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burke on bad catholics

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Sep 06, 2007

Passing through the supermarket check-out this morning and having surveyed the tabloid rack ("Di's Love Secrets Revealed!" &c.) I picked up this week's copy of Periodica de Re Canonica (vol. 96, 2007), which not only happens to be the swimsuit issue, but which includes an article by St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke with the provocative title: "Canon 915: The Discipline Regarding the Denial of Holy Communion to those Obstinately Persevering in Manifest Grave Sin."

I was not disappointed. Burke, you remember, put his fellow prelates in a flutter during the 2004 presidential campaign by declaring that Catholic pro-abort pols would be denied communion in his diocese. In the spirit of episcopal collegiality, a special commission was appointed to research the matter into oblivion. That makes Burke's own study of the problem (available in its entirety here) all the more interesting. No one with a regard for metaphor can say Burke takes the bull by the horns -- the beast in question has long been gelded and polled -- but at least his two-by-four thwacks the steer hard enough to get its attention. He is critical of the Statement of the United States Bishops, "Catholics in Political Life," which was issued in the course of their June 2004 meeting, and which sidestepped the key problem by kicking back to the local ordinary the decision to pursue "the most prudent course of pastoral action." Burke himself does not sidestep the problem:

The Statement also seems to take away the serious responsibility of the minister of Holy Communion, resting the matter entirely with the Bishop. One bishop issued a statement on the same day as the statement of the body of Bishops, which intimated that can. 915 is not to be applied in his diocese. He stated:
The archdiocese will continue to follow church teaching, which places the duty of each Catholic to examine their consciences as to their worthiness to receive holy communion. That is not the role of the person distributing the body and blood of Christ.
The statement of the bishop in question confuses the norm of can. 916, which applies to the self-examination of the individual communicant, with the norm of can. 915, which obliges the minister of Holy Communion to refuse the Sacrament in the cases indicated.

The bishop quoted by Burke is Cardinal Roger Mahony, whose decision to "follow church teaching" by doing the opposite is of a piece with his judgment that "for a small slice of Church history, Latin was the language of Mass." The pastoral approach.

Burke gives an extensive overview of the theological and canonical background pertinent to the denial of communion. I was interested by his reference to a 1962 work discussing a pertinent canon in the 1917 Code (#855: "The publicly unworthy, who are the excommunicated, the interdicted and the manifestly infamous, unless their penance and conversion have been established and they will have first made up for the public scandal, are to be excluded from the Eucharist"):

Father Felice Cappello, S.J., noted commentator on the Pio-Benedictine Code, describes the principle which underlies the discipline of can. 855. He reminds us that the minister of Holy Communion is held, under pain of mortal sin, to deny the sacraments to the unworthy, that is, "to those who are indeed a capable subject of the sacrament, but are not able to receive its effect, because they are in the state of mortal sin without the will of reforming themselves."

Basing himself on Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Father Cappello goes on to explain the reason for the discipline:
The dignity itself of the sacraments and the virtue of religion demand it, lest sacred things be exposed to profanation; the fidelity of the minister demands it, who is forbidden to give holy things to the dogs and to throw pearls before the swine; the law of charity demands it, lest the minister cooperate with those who unworthily attempt and dare to receive the sacraments, and offer scandal.

Archbishop Burke also cites contemporary canonists opposed to his interpretation of the key texts, including Father John Huels, who argues that "what causes scandal in one part of the world may not cause scandal elsewhere. In North America the faithful often are more scandalized by the Church's denial of sacraments and sacramentals than by the sin that occasions it."

Huels ... Huels ... why does that name ring a bell? Of course! He made headlines back in 2002 for not causing scandal the old-fashioned way. It was generous of Burke to give him a look in.

Well, I did say it was the swimsuit issue. Read it all.

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