Archbishop Burke and Communion Redux

Archbishop Burke has just published a scholarly article entitled "The Discipline Regarding the Denial of Holy Communion to Those Obstinately Preserving in Manifest Grave Sin."

It's implications are not entirely clear to me, but he seems to be saying that each individual minister of communion (lay as well as ordained) has an obligation to refuse communion to Catholics in manifest grave sin, including pro-choice politicians. He argues that Eucharistic ministers are "held, under pain of mortal sin, to deny the sacraments to the unworthy." Here's an article about it in The Pew Forum, pithily entitled "Ministers Must now be Communion Cops."

I'm not sure what's going on in the article, so I have some questions about how this is supposed to work in practice:

1. Is Archbishop Burke trying to encourage priests and lay ministers in dioceses other than his own to adopt this policy, in the face of different procedures in place adopted by their bishop? Assuming his account of the norms themselves are correct (I'm not a canon lawyer) there is still the question of jurisdiction. Does canon law provide for who constitutes the supreme interpretor of canon law within a particular dioceses? Assuming that canon law provides that the bishop of that diocese is the definitive interpreter, is Archbishop Burke encouraging widespread ecclesiastical civil disobedience on the part of priests and Eucharistic ministers in dioceses which do not approach the communion issue in his way?

2. As Archbishop Burke notes, canon law requires potential communicants to be warned before being denied communion. How is this all supposed to work, if each individual Eucharistic minister has to make up his or her own mind about who is worthy? The question of the relationship of law and morality is complicated under the best circumstances, always dealing with the art of the possible. Church teaching on, say, cooperation with evil and legislation is not easy to understand. Who decides if a politician's explanation is good enough--that he is acting in good faith--or that he has been given sufficient chance to reform -- each and every communion minister?

3. What happens if there's a mess? Suppose a communion minister in another diocese denies communion to a politician whom he believes is acting in grave sin about life/marriage issues (say there's a disagreement about whether domestic partnership health benefits undermines marriage). To whom can the politician denied communion appeal? The bishop? But what if the communion minister doesn't recognize his authority, since he wasn't sound enough on life issues, since he didn't replicate Archbishop Burke's denial of communion policy. Would justice require a public apology in the diocesan newspaper? Who should issue the apology? The bishop? He didn't deny communion. The Eucharistic minister? He doesn't think he did anything wrong. He read the Catechism. And after all, he's under "pain of mortal sin" to protect the sanctity of the Eucharist.

4. How does civil law enter into this? Suppose a person denied communion claims that it was done as part of a personal vendetta on the part of Eucharistic minister, and tat the denial constitutes the tort of defamation. How would such a law suit proceed, and what would the church state implications be?

5. What about other sins? As Archbishop Burke's article seems to state, the provisions he invokes contemplate refusing communion to a whole range of public sinners,not merely politicians. It is his own prudence, it seems to me, that limits denial of communion to these cases. But others might have different prudential judgments about who constitutes a recalcitrant public sinner? Do we want each and every communion minister deciding who's a sufficiently public sinner in the range of cases discussed in the article? See question about defamation above.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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