Friday 4 April 2014
Considerations on the Greg Pope Letter
The letter addressed by Greg Pope (GP) to Catholic MPs saying the Bishops have no plans to withhold Holy Communion from those who voted for same–sex “marriage” (my speech marks) quickly followed Bishop Egan’s statement that to deny Holy Communion to Catholics who promote anti-life, anti-marriage measures is an act of mercy; a medicinal measure. GP’s letter is fine as far as it goes, as is the affirmation by Fr Stock that it was issued with the support of the Bishops. But I wonder if there isn’t more to be said. The Bishops may not be planning to deny Holy Communion, but it has to be a consideration at some point along the line if we are to shepherd souls in the Way of Christ and the Gospel of life, otherwise we will not be shepherds as much as hirelings. As it stands, Bishop Egan is canonically correct since Canon Law forbids Holy Communion to those in manifest grave sin. He is pastorally right too, since to receive Our Lord when objectively in a state of sin is to commit sacrilege, and allowing a soul to commit repeated sacrilege is to endanger that soul.
I constantly hope for strong words from the Bishops; words which exhort Catholic MP’s who vote for (and Catholics in the media who promote) anti-life, anti-marriage and corrupting education in homosexuality and contraception et al, to change their ways for the sake of their salvation. I hope to hear words exhorting such folk to follow Canon 916 which requires them to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they change and go to Confession. But how long can such exhortations continue without invoking Canon 915 which places the onus on the shepherd not to admit such folk to Holy Communion? It is hard to say. But if Catholic MPs (and Catholics in the media and public life) continue to vote for or promote anti-life, anti-family measures, there must come a time when their access to Holy Communion is forbidden -not to punish them, and not to simply avoid scandal or even to promote the Gospel, but to safeguard the souls of those who receive and those who allow them to receive when they publicly act contrary to the Gospel. I honestly wonder if it will be enough for those of us with shepherding responsibilities to stand before the Lord and say, “We asked them not to receive” when it is the duty of shepherds to actively ensure the sacraments are protected from sacrilege (isn’t that why the Blessed Sacrament is in a fixed, locked tabernacle and the Holy Oils in a locked cupboard?)
The question arising for me is this: if the Bishops do not exclude from Holy Communion those who publicly exercise their power and influence in ways opposed to the Gospel, will they support parish priests who make that decision? They will not penalise us, because we will be acting in accord with the law of the Church, but will they wholeheartedly support us? I hope so.
I think it is time we as a Catholic community unambiguously declare that sex outside of marriage, contraception, homosexual acts, civil “remarriage” after divorce, IVF, embryonic stem cell research, abortion and euthanasia are all objectively evil acts (that is, they lack the good that ought to be present). We must of course be clear that it is the acts we are judging, not people, and equally clear that denying Holy Communion to those who engage in or promote such acts is a work of mercy which seeks to bring such folk to an awareness of the mortal danger to which they expose their soul, thereby encouraging them to return to the Way marked out for us by Christ and the constant teaching and practice of His Church. Once this has been reiterated clearly and with a united voice, our Bishops can refer back to it when they are questioned and when Catholics in public life act contrary to the Gospel and the eternal good of man. At present, too many Catholics seem to seek nothing more than acceptance of the Church by a secular world. Well, woe unto those of whom the world speaks well, says the Lord.
Post Script. Yes, sins against charity are also gravely wrong; there ought never to be marginalisation of people so that a community of poor, dispossessed people arises. As such we must denounce what we see as laws which dispossess, marginalise and oppress sections of the community as vigorously as we denounce sins associated with the marriage act, all the while actively caring for those who have been dispossessed, marginalised and oppressed. Unfortunately fiscal laws are of prudential judgement and difficult to ‘police’; indeed, it is not for the Church to support any political party or policy per se, she can only comment on policies. But acts which are directly contrary to the permanence, fidelity, exclusivity and life-giving properties of the sacrament of marriage are individual concrete acts which directly violate the sacred and therefore individual penalties can and ought to be applied for the good of souls, be they souls who administer the law or those souls subject to the law.