Monday, March 7, 2011

Gov. Cuomo Follow-up

Not that he has any say in the Gov. Cuomo matter, but the new Auxiliary Bishop in Indianapolis, Bishop Christopher Coyne, recently said that he would never deny communion to anyone.

In a newspaper interview with The Indianapolis Star:

On denying Communion to politicians whose votes conflict with church teaching:

"I would never deny someone Communion unless they were absolutely deranged or something like that and it is obvious that they shouldn't be receiving Communion. The Communion line is not the place where you deal with whether or not someone should be receiving Communion."

(tip o' the hat to Creative Minority Report)

I discussed this last week with a seminarian friend of mine, and he said that, before any priest denies communion, they have to explicitly tell the person why they are in danger of being denied communion in order to go to confession and amend their life. He says this needs to happen at least 2-3 times.

Which raises the question: should a priest be able to bring up personal issues like this to light?

I sense a huge hesitancy for this to happen, on both sides of the aisle. While I am by no means endorsing busy-body priests, priests are there to shepherd the flock. That is their job, which does not just include counseling people like a psychologist, but confronting wrong doing in parishoners. If a parishoner was beating his children because of drunkeness and being openly unfaithful to his wife, would many people have a problem with a priest telling him he is in the wrong, and if he does not go to confession and repent, he cannot actively partake in the Lord's Supper?

On the other hand, I feel like a decent number of people want priests to have a hands off attitude because they fear someone keeping them accountable. They want the priests to serve the Church, but not uphold the Church's teachings. People want affirmation in their life choices, not to be challenged to live according to a higher calling: to answer God's call, to come and follow him.

I'm not saying it's easy. Everyone has their own set of stumbling blocks. But that does not excuse an unwillingness to change, or recognize that while there are many paths in life, there is still a right and wrong, which is a necessary force to grapple with when searching and wrestling with the truth. The Church is not the government, but it is still a governing body. It provides the tangible structure and support for people, so that they can manage their own souls.

But in terms of priests calling people out, I say, yes, especially with public figures like Gov. Cuomo who is so blatantly disregarding Church teaching (forwarding pro-abortion and pro-same sex marriage legislation; divorced and living with his girlfriend). Because they are publicly going against the Church, even if it is in their private actions, they are causing harm to the Church through their witness of inner disregard while keeping up the outer appearance of faithfulness through reception of holy communion.

No one is being forced to be Catholic; that being said, if you freely stay, it is not just "belonging" to any old Church. Catholicism is an entire life-force. Through one's encounter with Christ, one cannot help but be changed. Through the Church, one is able to encounter the fullness of truth. Which makes such blatant disregard not only disrespectful and misrepresentative of the Catholic Church and her glorious faith, but wrong. As we profess every Mass, we ask God's forgiveness for what we do and what we fail to do... but what if priests cannot even confront the obvious in their congregation?

Well, no worries. That's why we have canon lawyers like Ed Peters to keep accountability:

I read with some bemusement yesterday as the New York Daily News tried to bait Andrew Cuomo and the bishops of New York into a “Holy War” by alleging the governor’s “snub” of the latter’s meeting out of anger that “the Vatican” had rebuked Cuomo’s living arrangements. Now, what I don’t know about New York politics would choke a horse, so I can’t definitively conclude for or against the tabloid theory. But I can say that, to some guy sitting in Detroit, the NYDN headline “Cuomo snubs [NY] bishops after Vatican slap…” doesn’t make much sense.

First, “the Vatican” has not said anything about Andrew Cuomo’s cohabitation with Sandra Lee and the implications of that cohabitation for Cuomo’s reception of holy Communion. Rather, someone who is, as it happens, an advisor to “the Vatican” (well, really, an advisor to the Holy See, specifically, to a dicastery of the Holy See charged with certain canonical issues) has said something about Cuomo’s cohabitation with Lee and its implications for his reception of holy Communion. Folks can like what I said about the operation of Canon 915 in this case, or they can dislike it, (and there are many in both groups), but either way, the plain fact is, I’m the one talking here, not “the Vatican”.
I know this isn't an easy subject. As we can clearly see in Wisconsin, people don't want to take responsibility or acknowledge that there is a problem, it's hard to move forward. I think humility and sensitivity is needed in these types of situations, as well as a great deal of diplomacy and compassion, but blanketly stating that one will never deny communion removes any force of word or action of the Church. By relinquishing one's own power- the very possibility of denying communion- one ceases to steer the boat, and thus is controlled by the tossing waves.

Fr. Tim Finegan has a great post today called "Facing the Real Problems," which I think aligns with these issues in the Church nicely. There are some battles worth fighting, and discerning that is the first step of many.


  1. I believe that I am my brother's keeper. If I don't try my darnedest to get him to Heaven, then I am denied Heaven myself. So if I know he's headed to Gehenna, I ought to save him. And receiving Communion in that impure state condemns him even more.

    But I shouldn't be talking. I should get the log out of my eye first.

  2. Well Homeboy, firstly, you will never know he's going south for eternity. Catholics believe everyone is within God's grace, and we cannot make judgement calls on someone's final destination. However, yes, we do have a responsibility to aid those going astray.

    Here's the thing- you should be talking, log and all, as long as you're trying to remove it. That log may be there your entire life, but that doesn't mean you can't recognize and make a judgement that someone else needs to amend their behavior as well. As a member of the Church, you are both under the same obligations to help each other, as well as amend your own lives to conform more perfectly to Christ.

  3. Let me preface this by stating that I am not even remotely Catholic, but rather about as reformed as they come (Orthodox Presbyterian). It seems to me though, that by serving communion to someone who is living in blatant sin, a priest is not shepherding the entire flock. While there may be a desire to not disenfranchise the individual through the barring of communion, this loose leadership style will subsequently lead (and in the case of many protestant denominations, has already led) many others to accepting greater amounts of sin in their own lives. Cuomo has essentially placed his view of life above the canonized view held by the church. For the church to retain any authority, discipline is in order. Barring communion doesn't seem harsh enough. An unrepentant lifestyle such as his probably deserves expulsion from the church.

  4. I love this discussion from all three of you. I agree with y'all and I'm impressed with the approach you took, Joseph!

  5. Before I came to college I wasn't fully aware that receiving the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin was in fact another sin. It wasn't until a priest brought it up, although not personally, that I understood this. I actually think priests should be encouraged to talk to their parishioners and lead them to be more aware of their sin, as long as their knowing of this doesn't come from the sacrament of reconciliation which should be kept confidential. I want my priest to hold me accountable, because I fail to do so all the time. I need his guidance and I think the rest of the Church would do well to have the same.