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Press Release May 9, 2004

3150 Newgate Drive
Florissant, MO 63033
John Sheehan, National Coordinator,  413-527-9929
Leonard Swidler, President,  215-477-1080

ARCC calls on bishops not to use the Eucharist for political blackmail

The Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) calls for dialogue between those Catholic politicians who some bishops say should be refused the Eucharist and the bishops themselves who have made the threat. John Courtney Murray once wrote that democracy means members of the populace being “locked in civil conversation.” At the moment, Catholic politicians, like Governor James E. McGreevey of New Jersey, and the bishops are talking past each other, and by voluntarily submitting to an arbitrary penalty, McGreevey is harming the cause of those Catholics who have been working towards a renewed Church in which no members are denied the right to receive all the sacraments for which they are adequately prepared (Canon 213 and Canon 843:1), a Church James Joyce once defined as “Here comes everybody.”

To deny the Eucharist to pro-choice politicians like Senator Kerry, a  bishop would have to prove that the politician was “obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin” (Canon 915),  for that is how Church law describes a person who must be denied the Eucharist. For politicians like Kerry the key word is “manifest.”  The issues confronting Kerry and the bishops are fiendishly complex. In recent weeks Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C., has met with Senator Kerry and has as yet not issued any ban on Senator Kerry’s receiving the Eucharist. 

A law banning abortion, for example, would be flouted by the citizenry and thus be unenforceable. Prohibition taught Americans that an unenforceable law is a bad law. When the former governor of Pennsylvania, pro-life Governor Robert Casey, asked permission to address the last Democratic Party convention on the abortion issue he was denied the platform, suggesting how difficult it would be for a pro-life candidate to win the nomination of the Democratic Party. Hence, in order to be elected President with the opportunity to address the many other essential pro-life issues, such as abolishing the death penalty and eliminating poverty, a candidate may have to be pro-choice.

Moreover, it is important that a clear distinction be made between the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-abortion.”  Even if one is personally or on religious grounds opposed to abortion, one may, in accord with the principle of the separation of Church and state, believe that one has no right to take away the right of others to disagree. The rhetoric of equating “choice” and “abortion” can be a way of manipulating public opinion by reducing a complex issue to a simplistic either/or, black/white dichotomy, maligning another in the process, and, in this case, accusing the opponent of “persisting in manifest grave sin.”  The punitive approach of some bishops will not be effective. Punitive approaches rarely are, and one would have to take into consideration that the Eucharist is essentially a meal with Jesus, who made a point of eating meals with “tax-collectors and sinners.”  For the Eucharist is not a reward for virtue, but a remedy for sin -- a remedy which even bishops need. Carl Sandburg was once asked what the worst word in the language is. He replied, vehemently, “exclusion.”  Better for the bishops to sup with Kerry, to keep the conversation going, rather than to inflict on him the worst punishment a Catholic can imagine.

“Let us reason together,” said the prophet Isaiah. It’s time for the bishops and Catholic politicians to reason together.

Other voices

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Challenges Facing Catholicism
(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

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