Some questions have answers

Pope Benedict XVI Holds Weekly Audience

Those of you who have missed the posts of our Elizabeth Evans should head on over to Reuters FaithWorld where she has written about clergy sexual misconduct. She digs a bit deeper and wider on the topic than most treatments of the issue. While I was over there, I came across this other item about the ongoing drama between Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin. The piece gives a quick explanation of the row, what it means for the debate over President Obama's health care overhaul and also what it means for Catholics in America. It ends with a series of questions:

This leads to a question about the consistency of views in the U.S. Catholic Church leadership. The Church opposes abortion and therefore liberal politicians who support abortion rights risk being refused communion. The Church supports a healthcare overhaul that would make the system more equitable. So does a conservative Catholic politician who opposes this reform risk being denied communion for ignoring the Catholic social teaching that justifies it?

How about support for capital punishment, which the Vatican says is unjustified in almost all possible cases, or for war? In the build-up to the Iraq war, Pope John Paul was so opposed to the plan that he sent a personal envoy to Washington to argue against it. Did bishops threaten any measures against Catholic politicians who energetically supported that war despite Vatican opposition?

Years ago in Britain, the Church of England used to be called "the Tory party at prayer." Does this apparent difference in treatment of liberal and conservative Catholics risk making the U.S. Church into one section of "the Republican Party at prayer?"

These are not bad questions. They are brought up routinely by critics of the Catholic Church and critics of the church's teaching on abortion. Sometimes I think we should have a GetReligion drinking game. If we did, there would have to be an entry for taking a shot when someone commented on a post by questioning the church's consistency.

But -- and I say this as an avowed non-Roman Catholic here -- these questions also have answers. And since these questions are raised so regularly, the media need to do a better job of at least explaining what the Catholic Church teaches in this case.

Let's go to no less an expert than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now better known as Pope Benedict XVI. Here's what he wrote about the "consistency" question (H/T to First Things) in 2004:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

Apart from an individuals's judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

Some reporters have done a good job of explaining that there is a difference between the absolute manner in which the church condemns abortion compared to war and capital punishment -- which are evaluated based on criteria and circumstance. Just the other day, I pointed out that which had its own problems -- this Associated Press article -- did just that.

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