Michael Gaynor
August 28, 2005
Mr. Donohue, meet Mr. Balestrieri and support him!
By Michael Gaynor

William A. Donohue is the President of the Catholic League and, as EWTN's Raymond Arroyo put it, the official "watchdog" against anti-Catholicism. His devotion to his faith is not to be doubted.

Marc A. Balestrieri is the courageous young canon lawyer and director of the non-profit organization DE FIDE who initiated an unprecedented class-action ecclesiastical lawsuit filed in 2004 against Senator John F. Kerry (who subsequently became the Democrats' presidential candidate) for his support of the civil right to choose abortion and in January 2005 initiated similar ecclesiastical proceedings against Senators Edward Kennedy, Tom Harkin and Susan Collins and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

Under Roman Catholic Church law, Mr. Balestrieri explains, support of abortion rights constitutes the "Right-to-Murder" Heresy condemned by Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Evangelium Vitae and automatic excommunication is the penalty.

At DE FIDE's website, www.defide.com, helpful answers to frequently asked questions relating to Mr. Balestrieri's ecclesiastical legal proceedings to protect the Holy Eucharist are posted

Click Here: De Fide Frequently Asked Questions

While Mr. Balestrieri's ecclesiastical proceedings have been pending, abortion has continued and nominally Catholic politicians across the country like Senator Kerry continue to pose as faithful Catholics, confusing some of the faithful, inducing accommodating clergy to violate church law by giving them Communion, and generally undermining the Catholic Faith.

Much to my surprise and disappointment, Mr. Donohue did not take the opportunity to support Mr. Balestrieri and instead told Mr. Arroyo and his audience on The World Over With Raymond Arroyo's August 26, 2005 program that there was much merit to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's reluctance to have confrontation at the Communion rail.

Lat year Cardinal McCarrick, the most prominent Catholic clergyman in the United States and chairman of the task force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, said that he had "not gotten to the stage where [he's] comfortable in denying the Eucharist."

As though canon law affords him an option.

In fact, Canon 912 specifies that qualified persons must be given Communion and Canon 915 specifies that certain persons must be refused Communion.

I respectfully urge Mr. Donohue to reconsider.

Mr. Donohue's position is that Catholic politicians who support abortion as a legal right should refrain from presenting themselves for Communion, but be accommodated if they insist, in order to avoid a confrontation at the Communion rail.

Mr. Donohue is right that they should refrain.

And wrong that the decision is theirs and confrontation should be avoided instead of sacrilege and public scandal.

On June 17, 2004, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis, in his statement on Catholic Politicians and Bishops, explained: "Right reason...tells us that a bishop, if he truly cares for the flock, must admonish Catholic politicians 'who choose to depart from church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life' regarding 'the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin' (Living the Gospel of Life, No. 32)." In addition, "if the Catholic politician does not recognize the lack of the proper disposition to receive Communion, then the church herself must refuse the sacrament, in order to safeguard the worthy reception of the sacrament and to prevent a serious scandal among the faithful."

Because: "For a bishop or any pastor to exclude someone from Communion is always a source of great sorrow....What would be profoundly more sorrowful would be the failure of a bishop to call a soul to conversion, the failure to protect the flock from scandal and the failure to safeguard the worthy reception of Communion."

The Archbishop was following Vatican policy, not indulging a personal preference or a friend or favored politician.

On April 23, 2004, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, had stated at a press conference in Rome that unrepentant pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians should be denied Communion. Cardinal Arinze put it succinctly: "If they should not receive, then they should not be given."

The Cardinal was following the mandate of Canon 915, which specifies that "[t]hose...who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion."

Lest there be confusion, Canon 915 specifies not that those persons shall not present themselves for Holy Communion, but that they "are not to be admitted to Holy Communion."

That puts the onus on the dispensers of Holy Communion to refuse the unfit who nevertheless present themselves for Holy Communion when their unfitness is "manifest."

And there ARE cases in which unfitness IS manifest!

Pope John Paul II, in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, emphasized that Canon 915 obligates those who dispense Holy Communion not to do so blindly:

"[I]n cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who 'obstinately persist in manifest grave sin' are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion."

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts previously had issued an interpretation of Canon 915 in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It stated in unambiguous terms:

"Naturally, pastoral prudence would strongly suggest the avoidance of instances of public denial of Holy Communion. Pastors must strive to explain to the concerned faithful the true ecclesial sense of the norm, in such a way that they would be able to understand it or at least respect it. In those situations, however, in which these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, the minister of Communion must refuse to distribute it to those who are publicly unworthy. They are to do this with extreme charity, and are to look for the opportune moment to explain the reasons that required the refusal. They must, however, do this with firmness, conscious of the value that such signs of strength have for the good of the Church and of souls."

Responsibility for implementing Canon 915 was delegated to priests (not bishops):

"The discernment of cases in which the faithful who find themselves in the described condition are to be excluded from Eucharistic Communion is the responsibility of the Priest who is responsible for the community. They are to give precise instructions to the deacon or to any extraordinary minister regarding the mode of acting in concrete situations."

And compliance with Canon 915 is mandatory, not discretionary.

"....the obligation of reiterating this impossibility of admission to the Eucharist is required for genuine pastoral care and for an authentic concern for the well-being of these faithful and of the whole Church, being that it indicates the conditions necessary for the fullness of that conversion to which all are always invited by the Lord...."

The declaration specified the way Canon 915 must be interpreted and its three required conditions as follows:

"The phrase 'and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin' is clear and must be understood in a manner that does not distort its sense so as to render the norm inapplicable. The three required conditions are:

  1. grave sin, understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability;

  2. obstinate persistence, which means the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.

  3. the manifest character of the situation of grave habitual sin."

To be sure, there may be cases in which the grave sin has not endured in time to the point of obstinacy or been manifest and therefore a person who truly should not present himself or herself for Holy Communion may nevertheless receive it.

But, canon law imposes the duty not to admit manifest, persistent grave sinners to Holy Communion on the distributors of Holy Communion.

And, for example, when Senator Kerry was pledging to protect abortion and still presenting himself for Communion, it was an abomination for a distributor of Communion to have disregarded his or duty under Canon 915 and treated Senator Kerry as fit to receive.

As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated in its Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life: "[T]he lay Catholic's duty to be morally coherent...is one and indivisible. There cannot be two parallel lives...: on the one hand, the so-called 'spiritual life,' with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular' life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture."

The Doctrinal Note emphasized that lay Catholics, in fulfilling civic duties, are to be "'guided by a Christian conscience,' in conformity with its values," and that "their proper task [is] infusing the temporal order with Christian values, all the while respecting the nature and rightful autonomy of that order, and cooperating with other citizens according to their particular competence and responsibility."

The Doctrinal Note categorically rejected the claims that citizens have "complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices and lawmakers...are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value."

With respect to abortion, the Doctrinal Note was emphatic: "John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a 'grave and clear obligation to oppose' any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them."

Tragically, the sex abuse scandal is not the only major scandal of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

In the words of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "[t]he Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic life."

For decades, Roman Catholic priests in the United States have been complicit in the abuse of Holy Communion by politicians like Senator Kerry.

Mr. Donohue has rightly refused to minimize, much less excuse, the sex abuse scandal, but he has accepted Cardinal McCarrick's reluctance to have confrontation at the Communion rale as a legitimate excuse to tolerate sacrilege and public scandal in violation of canon law.

For whatever reason(s), the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has tolerated the scandal of persistently obstinent pro-abortion politicians posing as fit to receive Communion and sheepishly accommodated them by giving them Communion upon demand, in contravention of Canon 915.

Even though Roman Catholics believe that consecration literally transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, and that it is sacrilegious for an unfit person to seek Communion without repenting and for a distributor of Communion to distribute it to any person to whom Canon 915 specifies it is not to distributed.

With the "shepherds" in the United States generally abdicating their responsibility and the most prominent among them declaring he was "uncomfortable" with obeying Canon 915, one of the flock (Mr. Balestrieri) boldly took an action that should have been taken long ago against literally hundreds of unrepentant, nominally Catholic pro-abortion politicians.

Holy Communion is for Catholics who have confessed their sins, resolved to sin no more and done penance. A person seeking Communion is tacitly representing that he is fit to do so. Such a person is supposed to be in a state of grace. Surely he (or she) is not supposed to be a heretic.

Last year the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared that each bishop can set policy for his diocese.

As though yes and no were each acceptable answers, depending upon the fortuitous circumstance of geographic.

Mr. Donohue and the Conference should reflect on the confidential memorandum to Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the "General Principles" with respect to "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion," written by now Pope Benedict XVI.

In that memorandum, delivered as guidance, then Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981, stated succinctly, emphatically and unambiguously as follows:

"1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgment regarding one's worthiness to do so, according to the Church's objective criteria, asking such questions as: 'Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?' The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction 'Redemptionis Sacramentum,' nos. 81, 83).

"2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a 'grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it"' (no. 73). Christians have a 'grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it' (no. 74).

"3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

"4. Apart from an individual's judgment about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

"5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

"6. When 'these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,' and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, 'the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it' (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration 'Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics' [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person's subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person's public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin."


© Michael Gaynor

Comments feature added August 14, 2011

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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