Excommunication or not

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Earlier this month an Irish priest, Fr. John Hogan, parish priest of Multyfarnham in County Westmeath, refused to give communion to Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy, a member of the lower house of the Irish parliament. Mr. Troy was attending a requiem Mass celebrated by Fr. Hogan at St Nicholas’s parish church. The reason for the refusal of communion was due to the fact that TD Troy had supported the introduction of legalized abortion services in Ireland. Mr. Troy had previously identified himself as pro-life, but revealed that he had voted in favor of the referendum to repeal the eighth amendment that protected unborn babies. TD Robert Troy is a Catholic.

Across the pond just last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, signed a bill that he had lobbied for that would make it state law to permit abortion up until the minute before a baby would be born, that would allow other health practitioners beside doctors to perform abortions, and would remove all criminality for taking the life of an unborn child in any case. Governor Cuomo ordered that the lights of the tower on the World Trade Center be lit in pink to celebrate the victory. Andrew Cuomo is a Catholic.

What is the difference in these two scenarios? Two politicians, two actions in favor of abortion. One is refused communion; the other has not. That isn’t to say that Governor Cuomo may still be refused communion, but Cardinal Timothy Dolan has stated that “excommunication” is not “an appropriate response.” But is that the best response? What is the purpose of refusing communion or imposing canonical excommunication?

For the purpose of reference it should be noted that senior Illinois senator Dick Durbin has been excommunicated for his pro-abortion stance and voting record. In a recent letter Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield stated: “Senator Durbin was informed several years ago by his Pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish here in Springfield that he was not permitted to receive Holy Communion per canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law. My predecessor upheld that decision and it remains in effect. It is my understanding that the Senator is complying with that decision here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.”

Canon Law 915 reads as follows: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.

On September 22 of last year I wrote a blog entitled “In Silence No More” that dealt with St. Ambrose, then bishop of Milan, and his action of excommunication against emperor Theodosius after a massacre he had ordered upon the citizens of Thessalonica. The emperor complied with the order and fulfilled his penance before being restored to communion.

Denying communion is not an expulsion from a political party or a social club. It is actually a mercy given to the baptized to help him or her recognize grave sin and the accompanying discipline that has the purpose of bringing him or her to spiritual restoration and communion with God and man. The biblical basis for this is found in Matthew 18:15–20.

“If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (NABRE).

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, writes that excommunication serves “to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5 NABRE). It is noteworthy that Paul did not leave the man dangling, forever separated from the life and sacraments of the Church as in 2 Corinthians 2:5–11 he instructs on how to bring about the reconciliation of this same sinner.

So excommunication is a mercy to show us the grave error of our unconfessed sin and to hopefully drive us back into the loving arms of the Father. Hebrews 12:11 tells us: “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for gain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

The bottom line is that if our priests and bishops truly care for the souls of their sheep, they will not seek to embarrass them in a public or recriminatory way, or even worse, cower in the face of public opinion and do nothing. The issue is the spiritual health and destiny of each sheep. Is it worth currying political favor or protecting one’s own hind parts, and thus put in peril the eternal soul of the parishioner, no matter how exalted or esteemed he or she is? St. Ambrose didn’t think so. Emperor Theodosius was glad in the long run that he didn’t.

 

 

 

Excommunication or not

In Silence No More!

One of my spiritual disciplines for 2018 is reading from “A Year with the Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living” by Mike Aquilina. I find the excerpts challenging and edifying. Such was the case as I read from Day 264, an article that Aquilina titled, “We are all equal in God’s sight.” I was challenged to consider what should be expected of our political leaders and us who profess faith in Christ, and especially those who are  Catholic.

In the introduction Aquilina writes: “When riots broke out in Thessalonica, the emperor Theodosius (347–395) furiously ordered that the city should be punished. Thousands died when soldiers were let loose on their own fellow citizens. When Theodosius came home, the bishop, St. Ambrose, refused to let him into church until he had gone through months of public penance.”

Theodoret, a church historian, wrote about this in Ecclesiastical History, 5.17:

When the emperor arrived in Milan, he as usual went to enter the church. But Ambrose met him outside the outer porch and refused to let him cross the threshold.

“Sir, you don’t seem to understand what a bloody crime you have committed,” said Ambrose. “Your rage has settled down, but you still don’t understand what you’ve done.

“You rule, sir, over people whose nature is the same as yours. In fact, they are your fellow servants—for there is one Lord and Ruler of all humanity, the Creator of the universe.

“How will you look on the temple of our common Lord? How will you walk across that holy threshold? How will you hold up your hands, still dripping with the blood of unjust slaughter? How can those hands receive the all-holy body of the Lord? How will you lift the precious blood to your lips, when you in your fury poured out so much blood?

“Go. Do not try to add another crime to the one you have already committed. Submit to the restriction to which you are sentenced with the agreement of God, the Lord of all. He will be your physician. He will give you health.”

Theodosius was well learned in Scripture; he knew what belonged to priests and what belonged to emperors. So he bowed to Ambrose’s rebuke and went back to his palace, sighing and weeping.

Theodosius was excommunicated by the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, for the massacre. He was told to imitate the famous royal penitent David in his repentance as he had imitated him in guilt; Ambrose readmitted the emperor to the Eucharist only after several months of penance.

What would it look like if those in governmental leadership today were held to the same standard? The position taken by many Catholic prelates such as in the case of abortion and euthanasia is toothless and actually puts them and their sheep: Catholic political figures and Catholic voters in mortal sin and in danger of losing their souls. Tough language, but true!

Go back to 2004, when then Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, conveyed in a letter to then Cardinal McCarrick (Washington) and Cardinal Gregory (Atlanta) that denial of Communion is obligatory “regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia.” And further that a priest should warn “the person in question” of the consequences, including the denial of Communion. Ratzinger further said that if “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,” And then the final paragraph of the letter addresses those who knowingly vote for a pro-choice candidate: “If he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia,” that Catholic too “would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion.” (Quotes from The Washington Times, July 7, 2004).

Unfortunately ex-Cardinal McCarrick took it upon himself to misrepresent the direct order from Rome and told the USCCB that the decision was up to them. What happened next is “their bad” for voting 183-6 on a compromise statement allowing each bishop to decide whether to give Communion to pro-choice politicians or not. Fourteen years later we have to wonder what would have happened if the truth had been told, and even if not, if our bishops would have had the spirit of St. Ambrose.

We have an election on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. It behooves us to find out where the candidates for every office stand on the issues as they relate to our faith. I live in New Jersey where in the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Bob Menendez (D) is running against Bob Hugin (R). They are both pro-choice. I will not be voting for either one, and I have let them know that. I do appeal to Joseph Cardinal Tobin of Newark to take seriously his role of shepherd of Mr. Menendez, who is Catholic, regarding the grave position he places his soul to support abortion. I live in congressional district 1 where incumbent Daniel Norcross (D) is running against Paul Dilks (R). Mr. Norcross is pro-abortion and I have already informed him that I will be voting for his opponent, Mr. Dilks, who is pro-life.

I appeal to all Christians, but especially to my Catholic brothers and sisters to do the right thing. This is not something we dare take lightly.

St. Ambrose, pray for us!

In Silence No More!