No Communion for You in Newark?

There has been a good bit of online buzz about the policy dated September 22, 2015, of Archbishop John Myers in Newark on the reception of Holy Communion – David Gibson covers it for RNS here. Gibson writes that the archbishop “has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.” And so forth.

I have some sympathy for the drafters of this short statement. It is exceedingly difficult to be concise while also being accurate. If you account for every possible unique situation and every possible exception, your statement ends up being a lengthy treatise that nobody will read or comprehend. That’s hardly the much-touted “New Evangelization.”

But still. Even in a short statement, one shouldn’t say things that are wrong – or worse, don’t make sense. And there are ways to hint at ambiguity and complexity without going into them in order to signal that the writer gets it, with wording that invites the reader to look elsewhere for greater detail.

In its defense, the statement from Archbishop Myers rightly begins with a word of welcome. That is important. But then it gets specific, and the problems start. I raise the following concerns about the three points of the policy (which is reprinted below).

Ad unum: Say what? “Catholics must be in a marriage recognized as valid by the Church to receive Holy Communion or the other Sacraments”?? I’m not in such a marriage – I’m a monk. Taking the statement at its word, I would not be permitted to receive Holy Communion in Newark. Nor would any priest or nun, or single person, or widow or widower. Surely they don’t mean that?! (OK, a married ordinariate priest could receive – so there is that.)

“Non-Catholics … are not to receive the sacraments” – is this meant to overturn church legislation currently in force which allows for reception in particular circumstances? (John Paul II wrote about, and legislated about, this issue.) Are all the exceptions of church law revoked in Newark?

Ad secundum: Church facilities may only be used by those who agree with, or at least don’t oppose, church teaching and legislation. Even privately? (The statement does not limit it to public opposition or non-agreement.) So everyone at a bridal shower or AA meeting or quilting circle in a church basement in the Archdiocese of Newark must agree with all Catholic teaching and legislation? I’m being picky – but that’s what it says.

How would one enforce a policy that seemingly excludes any person from any event on church grounds who disagrees (even privately) with, say, the ban on artificial contraception, or mandatory clerical celibacy, or this or that canon of church law? My point here is not to support or encourage that dissent, but to question the wisdom of a policy that would seemingly ban the vast majority of practicing Catholics (on some point or the other), and virtually all non-Catholics, from attending events in Newark churches.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I don’t see how one could hold Sunday Mass and be in accord with this  policy.

Ad tertium. No attending a religious or public event which supports those who reject Church teaching and law? Taken at its word, this would exclude a good deal of ecumenical prayer in common. Catholics could not attend, for example, Protestant and Orthodox ordinations, since the ordinands of course do not accept Catholic teaching on papal primacy and infallibility, and the ordination liturgy certainly supports them. One could argue that any Protestant or Orthodox public prayer is now off limits to Catholics, since such prayer supports its ordained leaders who are not in complete agreement with Catholic teaching and law.

And that’s only Christian religious events – what about interfaith events? Should Pope Francis have been at that interreligious prayer service in New York which gave support to all those non-Christian religious leaders who do not agree with Catholic doctrine and legislation?

And then there are non-religious public events. Neither major political party in the U.S. supports Catholic teaching (all the less, legislation) entirely, and political events typically support candidates who disagree with one thing or another. Are Catholics in Newark now prohibited from attending any Democrat or Republican event if they wish to receive Communion?

The policy seems to reach even further. If my 4-H club or FFA chapter, or Lions or Jaycees, supports someone (say, with an award or election to office) who rejects any point of Catholic law or teaching, I may not be present at the meeting of my organization if I wish to receive Communion?

I’m sure the policy doesn’t mean any of these absurd and thoroughly unenforceable things. But the problem is, it says them.

Come on guys, it’s not that hard to write, for example, “Catholics who are married must be…”. It’s not that hard to distinguish private doubts and dissent from public, obstinate, and notorious opposition. Surely there is compact and nuanced wording for describing organizations publicly known for their hostile opposition to the Catholic Church – which I hope wouldn’t mean the Lutherans and the Kiwanis.

I have some sympathy, in fact, for the archbishop’s desire to set some boundaries. Organizations need to do that at times, and organizations without any identity typically have difficulty attracting and retaining members.

But this policy isn’t the way to do it. Back to the drawing board, I’d say.

awr

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Principles to Aid in Preserving and Protecting the Catholic Faith in the Midst of an Increasingly Secular Culture

I. The Church will continue to cherish and welcome her members and invite them to participate in her life to the degree that their personal situation permits them in honesty to do so. Catholics must be in a marriage recognized as valid by the Church to receive Holy Communion or the other Sacraments. Non-Catholics and any Catholic who publicly rejects Church teaching or discipline, either by public statements or by joining or supporting organizations which do so, are not to receive the Sacraments. They are asked to be honest to themselves and to the Church community.

II. Parishes and other institutions of the Archdiocese should allow use of facilities only to persons and organizations which agree with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and its canonical legislation or, at least, not oppose them.

III. Catholics, especially ministers and others who represent the Church, should not participate in or be present at public religious events or events intended to endorse or support those who reject or ignore Church teaching and Canon Law.

24 comments

  1. As a priest in an ecclesial community not in communion with Rome, I find such statements to be both troubling and saddening. What I often find is that such statements are, as pointed out in the article, poorly worded and don’t accurately convey what the Roman Church teaches or practices, either by direct law or pastoral invitation – especially as regards clerics and laypersons of other communities.

    What I tend to find most disappointing, at least in my area, is the oddball nature of how these laws pop up, and how they are applied.

    Case in point – when my grandmother, who was Roman Catholic, died, I was invited to vest and participate according to my order in the funeral liturgy. Then invitation came from the parish pastor, who explicitly told me that the permission came from the bishop. Yet, not six months later, the diocese just to the south had a Young Adult group which asked me to come and speak on the Church Fathers at a retreat. Two days beforehand, I was told that not only was I not to come, but that I was not welcome on any property of the Diocese at all. No coming to preach, or celebrate the liturgy… just talking about the legacy of the Church Fathers. Yet, at the same time, said diocese has a history of interfaith events at the local cathedral, even once placing a Buddha statue on the altar and allowing Buddhist monks to offer prayers. The local Episcopal bishop, who is quite a progressive, has preached in the Roman Cathedral… but we can’t have a priest from another western, non-Roman body present. Oh, the scandal!

    I am aware of similar restrictions in other dioceses… but most of my travels have led me to places where, on Sundays and Holy Days, I have been welcomed to commune (and I usually contact the diocese ahead of time if I know I will be there) if in town. Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee… no problems.

    Long story short, I do wish that there was some consistency in how these kind of rules were applied.

    Apologies if I come across as grinding an axe, but I feel it should…

  2. Point (1) of the memo might simply have been replaced by:

    ”Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

    Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.”

  3. What about members of political parties that advocate the death penalty?
    Isn’t that contra church teaching these days?

  4. Much like the generation of pharaohs who “did not know Joseph” and launched events that led to the Exodus, it seems that we are led by a generation of bishops who do not know Jesus. Our present day Exodus is underway.

  5. These ‘guidelines’ are very unevangelizing!
    I wonder about the generalization that the authors make about if you are not in a sacramental marriage, support gay marriage, support views contrary to the faith, etc. then you are to be denied ALL of the ‘other’ Sacraments! So, by this reasoning you have no choice but to leave the faith since you will be denied the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of the Sick and you would have no opportunity to confess and repent. Those in non-sacramental marriages would also be denied to put right their marriage because they would be denied the Sacrament of Marriage! Yes, I know this is not what is intended but some people will read it that way!

  6. the less charitable side of me would just love to know what skeletons are in His Graces closet…

    I’ve said it before- allowing wider use of the traditional Mass is a huge part of this problem. We are forming people in this pre Vatican II ecclesiology and it does not mix with the Church today. Instead of merciful, we are legalistic. We are building walls keeping people out of the Church instead of going out and helping to bring people to Christ. While none can stop the Spirit, we sure are driving people away. We are living in strange times.

  7. Anthony, fabulous as usual. How about some of the other side of the aisle issues? You support the death penalty. You are anti-semitic. You’re a biblical fundamentalist. You support wars that the church condemns. You are in favor of shooting people in your neighborhood if they trespass against you. You believe the sun rotates around the earth.

    Oh, wait, we changed that one.

  8. ” “Non-Catholics … are not to receive the sacraments” – is this meant to overturn church legislation currently in force which allows for reception in particular circumstances? (John Paul II wrote about, and legislated about, this issue.) Are all the exceptions of church law revoked in Newark?”

    Indeed, if I’m not mistaken, from the Catholic viewpoint, members of the Orthodox communion always can receive communion (although the Orthodox authorities themselves don’t concur in this?)

    And more generally, this sharp, black/white distinction between Catholics and non-Catholics just seems to me to run counter to the 2nd Vatican Council, which took great pains to stress that the Christian churches are joined together by many bonds of faith.

  9. View from the Pew
    Regarding: “I have some sympathy, in fact, for the archbishop’s desire to set some boundaries.”
    – On the whole, boundaries already set forth in canon law would seem to do the trick while allowing for necessary pastoral discernment necessary for charity.
    – Archbishop John’s document is an example of how the whole of tradition is thrown out of balance by the undue emphasis on several of the parts, as the article illustrated.
    – The content of Archbishop John’s document is such that it would exclude all the domestic churches whose members include others of from different christian traditions and religions.

  10. Jim Pauwels : And more generally, this sharp, black/white distinction between Catholics and non-Catholics just seems to me to run counter to the 2nd Vatican Council, which took great pains to stress that the Christian churches are joined together by many bonds of faith.

    My reaction as well Jim.

    “All the Church’s children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ…
    The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian…
    those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God…”
    Lumen Gentium 14-16

    The instruction has to capture this sense, that we are brought together by the grace of Christ.

    The synod could profit from similar input from Vatican II. For instance, they might find inspiration from Nostra Aetate:
    The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions…

    Similarly, the synod might declare that they reject nothing that is true and holy in second marriages, or even same sex relationships. Not that this would answer all the questions, but it would be a huge step forward from “intrinsically disordered” or “living in sin.”

  11. Please stand and open your hymnals to our entrance hymn “Few are welcome in this place” … Our Communion Song will be “One Bread, One Body” because that one body is the only person who can receive Communion. Our Closing Song will be “A Small Percentage of the Creatures of our God and KIng.”

    If we mean it then lets sing about it so we really learn it well.

    Archbishop Myers, this is pastoral abuse, and an abuse of power. It’s wrong, mean spirited, a short sighted. I am wondering if you can celebrate a home Mass for your family anymore… I really pray that your next home Mass surrounded by your own family will break down some walls. Come Holy Spirit.

    1. @Katherine Christensen:
      Canon Peters’ response is interesting. He is inclined to support a ‘crackdown’ such as Archbishop Myers’, but even he admits several times that the policy is poorly worded. And he bends over backward to trying to argue that the policy surely doesn’t mean what in fact it could mean because of its poor wording.

      awr

  12. Clearly not everyone is on board with Pope Francis’ emphasis on reaching out to people on the margins with joy and with mercy. The tone of the letter seems more like a stern parent who demonstrates love for their child by spanking them when they have done something bad.

  13. And God certainly did not attach an asterisk to “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, assuming that decent human beings can understand that the meaning may be situational. (i.e., A Just War, self defense, etc.)

    Several years back, our Bishop declared that parishes could no longer rent out parish halls to anybody other than bona fide parish organizations. And guest speakers had to be specifically approved. Just seems to make sense. It’s nothing against other religions necessarily, but avoids the possibility of “equal access” lawsuits by less reputable groups that might have more nefarious purposes.

    The Newark situation is a tempest in a teacup.

  14. Why is it when a Canonist uses a line like”Sometimes Christianity costs.” that it has to do with following the law. Sometimes Christianity costs the other way and the primary example would be the person for whom Christianity is named. It cost Him but not because he followed the laws of His day, To use that trite line when a family is being ripped apart because of a gay child getting married lets me know that Canonist Peters knows the law but has no clue as to what got Jesus in so much trouble.

  15. It appears to me that “get tough” statements like Archbishop Myers’s sprout during American presidential cycles. I’m surprised that a more explicit “those who vote for …” clause was not also included, though [ III ] could be interpreted as a implicit command.

    After Pope Francis’s Stateside visit, I’m surprised that this “get tough” statement got traction. Abp. Myers’ statement, in my view, contradicts Pope Francis’s approach to ministry.

  16. I would invite all of you to look at the comments made yesterday by Archbishop Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, at the Synod on the Family.
    Cupich was not elected to the Synod, but appointed by Pope Francis.

    Cupich’s comments are in stark contrast to those of Myers. Cupich has embraced the “Kasper Proposal”, named after Cardinal Walter Kasper, and laid out in Kasper’s book “The Gospel of the Family”. Kasper holds that communion could be permitted to divorced and remarried couples in some cases. Cupich has sent a copy of Kasper’s book to every priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

    Two significant quotes from Archbishop Cupich:
    “In Chicago I visit regularly with people who feel marginalized: the elderly, divorced and remarried couples, gay and lesbian individuals, and also couples. I find that we really need to get to know what their life is like if we’re going to accompany them.”

    Cupich also believes that “conscience is inviolable” and he believes divorced and remarried couples could be permitted to receive the Sacraments if they have come to a decision to do so in good conscience”.

  17. Irony of ironies is that the Archbishop expects to be referred to as “His Grace”; his words and actions, on countless occasions, have manifested so little of it.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur:

        Regardless, our custom of “Your Excellency”, while a mouthful, is more egalitarian than “Milord”. Please do not knock Edith Piaf, though 😉

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