Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Has scandal become impossible?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 14, 2008

Writing on his blog as he traveled home from the US bishops' conference, Bishop Robert Lynch reported that he and most other American bishops do not think it is proper to deny the Eucharist to a pro-abortion politician (although the bishop, tellingly, uses the politicians' own preferred term, "pro-choice") because "one keeps open a dialogue with the Joe Bidens of the world."

Would a bishop close off dialogue by refusing to administer the Eucharist to an erring politician? I doubt it. On the contrary, I suspect that by taking a strong stand, the bishop would jump-start a conversation that should have taken place long, long ago.

Bishop Lynch goes on to address the more important question about what happens when a proponent of legal abortion receives Communion:

"Does he give scandal? I would suggest that scandal is pretty hard to give in the Church at this time."

That statement is... well, let's say it's shocking, and move on from that point.

Scandal, the Catechism teaches us (2284) is "an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil." If you acknowledge the existence of evil, it's a very small step to realize that one person can lead another into evil. That's scandal. And if you recognize that abortion is evil, you can connect the dots. Or, if you prefer, consult the Catechism again (2286): "Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals..."

Bishop Lynch is writing about a particular form of scandal, which arises when someone who is guilty of manifest grave sin receives the Eucharist, thereby committing sacrilege and imperiling his soul. Faithful Catholics should be horrified by that prospect. If they are not--if the politician's unworthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament does not cause "scandal" in the popular sense of the term--it must be because ordinary Catholics have lost their sense of sin, or their fear of damnation, or their reverence for the Eucharist, or all three.

And if the general state of Catholic belief has really sunk to such a low ebb, what does that say about the primary teachers of the Church, who should instruct and admonish and ensure that the faithful know the content of their faith and the consequences of their behavior?

If "scandal is pretty hard to give in the Church at this time," it must be because ordinary Catholics have learned to tolerate evil. Now tolerating evil is itself a form of evil. So those who help Catholics to tolerate what should not be tolerated, and thus to become scandal-proof, are leading those Catholics into evil. 

"Scandal is grave," the Catechism tells us (2285) "when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others." 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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