Many people have puzzled over the USCCB ruling that bishops can make up their own minds about whether to administer the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians like Senator John Kerry. How can it be correct to receive in one diocese but sinful in another? Does this mean Catholic dioceses are not entirely in communion with one another anymore?
Of course not. The problem with interpreting this ruling lies in our failure to appreciate the importance of canon law, Christian charity and subtle nuance. When all these facts are taken together, the USCCB ruling is perfectly understandable.
Applying these principles, we quickly see what happened. The bishops are split into three groups. The first, very small group of bishops believe pro-abortion politicians and their ordinaries are essentially capable people. The second, rather larger group of bishops believe pro-abortion politicians are essentially capable people, but that many of their fellow bishops are simply incompetent to hold office. The third and largest group of bishops either believes pro-abortion politicians have IQs slightly below that of green jello or that their brother bishops are profoundly incompetent or both.
You see, everyone has been talking about canon 915 (those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion”), but no one has taken the time to consider how canon 386 and 843 affect the application of canon 915. Canon 843’s application is obvious: “The sacred ministers cannot refuse the sacraments to those who ask for them at the appropriate times, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.” Canon 386 is a little more subtle, but it is the interpretive key to the USCCB ruling: “The diocesan bishop is bound to present and explain to the faithful the truths of the Faith which are to be believed and applied to moral issues, frequently preaching in person…”
Six consecrated men - Archbishop Burke (St. Louis), Bishop Bruskewitz (Lincoln), Bishop Vasa (Baker), Archbishop Donohue (Atlanta), Bishop Baker (Charleston), and Bishop Jugis (Charlotte) – make up the group of bishops who believe both pro-abortion politicians and their ordinaries are competent men capable of understanding simple English and doing their duty, respectively.
Take Senator Kerry’s situation, for instance. Senator Kerry publicly and strenuously advocates a heresy: the idea that the gravely sinful act of child-murder is morally acceptable as long as the mother commissions it prior to birth. The six bishops above know that Archbishop O’Malley has, by now, certainly told Senator Kerry that this position is absolutely insupportable and must be publicly denied, since the archbishop must do this to be in accord with canon 386. Senator Kerry is a grown man and capable of obeying his archbishop. Since he clearly hasn’t obeyed, he is violating Archbishop O’Malley’s clear teaching and is therefore anathema.
The second group of bishops is not so sure. They seem to believe pro-abortion politicians are ultimately capable of being taught, but they either aren’t sure the ordinaries (mostly archbishops and cardinals) who have such people in their dioceses are mentally competent to understand their duties under canon 386, or they don’t think them capable of carrying those duties out. So, the bishops in this second group publicly tell everyone to be sure to examine their consciences in the light of Church teaching and voluntarily refuse to come forward for the Eucharist. That is, the bishops in the second group are unobtrusively stepping in to relieve the confused situations that arise when unfit ordinaries dither. They have chosen to publicly teach pro-abort men and women because their incompetent brother bishops can’t.
The third group of bishops, the largest group, apparently believe that any politician who supports abortion does not have the use of reason. Such people cannot be taught, no matter how good a teacher the bishop is. They are incapable of sin because they lack any sign of intelligence: mental infants cannot sin. Their admittance to First Communion was probably a mistake, but it’s too late to remedy that now, so these bishops will continue to hand out communion to the ambulatory human vegetables we elect to office, and they will pray for the miraculous infusion of a seven-year old’s intellect into these adult bodies.
This largest group of bishops, many of whom are bishops over pro-abortion politicians themselves, may very well also agree with the second group about their own incompetence to hold office. After all, if the ordinary is incompetent in his ability to provide moral teachings to others (maybe because his sheep are absolute idiots or because his teaching is just profoundly inadequate), he would know the sin lies with him for not teaching. It would not lie with his sheep, since they are only inadvertently failing to heed teachings his ineptitude had never clarified. In such a case, the bishop in question would continue to distribute the Eucharist to his pro-abort sheep because they cannot be held responsible for his sinful worthlessness as a teacher. Such inept leaders don't resign only out of charity towards the Pope. Given his health, they don't want to put on him the extra burden that would be required to replace all of them.
Clear as a Bell
So there you have it. This is, I believe, the only way to explain how all the American bishops are fully in line with canon law while also explaining how a public abortion supporter can be denied the Eucharist in one diocese and given the Eucharist in another, all without changing one letter of his public support for abortion. As I said, we must read and apply all the canons with Christian charity and a feel for nuance in order to understand what the bishops have already, in their wisdom, grasped. This kind situational assessment is a rare skill, but the bishops have it in spades. God bless them, and let’s continue to pray for them.