Leonardo"s Notebook by Mattheus Mei

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Eucharist as Weapon

*pic from life teen
If there's anything that the past two election cycles have proven, it's that the Catholic tribe is a much sought after bloc of voters that is as complex a group as the generalization "white people" (as opposed to hard working, hard working white Americans).

A majority of Catholics have been, historically, aligned with the Democratic party since the 1940's and have proved pivotal in recent years as enough of the tribe was swayed to vote for George Bush in 2004. This gave him the Presidency for a second term over, ironically, his Catholic opponent - Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Navigating the electoral waters for Catholics has proven to be a process of great discernment, highlighted with points of even greater contention, as the Bishops have appealed to the electorate with a rhetoric of thoughtful engagement with all the issues, while many have then turned around to punish certain politicians by with holding communion for their public support for a single issue, Abortion rights. In 2004 it was Sen. Kerry being disavowed the bread and wine from the Archbishop of St. Louis (if he ever attended Mass in his archdiocese).

This year the matter is on the verge of exploding back to the for-front, especially in the wake of the Apostolic Visit of Benedict XVI, who has reinvigored the Bishops and given them the confidence of legitimacy they've not had since prior to the sex abuse crisis. It's also stirred a frenzy among the young conservative elites who, in the wake of the abuse crisis, have seized the reigns of lay leadership and involvement away from the older liberal generations who were disaffected from the church because of the crisis (for many this was the proverbial straw for the camel's back).

These young elites and their Bishops have become more brazen to participate in partisan politics, and in some cases the Bishops have ignored their own directives to the Catholic electorate not to focus on single issues. Such was the case of Kathleen Sebelius (D), the Catholic Governor of Kansas. It was recently reported in Commonweal online that "...with the Democratic governor’s political star rising, the registered Republican Archbishop of Kansas City revived the use of Holy Communion as a political weapon to take her down. He publicly called on her to stop taking Communion with her Catholic community, because of her widely-known opposition to the use of criminal law in dealing with abortion. In a Catholic newspaper column, Archbishop Joseph Naumann indicated that he had made the request because he had been angered by her vetoes of several Republican bills restricting abortion in Kansas. In her most recent veto message, Gov Sebelius offered a detailed description of the lengths to which she had gone to address the abortion issue constructively, and lauded the success her administration had achieved in decreasing its incidence."

But refusing communion to Democrat Politicians, as we've noted with Sen. Kerry and the Archbishop of St. Louis in 2004, while certainly becoming more partisan and brazen is not new. Public lashing of moderate Republicans, who are moderate on abortion rights issues, is. Recently Rudy Guliani (former contender for the Republican nomination for President), was publicly censured by Cardinal Egan of New York.

But it doesn't stop there! Now you don't even have to be a Politician moderate on, or in favour of, abortion rights to be barred from Communion.

Most recently Doug Kmeic, perhaps one of the country's most revered opponents to abortion, a constitutional lawyer who served under that paragon of conservatism, Ronald Regan, was even denied communion. From his own words at Catholic.org:

On the blogs, I have been declared “self-excommunicated,” and recently at a Mass before a dinner speech to Catholic business leaders, a very angry college chaplain excoriated my Obama-heresy from the pulpit at length and then denied my receipt of communion.
A slap in the face for a man who discerned with great diligence that which the Bishops asked him to do when it comes to exorcising his constitutional and moral right of voting. All because he supports a Democrat who, while by virtue of his own conscience has passed the test for acceptable and worthy of his vote, is ok with Abortion Rights.

Does anyone else find it absurd that a political party is being systematically anathematized by a virulent, vitriolic unsympathetic group of elites and their hierarchical collaborators? Is anyone else perturbed that the Bishops should be so beholden of such a group and to that group's ascetic interpretations of law, scripture, and tradition, that they would disregard their own directive to voters at the behoovement of such a class of young Theocons and Clericalists, using Eucharist as a weapon against someone well regarded as friend to their cause?

And why are we using the Eucharist as a weapon? It is the most supreme Irony that the Sacrament of Love, compassion, and forgiveness - should become a weapon of segregation, denigration and saddest of all, a mere prop in the ongoing supposed "culture war," a war that only exists in the ethos of a lost generation and perpetuated and embodied in their indoctrinated and anointed heirs who can't see beyond the notion of us-versus-them into the post-modern reality in which the world resides - that its not necessary to be either ideological victim or warrior, but rather consensus maker or to borrow one of the titles of the Pope - Pontifex, bridge builder.

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Gashwin said...

More on this later.

Is it acceptable for a Bishop (or a priest) to refuse communion to someone ever?

I am sympathetic overall, though I find this language of conservative elites and theocons to be rhetorical nonsense. However, we also seem to be in a time that wants to ignore or downplay one's own proper disposition to receive the Sacrament. It's not an automatic. It's become that. Which, to me, is another sign of the spiritual slackness we've fallen into.

Check this post out at ID. . I think you'll like it. Much there to ponder.

Mattheus Mei said...

As to the question if a Bishop or Priest should ever deny communion, I think the threat of withholding such should be enough, after all Paul says in Corinthians 11:27-29 that it is up to the person to examine themselves and be cautious as to what they participate in when participating in communion. The scripture doesn't preclude a member of the Church from taking Communion just to consider the awesome power and meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ and the meaning of the meal and know that though the church, like Christ who gave of himself freely and completely, so does she to the flock she has been entrusted and like his giving it's not with out consequence.

Is conservative elites and theocons really rhetorical nonsense? I'd say they describe rather appropriately the seeming lack of charity or lack of rhetorical charity found in certain internet blogs and websites. These web voices have their own echo chambers of supporters and have been given a prominent forum within our American Catholic Culture. They're the Bill O'Reiley's and Sean Hannitys of the Church and the louder they are with their lack of willingness to dialog - like the charitable dialog you and I share on a regular basis - the more legitimacy they seem to get because no one has the energy or wants to stand in opposition to them - or represent a more nuanced approach. And they do have clerical collaborators, or perhaps they are the collaborators because you do have this what has potential to become the first instances of clerical abuse of the sacrament because certain folks refuse to see "the forest for the trees" as it were and do happen to focus so intensely on the single issue (such as abortion)

As to the post over at ID, I agree completely, but Sheri's voice is not one that we hear! We only hear what Catholic Media picks up on (which is just as sensationalist as the MSM) and who the loudest voices are in the blogosphere and more and more in the Parishes, its for this reason that we've seen the unfortunate case of Mr. Kmiec.

Gashwin said...

A few things:

1) The Church definitely has the authority to withhold Communion from someone. It's called excommunication in the most formal sense, and it is a penalty intended to emphasize the gravity of whatever crime is being committed, and a plea for repentance. The issue at hand isn't formal excommunication, but something akin. Whether the Church, or Bishops, ought to exercise this penalty in these cases has been much discussed, and not just in the hyperventillating ways in the places that you refer. At the highest level in the country, there seems to be no consensus.

2) The individual Bishops who are acting in various way are not violating what the Bishops' Conference has said. The USCCB has said that this is an area in which the Bishops find themselves divided and cannot agree as a body. No USCCB has statement has force of law unless a 2/3 majority of Bishops agrees (or it could be a consensus requirement, I don't recall the details of Canon Law on this, which was modified in 1996 by Pope John Paul II in his motu proprio, Apostolos suos). The USCBB is an auxilliary entity, not one that has any juridical authority over any individual Bishop. So, whether one agrees with him or not, a Bishop is exercising his divine authority in his own diocese when he makes rulings on such cases. The problem seems to be, as Sherry has highlighted in her post, that the Bishops aren't being very clear what is their own prudential judgment about the particular pastoral situation in their diocese, and what is doctrine.

2) In the case of the Governor of Kansas, my understanding is that the Archbishop met with her several times, and, presumably, the meetings were at an impasse. This is a pastoral approach with one individual, not a categorical ban on anyone and everyone who supports an abstract position. From what I know about the issue, I support his move. Note, he has not told his priests to deny her Holy Communion, but has forcefully asked her to withhold herself from receiving, repeating himself when she didn't seem to be listening. He is her bishop. She is duty-bound to obey him, especially in this area, I would say

3) The Kmeic case is a lot more problematic, because it seems it was priest who did this, on the simple case of his association with one of the Democratic candidates. That case, if all the details are reported are correct, certainly is disquieting, actually, very disturbing.

4) And yes, there certainly seems to be a sense, especially in St. Blogs, that any whiff of an association with the Democratic party marks implies that one is not serious about defending human life. Certainly this might be true of some Catholics -- quite possibly secularized ones or lapsed ones -- who support Democratic candidates; for instance, it would not be imprudent to come to this conclusion about those who trumpet "abortion rights." However, a categorical judgment of this nature is, I submit, contrary to charity.