Michael Gaynor
Individual bishops are NOT above canon law
By Michael Gaynor
December 8, 2008

Ironically, it is Bishop Malooly (and those like him) who are "politiciz[ing] the Eucharist," permitting sacrilege and public confusion and sowing confusion while claiming that obedience to canon law is playing politics.

LifeNews.com Editor Steven Ertelt's December 7, 2008 article titled "Joe Biden's Bishop Expands on Decision Not to Deny Communion Over Abortion" (www.lifenews.com/state3691.html) highlights the grave problem of individual bishops setting their own policies regardless of canon law.

Mr. Ertelt reported:

"Bishop W. Francis Malooly has expanded on his previous comments that he will not deny communion to incoming Vice-President Joe Biden because of his pro-abortion position. Malooly says he can do more good by not alienating Biden and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

"'My own conscience tells me I have a better chance of helping someone if I don't alienate' that person, he said during a conference for young Catholics over the weekend.

"Bishop Malooly said he was following the lead of most of the other Catholics bishops in the United States who have not revoked the sacrament for pro-abortion elected officials and have instead adopted a more conciliatory approach to changing their hearts and minds on abortion.

"According to a report in the Wilmington News-Journal, Bishop Malooly, who was recently installed as the head of the Catholic Church in Delaware and Maryland's eastern shore, said his dealing with pro-abortion politicians who deviate from pro-life Catholic teachings is nothing new.

"He said as the auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Baltimore that he dealt with the contentious communion issues.

"Malooly told the newspaper that 'I don't know everyone's conscience' and can't make decisions about abortion and communion on a broad basis but must confront people who are out of step with the church one-on-one.

"Last month, Malooly said he wouldn't deny Biden communion even though several of his fellow bishops have done so.

"'I won't politicize the Eucharist,' Malooly said. 'I don't want to alienate people. I want to change their hearts and minds.'

"Malooly said he spoke with Biden in September on the day before his installation as the new bishop and the two agreed to discuss the issue of abortion and Catholic pro-life teachings at a later date.

"Biden attends church weekly and has received communion at his hometown church in Delaware."

Ironically, it is Bishop Malooly (and those like him) who are "politiciz[ing] the Eucharist," permitting sacrilege and public confusion and sowing confusion while claiming that obedience to canon law is playing politics.

Canon law is not liberal or conservative, or Republican or Democrat, or nationalistic.

Canon 915 is universal, mandatory and unambiguous: "Those... who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are forbidden by law from receiving Holy Communion."

Supporting abortion is manifestly gravely sinful and for many years Vice President-Elect Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among others, have been obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin while posing as faithful Catholics with the assistance of enablers cimplicit in sacrilege and public scandal.

Barbara Kralis, in "Ten Questions Regarding the Denial of the Eucharist" (May 27, 2004) (www.intellectualconservative.com/article3474.html), demonstrated the fallaciousness of Bishop Malooly's "reasoning," as follows:

"6. Isn't the Church turning the Eucharist into a weapon? No one should be denied the Eucharist. Where is the freedom of conscience?

"Answer: It is true that c.912 does say, 'Any baptized person who is not forbidden by law may and must be admitted to Holy Communion.' However, c.912 commentary further explains: 'unless the existence of some impediment is evidence in the external forum of c.915.'


"It is dishonest to use c.912 to justify permitting grave manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners to the Eucharist. It is a mockery of the faith and belies one's identity as a Catholic believer.

"True freedom is not doing what you want to do, but doing what you ought to do. The Church teaches, 'Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.'

"Conscience is not the same as your opinions or feelings. Conscience is the voice of truth within you and your opinions and feelings must reflect your well-informed conscience.

"A well-informed conscience is one that is totally in accord with the church's magisterial teachings. If one is well informed (catechized), their conscience will be correctly informed. This transcends any choice for political party or candidate."

As I wrote years ago:

"The brief U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops statement on Politics and Public Life is artfully crafted, but fundamentally flawed. It would empower each bishop to give or to deny Holy Communion as he chooses, at the expense of the Holy Eucharist, the Roman Catholic Church's oneness and the plain meaning of Canon 915.

"Quoting a New York Times opinion piece, Archbishop William J. Levada told the conference that the issue before it was 'whether Catholic politicians ... can claim to be Catholics in good standing, and therefore worthy of the Eucharist, while vigorously pursuing a policy of "choice" that is tantamount to unrestricted abortion.'

"The conference statement response — that the answer depends upon the opinion of the bishop of each diocese — obviously is unsatisfactory, for the answer must be no and cannot depend upon a fortuitous circumstance like geography. As Archbishop William J. Levada stated at the conference: '[W]e bishops must... remember that we are called to shepherd the unity of the Church, in all its diversity. Thus the application of restrictive practices regarding the reception of Holy Communion in one diocese necessarily has implications for all. In this matter, we bishops owe it to our people to achieve a reasonable consensus among ourselves on issues affecting the common status of Catholics in American culture and political life.'

"Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick reported to the conference that their task force on politics believes 'the battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail, but in the public square.' He warned of 'serious unintended consequences' in refusing Communion, including danger that faithful Catholic politicians who courageously stand for moral principles might be perceived as yielding to pressure from the Church hierarchy while 'weak leaders who bend to the political winds...are perceived as courageous resisters of episcopal authority.' Archbishop Levada added that 'penalties imposed on voters for their exercise of their voting privileges, and also upon politicians for exercising their political judgment in the conduct of their affairs, will seem to many Americans an interference in the constitutional rights to political freedom.'

"Be that as it may, grave sins — sacrilegious and scandalous giving and receipt of Communion — cannot be approved by the bishops as a matter of political strategy. It is imperative that all Catholics, including bishops, obey canon law and resist the temptation to ignore or misinterpret it in order to make the path of Christ more comfortable for themselves or unrepentant nominally Catholic pro-abortion politicians or voters. As Archbishop Raymond L. Burke put it in his statement on Catholic Politicians and Bishops made on June 17, 2004: 'Right reason...tells us that a bishop, if he truly cares for the flock, must admonish Catholic politicians "who choose to depart from church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life" regarding "the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin" (Living the Gospel of Life, No. 32). In addition, 'if the Catholic politician does not recognize the lack of the proper disposition to receive Communion, then the church herself must refuse the sacrament, in order to safeguard the worthy reception of the sacrament and to prevent a serious scandal among the faithful.'

"In the words of Archbishop Burke: 'For a bishop or any pastor to exclude someone from Communion is always a source of great sorrow....What would be profoundly more sorrowful would be the failure of a bishop to call a soul to conversion, the failure to protect the flock from scandal and the failure to safeguard the worthy reception of Communion.'

"Significantly, the conference statement concedes that a bishop can legitimately order 'the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life...because of their public support for abortion on demand.' Sadly, it neglects to recognize explicitly that there are notorious cases in which no bishop could legitimately conclude otherwise.

"The conference statement refers to 'Catholic teaching and sacramental practice [being] misused for political ends.' But it is the conference statement itself that misuses Catholic teaching and sacramental practice, by not declaring in the clearest possible terms a basic, but perhaps politically incorrect, truth: unrepentant, notorious, nominally Catholic pro-abortion politicians of whatever party or no party must be refused Communion until they repent, in order to avoid sacrilege and scandal and to encourage repentance.

"In a report to the conference, Cardinal McCarrick described 'possible diversity in pastoral practice' as 'the essential right of every diocesan bishop.' But bishops are not warlords in robes. The authority of the bishops 'must be exercised in communion with the whole Church under the guidance of the Pope (The Cathecism of the Catholic Church, Section 895) and the bishops have 'no authority unless united with the [Pope], Peter's successor, as its head' (Cathecism 883), much less authority to disobey Canon 915.

"Archbishop Levada quoted to the conference St. Thomas Aquinas's statement that 'in human government, those who rule properly should tolerate certain evils lest other good things are lost and even worse evils come about.' (Summa Theologiae, Secunda Secundae, q. 10, art. 11 c) To be sure, St, Thomas Aquinas made a valid point, but it is does not contradict his assertion that 'Holy communion ought not to be given to open sinners when they ask for it,' because '[h]oly things are forbidden to be given to notorious sinners....'

"The conference statement predictably concedes that Catholics "must be guided by the[se] words of St. Paul': 'Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord'(1 Cor. 11:27) Then, however, it asserts: 'This means that all must examine their consciences as to their worthiness to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord. This examination includes fidelity to the moral teaching of the Church in personal and public life.'

"It surely means much more than that. It also means that such profanation must be prevented when it can be prevented, that is, when a person distributing Communion objectively knows that another person seeking Communion is, in the words of Canon 915, 'excommunicated, interdicted, or...obstinately persist[ing] in manifest grave sin.'

"Archbishop Levada asked: 'Who is to judge the state of a Catholic communicant's soul? Who may make the decision to refuse Holy Communion?' 'Canon 915,' Archbishop Burke answered, 'does not require that the competent authority in the church actually judge the state of a person's soul, which only God can do, but rather the objective contradiction between the faith the person professes and his or her persistent actions contrary to clear teaching, after pastoral admonition, especially in the light of the harm that such counter-witness causes.'

"The Catholic Church has long declared that abortion is intrinsically evil and sinful. Its position is that Communion should be received only by those 'in full communion with the Church.' No one who rejects the church's teaching on abortion can possibly be said to be 'in full communion with the Church.' The right to life from conception to natural death is as fundamental a church teaching as there is. Therefore, even though it may be politically incorrect and financially detrimental, all bishops should fulfill their responsibility to refuse Communion to notorious, unrepentant pro-abortion nominal Catholics, like Sen. John Kerry and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Archbishop Burke explained why in plain terms: 'Supporting legislation that provides for procured abortion is participation in a gravely sinful act, what the church's moral teaching calls formal cooperation. The natural and divinely revealed moral law forbids this cooperation in the taking of an innocent life (Evangelium Vitae, No. 73b). Therefore a Catholic politician who supports or votes for laws that are unjust, because they permit procured abortion, persists in a gravely sinful act.'

"John Kerry, baptized Catholic, former altar boy and presumptive Democrat presidential candidate, is supporting even partial-birth abortion, calling abortion a woman's right instead of a wrong and vowing to keep abortion legal. At the dinner hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, Kerry proudly and passionately proclaimed, 'We are not going to turn back the clock. There is no overturning of Roe v. Wade. There is no packing of courts with judges who will be hostile to choice.'

"As Archbishop Burke wrote: 'How can one not be gravely scandalized by the spectacle of Catholic politicians who advance the agenda of pro-abortion organizations like Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League?'

"Of course, Kerry shamelessly wants to have it both ways. He still poses as a practicing Catholic as well as a NARAL champion and presents himself to receive Communion, as though he were in a state of grace and in full communion with the Church and therefore fit to receive. Shockingly, Cardinal McCarrick pronounced himself 'uncomfortable' with denying Communion to people like Kerry and there are priests who would rather violate canon law than refuse Kerry. It is ludricrous to doubt that Kerry is unaware of the Church's position that abortion is evil and deliberately rejecting it, or that Cardinal McCarrick personally told Kerry that he was persisting in gravely sinfully conduct when they conferred.

"Priests and bishops are obligated to uphold the tenets of their faith, to identify sin, and to rebuke sinners. St. Augustine wrote: 'Medicinal rebuke must be applied to all who sin, lest they should either themselves perish, or be the ruin of others...Let no one, therefore, say that a man must not be rebuked when he deviates from the right way, or that his return and perseverance must only be asked from the Lord for him.'


"For decades, Roman Catholic priests in the United States have knowingly given Holy Communion to unrepentant, publicly known abortion 'rights' and/or gay marriage 'rights' politicians who are nominally Catholic. They have done so for various reasons: misguided compassion, political correctness run amok, fear of losing the Church's tax exemption and/or contributions from pro-abortion and pro-homosexual practices people, personal preference or culpable ignorance. But, in doing so, they have disregarded unambiguous canon law and committed a grave sin. They should repent, make a good act of contrition, receive absolution and then go forth and sin no more.

"Jesus did not pander to politicians, much less put monetary considerations (such as tax exemption) before principle. The barring of Senator John Kerry and other unrepentant notorious pro-abortion nominally Catholic politicians has been too long delayed. The sooner the bar is imposed, the better. Perhaps they finally will repent. They surely will realize that the Church is serious about the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death."

All bishops are obligated to be serious about that and obedient to canon law.

© Michael Gaynor


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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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