Monday, March 12, 2012

Calling all canon lawyers...

This post will be brief today, not the least because I'm battling another stupid Monday migraine.

But in the wake of the news that the priest who withheld Holy Communion from the Buddhist lesbian activist has been placed on administrative leave, and in light of the many discussions swirling around the blogosphere about this, I have a question for any canon lawyers out there who would like to weigh in.

In his blog (and I'm not singling him out, here; he's just posted a lot about this) Dr. Ed Peters writes the following:
There is not, and never has been, the slightest doubt but that a Catholic woman living a lesbian lifestyle should not approach for holy Communion, per Canon 916. One so approaching risks receiving the Eucharist to her own condemnation. 1 Corinthians XI: 27. But, once any Catholic approaches for the public reception of holy Communion, a different norm controls the situation, namely, Canon 915. The only question in this case is, and has always been, whether the centuries-old criteria for withholding holy Communion from a member of the faithful were satisfied at the time this woman approached this minister. Unless all of those criteria were satisfied at that time, then, no matter what moral offense the woman might have committed by approaching for the Sacrament in her state (for which action she would be accountable before God), the minister of holy Communion acted illicitly. Period. End of paragraph.
So my question, which I formulated as I was replying to a commenter under an earlier post, is this:

Let's suppose that a baptized Catholic has left the practice of the faith and become an atheist. He is not a "live and let live" atheist who respects religion, but is instead someone like P.Z. Myers. Let's further suppose that this atheist announces on a public website his intention to get hold of the Blessed Sacrament in order to desecrate It as Myers did (perhaps daring God to smite him, to the amusement of his readers).

Now, let's further suppose that this atheist shows up twenty minutes before Mass, informs the priest who is to be the celebrant that he intends to steal the Blessed Sacrament in order to perform this act of desecration and tells him about the website boast (but doesn't show him the website or "prove" any of this in any way). According to what I've been reading, is it the case that even in this instance the priest has absolutely no power to refuse to give this person Holy Communion when he presents himself in the communion line, or to stop him from leaving the church with the Blessed Sacrament on his way to perform the act of desecration he has boasted that he will do, because the strict and narrow conditions of Canon 915 (that is, that the priest has no proof that this person is obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin) have not been met?

It seems to me that if this is so, and there is no canonical provision that would permit a priest from stopping a planned and announced act of desecration of the Blessed Sacrament unless the conditions of Canon 915 have been satisfied, then there is a serious deficiency in canon law that must be remedied as soon as possible. If, however, there is some provision that would permit a priest from stopping a planned and announced act of desecration, it would seem imperative to identify that provision and to show how the same provision could not be used by the priest to stop a planned and announced act of sacrilege--if it is indeed the case that sacrilege must be permitted but desecration may be stopped.

If there are canon lawyers out there reading this, I would very much appreciate any commentary you can offer so that I can understand this matter better. As it seems right now, there is a huge difference between Catholics and our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters when it comes to protecting the integrity of the Blessed Sacrament, and frankly, I find that disturbing.

UPDATE 3/14: Honest, serious question: if the gay activist who disrupted the Mass in the UK to protest against the reading of the bishop's letter against gay marriage had returned to the church in time for Holy Communion and had gotten in line, could he have been barred from receiving under Canon 915 or not?

31 comments:

Fredo Baggins said...

It seems to me that if this is so, and there is no canonical provision that would permit a priest from stopping a planned and announced act of desecration of the Blessed Sacrament unless the conditions of Canon 915 have been satisfied, then there is a serious deficiency in canon law that must be remedied as soon as possible"

So, as canon law is now not sufficiently judgmental for your taste, you are now officially more Catholic than the Pope.

ElizabethK said...

Thanks for asking this question--I have been mulling this situation over and wondering if there are actually ANY instances in which it would be appropriate to publicly deny someone communion. I'm not necessarily arguing that there should be, but it does make me wonder about the purpose of publicly excommunicating someone.

nate said...

The norms are about who can receive i.e. consume Communion. Stand on your head to receive. Try to leave without consuming it. Leave that camera team running. Threaten to burn the host. In each case I'm thinking you're out of luck. PERIOD.

So while everyone waits for the Canonists to arrive (reading Dr. Peter's comment policy I would not imagine he's making repeat visits to many comment boxes), let's not be scanadalized by the standard of free will (obstinate refusal) that is involved.

The power to excommunicate is real. It comes with the power to bind and loose, but it is used with the greatest of deliberation. Those who wish to right the wrongs to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament need to remember who the priest acts for:

"So he dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, 'What you are going to do, do quickly.' None of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him."

Red Cardigan said...

No, Fredo, actually the pope has the power to modify canon law, and it's been done many times. In relatively recent Church history the Code of 1983 replaced the Code of 1917. I think that if there really, truly is NO provision in canon law that would allow a priest to intervene to stop an act of desecration of the Eucharist, the next revision of canon law might well address that.

But there are other possibilities. The most obvious is that priests as the ministers of Holy Communion do in fact have a certain discretionary power to withhold communion that does not begin and end with Canon 915--which is why I asked canon lawyers to weigh in.

Rebecca in ID said...

Correct me if I'm wrong; this is the canon you're referring to:

Can. 915 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.

Am I missing something, because it looks to me *obvious* that the woman was in "manifest grave sin". The priest in the circumstances was morally certain, from her own words, that she ought not to receive communion, so what is the question? Does Dr. Ed Peters have some special knowledge that hasn't been mentioned?

John Thayer Jensen said...

Rebecca's comment seems to me interesting. The thing turns on the word 'manifest.' Does it have to mean 'obvious to a lot of people' - 'notorious,' in fact - which appears to be what Dr Peters is saying - or just 'obvious to the priest?'

Much may depend precedent - how has this thing been decided in the past?

jj

Anonymous said...

He was not wrong in holding back Communion.

He was wrong in announcing in public during a funeral to the deceased's grieving daughter that she is a sinner and he will not give her Communion.

He should have spoken to her ahead of time and explained it to her behind closed doors.

(I noticed my other comment was not published? Why so?)

ObservingTheTruth

Red Cardigan said...

Observing, he did not announce anything in public. He did tell her privately not to come for communion. When she did, he told her he couldn't give her communion. That was it.

Anonymous said...

I think the priest or E.M. can insist that the communicant consume the Eucharist in front of him. If they refuse to consume, ask for It back. This has happened in our church. Who knows what was planned when the Host was taken & hidden on this person, who refused to consume It, but finally did hand back the Eucharist, and left church immediatly. Thank God for a very observant and serious E.M.

~C

c matt said...

Did he give her a blessing instead? Just a regular lawyer, not a canon one, but I wonder if there are reported cases in canon law that put a little more meat on the bones of 915. Just from the wording of 915, and Dr. Peters' explanation that the conditions [had to be] satisfied at the time, it seems the conditions were met and made known to the priest. Perhaps there is a requirement of personal investigation by the priest, corraboration by others, or something more than the putative communicant's own profession that is required. OR is Dr. Peters saying that, at the time she came up to receive, she may have had an instant change of heart or something? It seems this presents a loophole big enough to fly Shepherd One through.

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

My view is that testimony constitutes evidence. If someone tells me that they live a lesbian lifestyle, and introduces me to her partner in that context, then I have sufficient proof for any purpose that she is in fact publicly persisting in manifest grave sin.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rebecca in ID said...

Wait, so the idea is that it's not enough that she told him; she had to *prove* she was a lesbian? Well in that case, it wouldn't be enough for someone to say they're not Catholic, right; wouldn't they have to *prove* they're not Catholic???

eulogos said...

With respect to your question, I believe that even under Dr. Peter's interpretation, the priest or even an EMHC can keep someone from *leaving the Church* with the Eucharist. I was specifically told when I trained as an EMHC that I should watch to make sure the communicant in fact communed, and to follow them and insist that they do so. I saw the priest who trained me do just that himself. I found, though, that following this got me in all sorts of trouble with people. One girl, brought to church by a friend, took a host from the priest, then came up to me (holding the chalice) and say, "What do I do with this?" I asked her if she were Catholic, and when she said no, I told her to give it back to the priest, which she did, I thought, with relief. The mother of this girl's friend, though, raked me over the coals about it; I shouldn't have "excluded" the girl, but "made her welcome". One father was mad at me for telling his son after mass that he should consume when he recieved the host, not take it back to his seat, saying "We are just grateful they come to church, no need to hassle them about every little thing." Then there were two adults; one had swallowing difficulties and was taking the host back to her seat to break up into tiny bits and didn't see why this might be a problem. The other one didn't want to open her mouth near the priest because she had dentures she felt insecure with. Both of these people made me feel like a pettifogging legalist with no human compassion. I am glad I don't have that job any more.

But the rules against not giving communion do NOT apply against preventing people from taking away the Blessed Sacrament.
Susan Peterson

eulogos said...

What I don't understand about this whole thing is why the requirements Dr. Peters explains are not met by the discussion the woman had in the sacristy with the priest beforehand. It wasn't long, but sometimes it doesn't take long for everything necessary to be said!

And I feel the same way as you do about the care Orthodoxy takes to guard Our Lord's Sacramental Presence. If you are not from that parish and Father doesn't know you, you go early and introduce yourself to him and let him know you are Orthodox. In some places you have to assure him you have confessed very recently. If someone the priest doesn't know comes up, or if someone he knows should not receive comes up, they are offered the base of the chalice to kiss. I don't think this woman would dare try to pull this trick in an Orthodox Church.
True, usually their parishes are smaller, and maybe it is different in a city parish in someplace like Greece, and someone could go to communion without being known. But not if she made herself known the way this women did!

I feel the same way you do about this. This puts us to shame before the Orthodox, and is another thing which could lead them to say, "We don't recognize the same faith we have, in you."

Susan Peterson

nate said...

Erin,

As you know Dr. Peters is deeply skeptical that one discussion in the rectory could ever meet the requirements to deny someone who attempts to receive Communion in the same way as others.

But his latest suggests that she has sufficiently proved this obstinance since.

Q. Given all the hoopla this lady has generated about herself, wouldn’t it be fair to say that if she presents herself for Communion again, she should be denied?

A. Yes. (wherever the priest is aware of this woman’s public profile)

This reflect his earlier comments:

"Now, sure, over time, and under certain circumstances, any of the behaviors described above can become so well-known in the community that those involved in such activities should be denied holy Communion, provided the other elements of c. 915—like, say, 'obstinacy'— are also satisfied."

"A few years ago, Bp. Ricken made exactly this kind of determination about, in fact, two Catholic lesbians who had repeatedly proclaimed their aberrant lifestyle in the local media. He contacted them and told them they were not permitted to approach for holy Communion. He acted entirely appropriately, in accord with canon law (and sound sacramental theology), and his action won support from neutral observers. But, notice, his conduct was a far cry from a quick decision regarding ALL elements of c. 915 (not just one or two of them) made a few minutes before Mass one day."

Tony said...

Erin,

This Canon Lawyer baiting (which I believe is being directed at Ed Peters) is unseemly.

You example doesn't hold water, because you are supposed to stop and consume the host before you head back to your seat. If you head back down the aisle with the host in your hand, the priest (or EMHC) has the right, nay the responsibility, to follow you down and request that you consume the host, or to return Him to them.

I'm glad Dr. Peters hasn't risen to the bait. When there's a question on the faithful's right to receive Holy Communion, we need to err on the side of the communicant. We can't have Pharisaical priests setting themselves up as spiritual judges, juries and executioners, withholding God's grace on their say-so.

Red Cardigan said...

Tony, I'm not baiting Dr. Peters. I'm just confused about the great difference between Catholic and Orthodox practice in this matter--and, to be more specific, Catholic practice in history and Catholic practice today.

As I've written here before, when my mom was growing up, if her family attended Mass at a different parish (traveling, etc.) they would have to obtain some sort of ticket/token in order to receive Communion at the parish other than their own! Clearly there has been a huge change in practice from "You need to show that you're a baptized Catholic in good standing before approaching the Sacrament" and today's "You are to be assumed to be a baptized Catholic in good standing unless Canon 915 has been clearly and indisputably met."

This doesn't just touch on canon law, by the way, but also on the theology of the Eucharist. There is plenty of evidence to show that huge numbers of Catholics don't believe in Christ's real presence anymore--and with laws like this, I don't know that they can be blamed. I mean, the practice today is simply to hand the Eucharist out like candy to anyone who lines up, even at Christmas and Easter and on other occasions where people who don't bother to follow the Church's precepts present themselves--so do we *really* think Christ is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, or is the Eucharist merely some symbol? If we *really* believed in His Presence, wouldn't we be a bit more careful about who could receive Him?

The other alternative is that we think it really doesn't matter much, and that sacrilege isn't really possible anymore, and that priests should consider themselves mere sacrament dispensers without caring whether those who receive are properly disposed, etc. Either approach is, in my view, terribly deficient.

nate said...

Erin,

What's with all the either-ors? Summary judgement and license without law are both wrong-headed.

To paraphrase Chesterton canon law "has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried" The real scandal is that clergy who lack the courage to deal with the brazen, hide behind the imprudent.

Read the comments from Dr. Peters posted above. He agrees that cases like this can and should be dealt with. It just takes more than a short hot confrontation.

Good start on the proper place of law here by Robert Bork.

http://catholiceducation.org/articles/history/world/wh0035.html

More saw Luther’s advocacy of lawless law to be at the heart of their culture war. Luther spoke for the individual conscience and so necessarily attacked the authority of precedent and tradition in the law. More’s view of law and the duty of judges was quite different. R. W. Chambers quotes him as saying: "If the parties will at my hands call for justice, then, all were it my father stood on the one side, and the devil on the other, his cause being good, the devil should have right." Luther and many modern jurists would reinterpret the law to do the devil down, and the moderns, at least, would reserve to themselves authority to decide which is the father and which the devil.

Red Cardigan said...

Nate, I'm being honest in my confusion. A fairly short time (in Church history) ago pastors seemed to have tons of authority to deny people Communion, even if the only reason was because the pastor didn't know the person and thus couldn't be sure he was a Catholic in good standing. Now we're told that ONLY if the exact letter of Canon 915 is fulfilled so unambiguously that the priest can't possibly get in trouble may he deny anyone Communion; otherwise, he has a positive obligation to give Communion to anyone who approaches him in the communion line. (And frankly, given that some bishops have said they won't enforce 915 in major circumstances and have instructed their priests likewise, I think that any priest who tried to follow 915 would be chastised and punished for doing so--but that's only my opinion.)

Was every priest prior to the present age just misinformed? Has canon law changed so drastically that preventing sacrilege is now only possible if the person committing the sacrilege decides against it? Have we separated so far from the East that what they consider too sacred to allow for the possibility of sacrilege we consider no big deal to hand out to anybody and everybody who lines up, Catholic or not, etc.?

These are serious questions, and I don't understand why my asking them is looked at as, "Well, she's just not a canon lawyer who doesn't understand 915." Because I do think that I understand 915, and what I understand is this: there is no canonical provision that will let a priest try to stop an act of sacrilege UNLESS the person is obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin. And obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin might mean something, but it *doesn't* mean that a woman who is known by the parish school which employed her to be living in a lesbian relationship and considering herself a Buddhist is covered by 915--not until she makes a stink about it in the media, at which point apparently both obstinate persistence and manifestation are present. I mean, what percentage of the people at that funeral would have to have known Johnson was both an active lesbian and a Buddhist before 915 would apply? 50%? 75%? 99%? Or would it have to be 100% before the scandal of giving her Communion would be a problem?

Red Cardigan said...

Consider that recent video from the UK in which a homosexual activist disrupts the Mass. Honest question: if that person had joined the line for communion, would he have been barred from being given the Sacrament by 915 or not? I'm pretty sure that Dr. Peters would say that no, he could not be considered to be obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin and must therefore be given communion--am I wrong?

John said...

It's hard watching your sincerity tripping over your certainty as to what he's saying.

I don't need to be an obstinate sinner to be refused communion when I am approaching on stilts, wear a t-shirt damning Christ, or do anything objectively disruptive inside the Church.

He's saying when the moral state of the communicant is the issue canon 915 requires more than one conversation.

Making a fuss in the media is obviously the express path to obstinacy. It is not the only path.

Rebecca in ID said...

"He's saying when the moral state of the communicant is the issue canon 915 requires more than one conversation."

I don't get this. The priest is not required to judge the subjective state of the person's soul, but to judge about an objective matter, whether the person is objectively not fit to approach the sacrament. One conversation, a few words, can make it clear that someone should not approach the sacrament until they have gone to confession. Having a same-sex lover is an objective circumstance.

Turmarion said...

The only thing I'd say in terms of clarifying this is that "fairly short time" needs to be defined. You say, Red, that in your parents' generation you needed a ticket to commune in an unfamiliar parish. Now I'm not a cradle Catholic, but I know many who are and I've never heard of such a thing, though I'll ask around, because it's interesting. For all I know that may have been the universal practice pre- (or immediately post-) Vatican II. It could also have been a regional or unusual thing. I don't know.

I do know that in parts of southern Italy Greek Orthodox and Catholics shared common celebrations of holy days and sometimes intercommunion nearly until the Renaissance. I also know that many things commonly thought to have been traditional for time out of mind are, if one checks the history, extremely recent by Church or any other historical standards. Just for a trivial example, the Roman Collar dates only to about the 19th Century.

I'm just stating this out of honest curiosity. My suspicion is that if you look at the facts on the ground, actual practice has varied enormously even pre-VII (look at the constant changing of age of Confirmation even in the 20th Century, e.g.), but I really don't know, and I think it would be interesting to find out.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Well, I'm not a canon lawyer, but I never saw any reason the priest should serve the woman communion. Everyone (almost) knows that communion in a Roman Catholic Church is for baptized and accepted Roman Catholics, not for all and sundry. A lot of Lutherans are like that too -- not that they serve communion to Roman Catholics, but that it is reserved for communicant members. Maybe Episcopalians for all I know -- the only Anglican church I've been in was St. Andrews in Headington (UK) when I was seven or eight, and communion was not an issue.

This woman was clearly not a Roman Catholic in good standing, or even trying to be.

But, if Canon 915 means exactly what Peters says it means, perhaps all good Roman Catholics should obey it? The discussion on that point is clear as mud, not to mention what Peters's biases, if any, may be.

Alice said...

Dear Red,
Where did your mother grow up and was she raised Catholic? Both as a Catholic and a religious history junky, I am intrigued. In fact, when I read that she had to have a "Communion token", I called my father-in-law, who has lived many places and who has been a frequent Communicant since childhood, and he said he had never heard of such a thing. He went so far as to say that the very idea of a "Communion token" was against what he had learned in theology class at Marquette in the 1940's. Now, it would not surprise me at all if there were a few priestly hold outs who couldn't care less about what the Code of Canon Law (the 1917, that is) said about all the baptized not barred by law having the right to receive or Pope St. Pius X's idea that the communicant, not the priest, was the judge of his own worthiness, but I have a very hard time believing that "Communion tokens" were widespread in the 1950's. (I'm assuming your mother is <65 since I think you have mentioned having late teen siblings.) To be honest, in my ideal world, we'd have give all the Sacraments of Initiation to infants and then have some system of Communion cards (as they have at the Lutheran church where I work) to make sure that only Catholics in good standing were receiving, but I am fully aware that my ideal world has very little to do with the custom of the Latin Church.

Red Cardigan said...

Hi, Alice! I will check with my mom about the details--it's possible that she was very young or remembering what her own parents told her about traveling, but I seem to recall her being involved in the story.

I do know that as a child she was required to attend Mass on Sunday with her classmates--e.g., she couldn't just come with her family, but had to join the nun who taught her grade and sit with the other children in her school grade. Families didn't sit together at Mass, and school children had "assigned" Masses they HAD to attend on Sunday (you couldn't just show up whenever it was convenient for the family).

This was rural (then, anyway) Illinois and my mom is a few years older than you think, because my youngest brother was born when she was 47; he's no longer a teen.

But there were several things she remembered from her Catholic childhood that I'd like to record, so I'll make sure to ask her and get all the details of this story. If the communion "token" story was about my grandparents I'll be sure to post that, but I think the point is the same--we just go back a tiny bit farther in history, but we still have a huge change in the way Communion is treated.

Red Cardigan said...

Hi, Alice! I will check with my mom about the details--it's possible that she was very young or remembering what her own parents told her about traveling, but I seem to recall her being involved in the story.

I do know that as a child she was required to attend Mass on Sunday with her classmates--e.g., she couldn't just come with her family, but had to join the nun who taught her grade and sit with the other children in her school grade. Families didn't sit together at Mass, and school children had "assigned" Masses they HAD to attend on Sunday (you couldn't just show up whenever it was convenient for the family).

This was rural (then, anyway) Illinois and my mom is a few years older than you think, because my youngest brother was born when she was 47; he's no longer a teen.

But there were several things she remembered from her Catholic childhood that I'd like to record, so I'll make sure to ask her and get all the details of this story. If the communion "token" story was about my grandparents I'll be sure to post that, but I think the point is the same--we just go back a tiny bit farther in history, but we still have a huge change in the way Communion is treated.

Unknown said...

That's particularly interesting to me, Red, because my Catholic heritage is rural Illinois German Catholic. My grandmother did have some weird (to us anyway) about the way parishes did Communion before WWI, but she never mentioned anything about having a letter of recommendation ready if she wanted to receive Communion in another parish. Since her family was spread out over a few parishes and she married late after moving around a bit, I'm sure it would have come up too. Her Catechism (probably from Confirmation since it was printed in 1920) doesn't have anything in it either. Of course, maybe it was just understood and she never said anything because she never thought about it after she settled down. I'll have to ask my uncle, who lived with her until she died, if she ever mentioned anything like that to him.

Alice said...

Umm, I'm not sure what happened there, but that was me.

Robert JB Flummerfelt said...

Hi - I realize I am a day late and a dollar short, but if you wish to correspond regarding canon law, feel free to contact me about this.

peace and blessings, Bob

www.canonlawservices.com