The Corner

The one and only.

Re: Califano Dreaming


In a stinging e-mail, a correspondent tells me that it’s bad form for me to suggest Joseph Califano’s argument was weak without spelling out what was wrong with it. So I’ll do it after the jump.

1) Califano gets the wrong answer because he asks the wrong question. The question is not, Does asking someone to refrain from taking communion seem harsh according to my sensibilities? It is, Has the would-be communicant been obstinately persisting in grave sin?

2) Canon law says that reception of communion is inappropriate in such a circumstance. But Califano thinks about the “denial” of communion solely as a political tactic; the protection of the integrity of the Eucharist does not enter into discussion at all.

3) ” If the issue is the sanctity of life, what about Catholic legislators who vote for the death penalty or to fund the Iraq war, which the Vatican condemned as immoral? Should they be denied the Eucharist?” The Church has never said that the death penalty or the war is gravely unjust. It has never said that Catholics should refrain from participating in either. The analogy to abortion is inapposite.

4) ”Catholic politicians need to listen to a variety of voices because non-Catholics, too, have a right to be heard.” Who denies it? If a politician sincerely believes after listening to all of the competing voices on abortion that the procedure should be federally funded, then he can follow his conscience — without presenting himself for communion in a Catholic church. If he doesn’t think the Church is right about matters of faith and morals (or about defining what counts as a matter of faith and morals), why should he care about receiving communion in the first place? Communion, the unity of the Church, its teaching authority: They’re a package deal.

5) There follow two paragraphs of the purest blather. “If public policy is to serve the common good of a fundamentally just and free, pluralistic society, it must brew in a cauldron of competing values such as freedom, order, equity, justice and mercy. Public officials who fail to weigh these competing values serve neither private conscience nor public morality. Indeed, they offend both.” Okay. Was the archbishop of New Orleans wrong in principle to excommunicate segregationist politicians? They too could airily say that what looked to the bishops like a denial of Church teaching was in truth a complex balancing of many competing values. If the Church can say that some values must be upheld even in the face of disagreement, then some argument has to be supplied as to why the defense of unborn life should not be among them. Califano fails to do so.

6) “Where we cannot find unanimous answers, there is at least one point on which Catholic bishops and Catholic politicians can find common ground: insistence that those who search for the right answers are doing so with integrity and sincere conviction.” This is tautologous. Politicians who really want to “search for the right answers” are of course doing so sincerely. But it does not follow that all (or even many) politicians are searching for the right answers or doing so with integrity. And in any case the request that someone not present himself for communion is not premised on the idea that he is insincere or lacks integrity. Plenty of people with both integrity and sincerity are not eligible for communion in Catholic churches.


Sign up for free NR e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review