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?