Refusing Communion - some concerns, Part II

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Question from Elaine on 5/24/2008:

Thanks for your response to my previous question. Now here's a new one which you may or may not have heard about. A well-known pro- life law professor recently announced that he supports Obama for president. He does NOT endorse Obama's record on abortion but, for various reasons which I won't get into here, believes him to be preferable to Clinton or McCain. Needless to say his move has caused a lot of controversy. Now this professor claims to have been refused Communion at Mass because of his support for Obama. Assuming this story is accurate (I don't know when or where the alleged incident took place) it sounds like a whole new can of worms could be opening up. I thought that Canon 915 and recent documents issued by Pope Benedict and other bishops indicated that it was OK to refuse Communion to someone who either 1) publicly advocates abortion or 2) supports a pro-abortion officeholder or candidate BECAUSE of their stand on abortion. If someone supports a pro-abortion candidate DESPITE their stand on abortion, that does not justify refusing the Eucharist to them, nor does it necessarily require them to refrain from recieving the sacrament. There may be justifying reason for their actions, particularly if it's a case of a candidate being the "lesser of two (or more) evils." As I said before, I totally understand refusing Communion to a Catholic who personally and publicly endorses or supports abortion or works for an organization actively devoted to promoting abortion (e.g. NARAL or Planned Parenthood). However, if we start refusing Communion to anyone who supports, campaigns for or votes for pro-abortion candidates or who belongs to a political party with a pro-abortion stand (Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, etc.) REGARDLESS of their reasons for doing so -- that really bothers me. Publicly refusing Communion to someone is and should remain a last- resort measure reserved for cases that obviously cause public scandal. Catholics who personally and publicly endorse or facilitate abortion themselves do cause scandal. However, I don't know that Catholics who vote the "wrong" way for reasons that have nothing to do with abortion belong in that category. By all means Catholics should be reminded of the primacy of life issues and reminded that a person's stand on the economy or whatever does not justify his/her endorsement of killing the unborn. But.. I don't know that we should ask pastors and Eucharistic ministers to start trying to read their minds and judge their fitness to receive Communion. I'm not in any way trying to defend Obama or Clinton and I have no intention of voting for either of them. It's just that I do not want to see Catholics put in a position of being effectively forced to vote only for conservative Republicans or for candidates who claim to be pro-life but turn out to be corrupt and/or incompetent and end up doing more harm than good to the cause. I'm not saying that McCain fits this description; I'm thinking primarily of some situations I've seen occur in other state and federal elections.

Answer by Judie Brown on 5/24/2008:

Dear Elaine

I am familiar with the law professor in question, Douglas Kmiec by name, and I am also aware that Congressman Casey of Pennsylvania, an alleged pro-life Democrat, has endorsed Obama.

Now, here is the situation as I see it:

If someone is in public life, and their actions are well known and accurately reported, and then subsequently understood and clarified by those who recognize the individual in question at Mass, it seems to me the individual would have to be approached, the seriousness of the alignment examined, and a warning given ... at the very least ... that such public pronouncements condone abortion by condoning the person who is avidly promoting abortion.

I agree completely with Bishop Olmstead who once wrote (

“So anyone who has had an abortion, or has participated in one, or euthanasia, or who would be promoting those things, or have failed to protect human life while in a position where they could protect it – such as a politician or a judge – they should not be receiving Communion. If they persisted in it after [Church teaching] was presented to them, then I think the priest or deacon should not give them Communion in that case. But we should try to make the efforts beforehand to be in conversation with them.”

As you can see, the first line of defense in protecting Christ from sacrilege is to make sure that the offending Catholic is aware of the problem and invited to correct it.

Judie Brown

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