Politics & Policy

Irreconcilable Differences

Bishops have a duty to show that abortion and Catholicism are incompatible.

Holy Mass, abortion, and John Kerry are all related under the umbrella of “Communion.” For Catholics, it is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays because God set it up such that, as a minimum requirement, a person must come see Him once a week. Since God made us in His image, natural human relations are a clear guidepost: If all of your happiness were based on developing an intimate relationship with someone else, wouldn’t it make sense that you would need to go and have an intimate exchange with that person at least once a week? Receiving the body and blood of Christ–and standing once again at the foot of the Cross in His hour of need–is the divinely ordained method of intimacy God has put forth for us to grow closer to Him.

For the Catholic believer, the Catholic Church is the propagator of the tools for intimacy with God, and thus for salvation via the sacraments and Church teachings. And when it comes to those teachings, and those who violate them, the reasons a bishop should deny Senator Kerry Holy Eucharist are numerous–and, as with the Sunday obligation, have everything to do with advancing intimate communion with God.

The Church teaches that some actions are so wrong, and that their heinous nature is so evident, that any Catholic committing such acts has willfully chosen to remove himself from communion with Christ and has done great harm to his soul. Abortion, the murder of the most innocent, is one of those actions. Kerry, in directly forwarding abortion legislation, has aided and abetted this kind of murder. The Church deduces that such a person is clearly out of communion, a thing that is so serious that the Church requires the sinner (in this case, Kerry) to take arduous steps to reinstate himself in a relationship with God, via the Church and her sacraments, the m.o. of salvation. These steps exist, in part, to make such grave choices, well, grave. Also, because abetting abortion is so grievous a separation, Holy Communion is off limits until the sinner takes these required steps.

But the Church hardly makes reentry impossible for those who have procured abortions. All they have to do is speak with their pastor, tell him (under the seal of confession, if they like) what they’ve done, and ask for reentry into the Church, in which case a letter is sent (no names need be used if the excommunicated penitent divulged the sin under the seal of confession) to the bishop of the diocese affirming that Mr. X has come back to the Church, is sufficiently contrite, and requests reconciliation into the Church (Code of Canon Law 1357). The bishops almost always comply with the request: mercy first, questions later.

But questions don’t arise unless someone (and here is the catch phrase we’ve been hearing so much about) persists in “manifest grave sin.” The bishop cannot assume that a politician is excommunicated based upon only a few past incidences of pro-abortion votes or support. He does not know the names of the people who have requested reconciliation, because very often it is requested in the secrecy of the confessional. But the bishop has the power to deny Communion, based upon the public record, to someone who persists in active promotion and participation in abortions–in this case, via legislation and rhetoric on the part of the wayward John Kerry–on the obvious grounds that continued action implies a lack of contrition, which implies that the politician has not sought reconciliation or, if he has, has not been sufficiently contrite. Therefore, the politician is evidently still excommunicated. The same obvious and elementary logic was employed by Tom Daschle’s bishop; in order for Daschle to be contrite he would have to stop promoting abortion, letter from the pastor or no. It is true that the bishop is required by canon law to give the errant soul one warning to stop his grave wrongdoings. After that, if nothing is done, the person is denied Communion owing to his own refusal to return to the Church.

The bishop only recognizes the already established reality that the person has excommunicated himself, latae sententiae, or automatically (CCL 1398). The bishop is merely recognizing the truth, not excommunicating the already excommunicated sinner in question. American bishops often use an even gentler tool of canon law: Canon 915, which simply states that anyone who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin is not to be admitted to Holy Communion because, excommunication or no, grave sin renders one unfit for intimacy with God in the Host prior to repentance. When the bishop denies the sinner Communion he does it to a) protect the Host from sacrilege; b) point out the seriousness of the situation of the sinner’s soul, in the form of a rebuke, to wake the sinner from his self-destructive pattern of isolation from the flock; c) hopefully stop him from continuing his pattern of destruction of the innocent unborn; and d) propagate the truth of all this to the faithful, thereby teaching everyone the true nature of communion with Christ and His Church.

This concern for the wider audience of the Kerry-vs.-Church drama is the reason it is unfair for liberals to attack the bishops for speaking up in an election year. It is, after all, in an election year that the candidates push their values on the public; if they are in error, as Kerry and other pro-abortion politicians are, then a bishop must push back. If Kerry wants to support abortion and confuse–or now that he’s been warned, deceive–Catholics and all Americans into thinking one can be a Catholic in communion with the Church and God while still waving the pro-choice flag, then he ought to be publicly admonished. What more efficacious way to show Senator Kerry and the rest of us the true nature of the situation, and protect Christ in the Eucharist, than by denying Kerry Communion?

When people argue for Kerry’s bishop to deny him Communion, it’s not ill will at work. They want him to bring Kerry back into communion with the Church: to help him rejoin the flock, for his own good–but also to stop him from confusing the rest of us into thinking that promotion of abortion and communion with God are reconcilable differences.

Matthew Mehan is a writer, scribbling in Maryland and living in Virginia.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”


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