously suffered at the hands of a treacherous woman? Dave does appear to know the TRUTH. The canons he quotes are legitimate. He makes some good points which you ignore . . . and you JUST got done complaining about how people don’t make an effort to understand church teaching! Dave obviously HAS done at least a fair amount of research. Give him some credit! Where do you draw the line? Does a typical lay Catholic have to spend 12 hours a day pouring over the writings of the saints, the encyclicals, the Catechism, Canon Law, etc. before you will even give them the time of day? Seems a bit unreasonable to me!

  35. Scott W. says:

    I think you are out to sea MarkJ and I think your comparing Dr. Peters to telling Our Lord to get over it wildly unfair and uncalled for. The advice isn’t, “get over it!” But rather see a therapist rather than spew vitriol against Fr. Z and the Church for posting a perfectly reasonable entry. We do Dave no favors by indulging false compassion.

  36. MarkJ5621 says:

    I assume DaveH did not think it was a “perfectly reasonable” entry . . . so he posted a response. It was a well thought out posting with a reasonable amount of emotion given the situation he described. Mr. Peter’s told him to “set aside his obvious grief”. In my opinion, that was a crass response and I wanted to make a point of it. Perhaps I went too far–but I DID make the point!

Comments are closed.