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May 31, 2004
Escalation In The Eucharist Wars

The Star Tribune reports today that we have seen an escalation in the battle over the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. Now, lay groups have formed to prevent members of other lay groups from participating in Communion:

About 40 men from a recently formed group, Ushers of the Eucharist, collected in the central aisle in the Cathedral of St. Paul during holy communion and asked the Rainbow Sash Alliance not to take part.

They then knelt in the aisle to block those wearing rainbow sashes, which symbolize support of gay Catholics taking communion. Other members of the group created a bottleneck by kneeling in front of the altar.

The Eucharist, which Catholics believe are the body and blood of Jesus Christ, has been at the center of politics in this election cycle. Catholic bishops have opined, on both sides, as to whether pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be allowed to receive the Eucharist. At issue is the nature of Communion itself; Catholic doctrine states that one must be free of mortal sin -- that is, one must have confessed and repented of it -- before receiving the Host. In the case of abortion, as I wrote earlier this month, Catholic teaching has always been clear from the earliest days of the Church (paragraph 2270):

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. ... Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,"77 "by the very commission of the offense,"78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

Note the phrase "formal cooperation", which includes those who actively work to make abortions available. The bishops in the US -- at least some of them -- have finally acted to enforce the Catechism in this regard, imposing the excommunication that the Church's own doctrine demands. While some see this move as overtly political, in truth the reluctance of the bishops to intercede before demonstrated much more of a political calculation, and Catholics know it. Democrats have for decades embraced more of the Church's mission on social justice, and the bishops have long shaded their eyes on abortion in order to gain on other issues. Now, however, they have finally demanded that politicians who identify as Catholics and take Communion repent of their mortal sins as well, as defined by the Church they proclaim.

But -- and I cannot make this argument strongly enough -- excommunication must be declared by the bishops, either de facto or pro forma, and not by the laity. The so-called Ushers of the Eucharist may have pure hearts and good intentions, and unlike them, I will not judge the motives of the opposition. In theory, their stance conforms to the Catechism, at least superficially (paragraph 2357):

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Even though the Rainbow Sash group identifies themselves as gay, they don't necessarily identify themselves as practicing homosexual relations. It may sound like a distinction without a difference, and in practice most often it is. However, the Catechism makes clear that gays and lesbians are not barred from Communion as long as they practice chastity, just like any other unmarried person in the Church. Unlike pro-abortion Catholic politicians, who defy Church doctrine by voting to legalize and expand the practice of abortion, these gay Catholics do not trumpet the precise conditions of mortal sin -- and it is not for the laity to presume their guilt (in regard to Church doctrine) or innocence.

In short, the Ushers of the Eucharist have judged without complete knowledge or even reasonable knowledge the status of the souls of the Rainbow Sash members. Their actions in blocking access to the Eucharist are therefore unacceptable and must be stopped. The bishops need to take appropriate action to ensure that these disruptions during Mass are not repeated. And the laity of the Church needs to recognize that while they have considerable power over the affairs of their parishes and dioceses, excommunication falls outside their authority, and if they insist on enforcing the Catechism they need to also abide by it.

Addendum: Obviously, I'm Catholic, and I write this from a Catholic perspective. However, I'm not willing to say that gay relationships are wrong in an objective or empirical sense. What I have written about "guilt" and "innocence" relates to the Catholic doctrine on the subject. In all other senses, I am a libertarian, and I think that one is answerable to God and not to me. As long as what someone does hurts no one else, I see no need to judge or condemn.

However, I do have one question for those who insist on remaining Catholic despite their contravention of its doctrine: why? Church membership is voluntary, and if their 2,000-year-old doctrine explicitly argues against one's core beliefs, I don't know why a person feels compelled to belong.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 31, 2004 9:06 AM

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