Cardinal Cupich’s counterproductive advice

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 14, 2019

Cardinal Cupich explains why he will not deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians, despite the clear mandate of Canon 915:

I think it would be counterproductive to impose sanctions, simply because they don’t change anybody’s minds, but it also takes away from the fact that an elected official has to deal with the judgment seat of God, not just the judgment seat of a bishop.

Two reasons, then. First, he doesn’t think disciplinary sanctions “change anybody’s minds.” But he can’t really mean that, can he? Because the implication would be that no action should ever be punished— that we should have laws, perhaps, but not legal penalties. Presumably the cardinal is not proposing to abolish all Church discipline. He must be referring to this specific case, and to the likelihood that even if he did deny Communion to politicians, they would continue to support legal abortion.

And maybe they would. But that’s not— or shouldn’t be— the cardinal’s primary concern. It’s not the task of a cardinal-archbishop to lead the political fight against abortion. That’s the work of the laity. It’s the task of the bishop to safeguard the sacraments— among other things, to prevent sacrilege and scandal. Preserve the integrity of the Church, ensure the sanctity of the Eucharistic sacrifice, and let lay Catholics sort out the political implications.

But the notion that the denial of Communion would be “counterproductive” is an argument that we’ve heard before. The second reason given by Cardinal Cupich is less familiar— and less understandable. How would disciplinary action detract from the understanding that the offending party will face God’s judgment? Isn’t that the very point of the canonical provision: to underline the seriousness of the offense, to prod the offending party toward repentance and reform?

Imagine that you have invited X over for dinner on Saturday night. Then Friday night, you catch him cheating on his wife. He’s done something seriously wrong. You know it, and he knows you know it. If you tell him that he’s no longer welcome for dinner, does that somehow “take away from” the fact that he’s guilty of serious sin?

Or look at it from the pastoral perspective. If your little child is getting too close to a hot stove, by pushing him away will you “take away from” the danger of a burn?

And think about it: If the child’s hand is scorched it will be painful, but eventually he’ll get over it. Wouldn’t you be all the more likely to push if you thought he might burn forever?

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 CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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