Cardinal Dulles on the Denial of Communion
Dulles is sensible and to the point. But I have problems with this thinking:
Q: What are the practical steps a bishop could or should take to encourage a Catholic politician to forgo support for abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research?
Cardinal Dulles: The first step should probably be to make sure that the politicians understand the doctrine of the Church and the reasons for it. Many politicians, like much of the American public, seem to be unaware that abortion and euthanasia are serious violations of the inalienable right to life.
I doubt any politician is unaware of the Church's teaching on abortion and euthanasia. And here we're talking specifically about Catholic politicians. A Catholic politican who advances abortion legislation is not acting out if ignorance. Period. He is acting out of dissent. Let's stop soft-peddling this.
Here, also, I think Dulles misses the point:
Q: What should a priest do when confronted with a publicly dissenting politician who appears in the Communion line?
Cardinal Dulles: In that situation, the priest has limited options. Often, to avoid an ugly scene that would disrupt the ceremony, the priest will feel obliged not to refuse Communion. In the absence of some formal decree excluding a person from the sacraments, most priests will be very cautious about turning Catholics away at the altar.
The primary responsibility rests on those asking for Communion to examine themselves regarding their dispositions, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Only God can know with certitude the state of the communicant's soul at the moment.
The last paragraph blatantly ignores that the Church's legal tradition has explicitly acknowledged not only a priest's right to refuse communion to obstinate sinners, but his duty:
Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or the declaration of a penalty as well as others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to communion (c. 915).
Dulles here seems more concerned with public decorum than sacrilege. Given c. 915, how is a priest confronted with an obstinate sinner in a position where he has 'limited options'? I'm not saying he is obliged to deny communion -- this situation would most likely require a prudential decision on the part of the pastor -- but why would this course of action be in any way restricted, since it is explicitly acknowledged in canon law?
UPDATE: Oswald Sobrino at Catholic Analysis has a good defense of Dulles on this point. He highlights Dulles' statement that the bishop might order the politician not to receive holy communion (emphasis Sobrino's):
Dulles clearly indicates that it is appropriate to order the politician not to receive Communion after appropriate discussion with the politician at issue. This statement is a far cry from opposing denial of Communion. In fact, Dulles' words reasonably imply that the bishop who issues the order not to receive Communion is well within his rights in denying Communion to a politician who defies the bishop's order. It makes sense that, if an order is appropriate, then enforcement of the order is also appropriate.
# posted by Jamie : 12:08 PM