Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Cardinal Turkson: Biden should not be refused communion. Say what?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 05, 2021

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect for the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, has weighed in on the question of denial of Communion to President Biden. The National Catholic Reporter was predictably delighted, but then it’s not really a Catholic newspaper. But the larger question is why Turkson should take a position on this at all.

Turkson’s assignment to Integral Human Development is pretty far removed from central Catholic matters of faith and morals. Worse still, his comments run contrary to Canon Law itself, which specifies:

Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion. [Can. 915, emphasis added]

Cardinal Turkson argues erroneously that Communion should almost never be denied because: “If you say somebody cannot receive Communion, you are basically doing a judgment that you are in a state of sin.” We will assume that he means that “you are basically doing a judgment that [the denied person is] in a state of sin.” But of course this implies a judgment of the state of the person’s conscience, which (a) Nobody but God can know; and (b) Is not at all the point of Canon 915. Persevering in “manifest” grave sin requires no judgment about the interior state of the potential communicant. It simply means the potential communicant is persevering in committing one or more gravely evil acts that are outwardly obvious (manifest).

The problem posed by this perseverance is not merely private and personal (though, of course, if we are conscious of grave sin, we do eat and drink the body and blood of Christ to our own condemnation (cf. 1 Cor 11:23-30)). Rather, this is also a public problem which has serious repercussions for others. By allowing a public grave sinner to receive Communion, not only the sinner but the one who admits the sinner to Communion is giving scandal in the true sense of that word. We tend to interpret scandal as “shock”, but that is not what it means in Christian terminology. Scandal is a serious issue precisely because it creates the illusion that the behavior in question is perfectly acceptable for Catholics.

Thus it leads others into sin. And for this Our Lord reserved his strongest language:

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! [Mt 18:6-7]

Sick and tired?

Speaking purely for myself, I am sick and tired of the theological sleight-of-hand so often practiced by prelates with no discernible counter-cultural Christian commitments. Again and again they resort to a kind of verbal trickery to undermine the effort to restore discipline within the Catholic Church, a discipline which is vital to forming existing Catholics, to enabling confused Catholics to decide whether they really wish to remain in the Church, and to attracting those outside who respond positively to a witness that must be Christian because it cannot be mistaken for anything else.

Statistically-speaking, there is very little support for a culturally conformable Catholicism among lay people who attend Mass more than the canonical once per week. I’m not sure anyone has done a study of the correlation between time spent in personal prayer and a willingness to be “counter-cultural” in the expression of one’s beliefs and commitments, but I’m willing to bet thousands of dollars that this correlation is very high. We know from both past admissions and past studies that there is a strong correlation between the failure to maintain a strong habit of personal prayer and the abandonment of priestly vocations. And I am very sure the same is true for all vocations, including the universal vocation to holiness, which includes attentiveness to God’s will and, therefore inescapably, what we refer to as sentire cum ecclesia, that is, the spiritual capacity to think with the Church—and not with mere churchmen.

It is also worth mentioning here that the last official instruction we have on this question was given 17 years ago to the American bishops through Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (the head of the Bishops’ committee which was considering the matter) by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger when he was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Readers may be interested in a trip down memory lane, in which they can read our Catholic World News report from July 3, 2004, entitled: US bishops rejected Ratzinger’s advice. Or you can read Phil Lawler’s analysis of August 1, 2004, which documents that it was McCarrick (the extent of whose sexual abuse had yet to be revealed) who spearheaded the opposition to Ratzinger’s advice (Puzzling Exchange).

Or, admittedly, you could skip all that and simply read again what the head of the CDF recommended at that time—under conditions all but identical to those prevailing today—as consistent with Catholic doctrine, Catholic moral teaching, and Canon Law: Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion—General Principles. This counsel is precisely pastoral counsel, counsel for the good of souls.

This is one more reason why cultural conformity at the Vatican is so morally and spiritually damaging—and so is stupidity, of which, sadly, there is plenty to spare. So why should we in the United States take seriously the incompetent observations of an African Cardinal in charge of a Vatican office which has zero involvement with—let alone jurisdiction over—the question at issue? Why would any Church leader, from the top on down, deliberately choose to allow Catholics to remain confused about both the private and public seriousness of the most fundamental moral issues of human life, or about the profoundly pastoral nature of the existing Canonical remedies—remedies to be embraced precisely for the good of souls?

Say what? Well, let’s just say the mind boggles.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 06, 2021 9:56 PM ET USA

    The good cardinal said: "you are basically doing a judgment that you are in a state of sin." Recall that when the good pope said "Who am I to judge", I immediately pointed out the obvious: I hope he doesn't carry that sentiment into the confessional. It is clear from the good cardinal's outburst above and from the intervening years that both the good cardinal and the good pope do indeed encourage the shirking of priestly responsibility in public spaces and most likely in the confessional as well

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Oct. 06, 2021 8:21 PM ET USA

    I second miketimmer's post. Thanks, Jeff, for this excellent piece.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Oct. 06, 2021 10:57 AM ET USA

    I tremendously appreciate this post. I made a lonely comment on this news item several days ago and felt it didn't garner the attention that it deserved. You've rejuvenated my reliance on the faithful commentary this site produces; nothing of fundamental importance will escape your notice. I'm so impressed with the courage the three of you show in confronting the moral decay rampant in clerisy of our Church today. I have seen plenty of good and bad in 72 years, but never such evil as I see now.