McElroy: Communion for ideological sinners in denial?
By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 31, 2023
I’ve waited a few days to comment, but Cardinal Robert McElroy’s observations on “radical inclusion” for LGBT people and women in the Church is so full of Catholic misunderstanding that it is difficult to credit it to a bishop (see Cardinal McElroy on ‘radical inclusion’ for LGBT people, women, and others in the Church). For example, McElroy says that the question of ordaining women to the priesthood “will be one of the most difficult questions confronting the international synods in 2023 and 2024”. If a question that has already been definitively settled in the negative by God Himself will be so difficult, that is a massive indictment of the synodal process.
Of course, he also states that the Church should “move toward admitting women to the diaconate”, but that would be impossible if the Church is not authorized by Christ to ordain females to the diaconate, as at least seems extremely likely. So why the assumption and recommendation that the Church should do this?
But even more egregious is McElroy’s very cagey statement on immoral sexual acts:
The effect of the tradition that all sexual acts outside of marriage constitute objectively grave sin has been to focus the Christian moral life disproportionately upon sexual activity…. Sexual activity, while profound, does not lie at the heart of this hierarchy [of truths]. Yet in pastoral practice we have placed it at the very center of our structures of exclusion from the Eucharist. This should change.
This is, quite simply, fancy language employed for the purpose of dodging the central issue.
Exclusion from Communion is a characteristic of the commission of mortal sin. The problem today is not only that sexual acts outside of marriage constitute objectively grave sin—which they do—but that immoral sexual practices either within or outside of marriage, which are by their nature objectively serious sins, are now held by many to be definitive of the human person and perfectly legitimate for that reason. The Church has always held simply that we cannot receive the Body and Blood of Christ if we know we are guilty of unrepented (and usually unconfessed) grave sin. Deliberate immoral acts of sexual congress with others are clearly grave sins, along with a great many more. The deliberate insistence that such grave sins—or anything sinful—is to be categorized as good and acceptable by the Church is an even graver sin.
Suppose, for example, that I curse my parents, and not only do I curse my parents, but I also curse them publicly. And not only do I curse them publicly, but I insist that this is my right as a human person, and I demand recognition of parent-cursing as an essential good of my human nature which ought to be accepted by the Church—so that all proudly self-identified parent cursers can be told they are welcome to receive Communion even in the midst of proclaiming their identity as parent cursers. If the Church made it clear that self-avowed, unrepentant parent cursers were not eligible to receive Communion, she would only be stating (and hopefully enforcing) the obvious.
Our inclinations and dispositions do not exclude us from Communion in the Catholic Church no matter what they are. What excludes from Communion is our refusal to acknowledge particular forms of sinfulness and/or a corresponding refusal to work at avoiding sinful actions and overcoming sinful habits, however they have come into existence.
The Seriousness of Sexual Sin
Moreover, there is still another aspect to this problem. Sexual sins strike deeply at both our human nature and our relationship with God precisely because they are so intimately connected with our identity as human persons. Keeping in mind that the English word “immorality” is often used in translating the books of the New Testament to refer particularly to sexual immorality, we do well to reflect on this passage from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which obviously applies to more than formal prostitution:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two shall become one flesh.” But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. [1 Cor 6:15-20]
Clearly then, even if we are so ignorant of the problem of concupiscence or so dulled in the awareness of our own shame, we have it from Divine Revelation itself that these bodily, sexual sins are very serious indeed, precisely because they strike so deeply into our own nature and obscure so efficiently our relationship in grace to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “You were bought at a price. So glorify God in your body.”
To the contrary, of course, we are neither so ignorant nor so dulled. Otherwise, the world would not be clamoring to eradicate our honesty by calling black white and insisting that the gratification of immoral sexual desires must be proclaimed good, and that those who are formally committed to such forms of gratification—nay, who publicly claim them as fundamentally good expressions of their human nature—must be admitted to Communion.
A heavy cross
Confusion about sexual identity and illicit sexual desires of any kind can be very grave crosses. Human nature is unfortunately subject to such confusions and temptations, but all are called to overcome them in Christ, and the Church has always been ready and willing to assist those who seek the wholeness Christ offers in response to their awareness of their own fallenness, their own temptations, their own trials, their own sins. But the Church cannot at once be herself and pretend that sin is virtue or that virtue is sin; nor can she pretend that we should be permitted at one and the same time to insist both that our own sinful inclinations are good and that we have a right to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. This is precisely that failure to discern the Body which St. Paul condemns later in the same letter:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. [1 Cor 11:27-29]
I know how hard this is today, living as we do in a society characterized by broken families, an absence of sound male and female role models, deliberate rebellion against Christianity, an inundation of sexual temptation, a self-destructive emphasis on choosing to be whatever we want to be, and the deadly conviction that we can eliminate even our own nature through technology. Moreover, it ought to go without saying that persistent same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria, and even the relatively simple desire for sexual satisfaction without marriage can be very heavy crosses, with seemingly the whole world pushing us toward self-gratification rather than self-discipline. I also note that it has now been twenty-two years since I wrote what (to me at least) is my best essay on the difficulty of dealing with homosexual inclinations: Homosexuality: A Special Call to the Love of God and Man. I am not unsympathetic to persistent wayward desire, nor is the Catholic Church.
We all have severe temptations at times, though we do not all have the same temptations. But we cannot solve the problem of temptation by declaring to be virtuous that by which we are tempted. For this reason and many others, it is intolerable for a few prominent priests, bishops and even cardinals around the world to persistently muddy the waters—sometimes rather clearly deliberately. The Church does not place a disproportionate emphasis on sexual sin, for sexual sin is intensely personal and strikes at the very core of both our natural and our Christic identities. Nor does the Church exclude anyone from Communion based on the temptations he or she experiences, even in spite of repeatedly repented falls from grace. But the Church must bar from Communion those who proclaim vice to be virtue, and who insist on receiving Communion while denying the sinfulness of the behavior they have chosen in defiance of Christ.
Indeed, we should all be extremely tired by now of the constant disingenuous verbal game-playing, and particularly tired of those ecclesiastical figures who use loaded language, worthless theological arguments, and even contrived ecclesiastical processes to advance agendas at odds with the grace and teaching of Christ. The headline which prompted this reflection included a demand for a “radical inclusion” in the Church of those who can only be understood as being in denial of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Without that denial, there has never been any admittance problem except through the contrary sinfulness of a very few. And without that denial, as God is my witness, there is certainly no problem now.
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Posted by: tjbenjamin -
Feb. 04, 2023 5:02 PM ET USA
The cardinal’s attitude is not uncommon, including at the parish level. For instance, a relative went to a same-sex “wedding” because her parish priest told her it was fine to do so, and that he himself had recently been to his nephew’s same-sex “wedding.” It is much more difficult for individuals and families to be faithful to Church teaching if their own priests are not supportive. Catholic support groups Courage and EnCourage can be life-savers.
Posted by: rfr46 -
Feb. 02, 2023 4:04 AM ET USA
And this man (?) is a Cardinal in the Catholic Church? Shame on all concerned, but especially those who recommended and appointed him.. I'm talking to PF If the laymen and laywomen of his diocese do not make major noise and starve the diocesan coffers, shame on them. Enough is enough!
Posted by: billG -
Feb. 01, 2023 11:29 AM ET USA
Dr. Mirrus, even the Pope has called sexual sins "light" compared to other forms of sin. Thank you for refuting this notion. And I would point out that the Corinthians text you quote is nowhere to be found in the Lectionary of the Mass of Paul VI. We believe as we pray, so is it any wonder that so many do not consider this before receiving Holy Communion?
Posted by: td4207 -
Feb. 01, 2023 8:59 AM ET USA
Excellent commentary. I, too, am sick at heart of the moral confusion being intentionally sown by ecclesiastical sources, some appointed by the current pontiff, as well as his own off-handed comments to secular news outlets that are used by them to fashion more confusion. Jesus' own statements, with Paul's commentary, are a bulwark that can never be breached nor denied.
Posted by: Gramps -
Jan. 31, 2023 9:11 PM ET USA
Well said, Dr. Mirus!