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The HHS mandate is now a 'non-negotiable'

Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs spoke with Daniel Cole of his local paper and added to the list of positions that will get your barred from communion, at least in his diocese. He started out by reiterating that support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage are automatic disqualifiers for Catholic pols, maybe even voters:

Bishop Sheridan: Its clear to me that the Code of Canon Law, Canon 915, says that a Catholic politician who publicly espouses positions that are contrary, not just to any teachings of the Church, but to serious moral teachings, should not receive Holy Communion until they recant those positions publicly. Voters needs a little bit more nuance, because there the question is, are we voting for those politicians precisely because of their positions on those non-negotiable issues? Here is what I would say: It would be very difficult for me to understand how, if there are two candidates quite far apart in their positions on these matters, I could vote for the one who consistently opposes these Church teachings, simply because he might be in favor of a few good things.DC: Would support for the contraceptives mandate also disqualify Catholic politicians from receiving Communion? Is that a new non-negotiable?Sheridan: I think we do need to add to that list (of non-negotiables) religious liberty. Absolutely, yes. I think a Catholic politician who publicly and consistently defends the mandate, which causes people to violate their conscience yes, I think thats right up there with the rest of them.DC: If Vice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, were to swing through Colorado Springs on a campaign tour and attend your Mass, would you deny him Communion?Sheridan: He should know, and I would do everything I could do to make sure that he knows, he ought not to be receiving Communion.

Everything else -- care of the poor, immigration, the death penalty, etc -- is a matter of prudential judgment, he says.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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I have heard from the pulpit how our consciences are being violated and our religious liberty taken away by the current administration regarding contraception, yet I have never heard preaching about contraception itself and the sinfulness of its actual *use*. Maybe I was just out of town on those days (honest, it's possible, no snark intended). But to only have a nutty about potential insurance coverage of contraception by a Democratic administration, but never to have made a peep about contraceptive *use*, seems so strangely disproportionate to the degree of culpability for such allegedly grave matters, that it seems partisan. (Or is this Dem being just too sensitive?)

The good bishop should ponder the Cathleen Kaveny article "The Single-Issue Trap:"

God save us from this imbecilic generation!

Here is Canon 915 (fwiw, when I typed "code of canon law" into Google to fish out this canon from the Vatican web site, "Code of Canon Law 915" appeared in the search bar's drop-down, which I take to indicate that it is frequently searched)."Can. 915 Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion."Both the bishop and the canon cite the gravity of the sin involved, but note that the canon also insists on the element of obstinate persistence - something that the bishop's gloss omits. The obstinate persistence (and both words, we should assume, are active here) is a pretty important part of the formula, istm. This is worth noting, not only to supplement what the bishop stated in the interview, but because Vice President Biden would be excluded from communion by this bishop under the provisions of Canon 915. Perhaps a case can be made for doing so on religious-liberty grounds. I'd suggest that the case would be difficult to make on pro-abortion grounds, as Biden's legislative record seems to be mixed in that respect. (A brief recap here: the right to life is a "non-negotiable" principle (I don't care for the term "non-negotiable" in this context; even the right to life is not absolute), then I do think it's a defensible position that the principle of religious liberty would be in the same category. So what this bishop could teach could be something along these lines: a politician who, with obstinate persistence, supports a policy (like the HHS mandate) that is contrary to the church's principles of religious liberty, may be barred from communion under Canon 915; and furthermore, it would be sinful for a voter to vote for that candidate specifically because of the latter's support for the HHS mandate.

I would like to know what happens to men on their way to the episcopacy. I was in the seminary with Mike Sheridan in the three years immediately after Vatican Two and this sort of closed-mindedness is nothing like the intelligent young man I knew then. A man who knew logic and how to see other sides of an argument. He now sounds simplistic and closed minded, as if he gets all his opinions pre-packaged from a single source interested in promoting a single political position in the church. Mike, what takes your pet topics out of the area of prudential judgement and leaves others in? Is it just because some bishops have invested so much emotional energy in these topics?Why is it not a matter of prudential judgement to vote for someone in favor of a morally questionable issue on which there is little political movement visible yet also in favor of a positive morally significant political position on which important votes are expected?

I guess they no longer show these obstinate persisters the instruments of torture or put them under house arrest for the remainder of their lives. I don't know if that's Christian forbearance or culpable leniency.But the bishop needs to beef up security. Great sinners like Joe Biden might sneak into a church in Colorado Springs wearing a red wig, sunglasses, and a bulbous rubber nose. Clearly, what's needed is communion photo ID.

Basing this attempt at coercing consciences on the principle of "religious liberty" is beyond ironic, esp. considering how loooong it took the Church to even acknowledge that religious liberty is a good thing, not a bad thing. Threatening to withhold the sacraments from people who don't agree with you on the one hand while demanding they respect your religious liberty on the other just doesn't cut it in the US. And that's where we are...last I looked.

Beverly wrote in part: Threatening to withhold the sacraments from people who dont agree with you on the one hand while demanding they respect your religious liberty on the other just doesnt cut it in the US.Seems to me like being in the US is really beside the point. The Bishop is talking about participation in the sacramental RCC which has zero to do with the US. Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's and God what it God's. Both these issues - the sacraments and religious liberty - originate with God, not Ceasar.

should not receive Holy Communion until they recant those positions publicly.And that the words 'should' and 'he ought not' certainly seems to me like the Bishop is exercising his teaching authority, not the police authority implied by the use of 'barred' in the first sentence of this posting.

We need more (or at least some) women leadership in our Church. If women's voices were included, we would not be taking such ridiculous, extremist positions on artificial contraception.

Bruce makes an interesting point (10/10, 11:50 pm). On the one hand, Bishop Sheridan's language ("should", "he ought not") seems to be an exercise of his teaching authority.However, on the other hand, Bishop Sheridan speaks of "non-negotiables". And he's by no means the only U.S. bishop to adopt this approach on these issues in recent years.So there's a (creative? uneasy?) tension within the bishop's position. I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

An elementary distinction, one that, if I remember correctly, Claire recently spelled out on another thread: There are constitutional rights and there re moral rights. They do not necessarily coincide.The issue of the HHS mandate is a constitutional issue, to be settled in the political arena. Let's all grant that there is some moral right to religious freedom. How that right is reflected in a nation's legal system is always complex, always open to revision, open to reasonable contestation.Bishop Sheridan is confusing moral rights and legal rights. His "non-negotiable" talk concerning the mandate and the reception of the Eucharist just makes no sense, unless you think that it's part of the bishop's teaching role to set definitive parameters for what can count as a defensible legal system. If you think that, then you're on the road to advocating the kind of stable Catholic voting bloc that Carl Anderson recently advocated. A terrible, terrible idea.

The good Bishop should spend certainly extend the same proscription to his flock: If you use contraception you should refrain from receiving the sacraments. Say it loud and clear. You are not a Catholic in good standing if you use contraception or if you condone its use. Receiving Holy Communion only compounds your state with yet another grave sin. One more time: use contraceptives and you are not worthy.

P.S. The above is sarcasm.

Bernard, I agree with your (and Claire's) distinction. But the two spheres are not mutually exclusive. Legal rights should flow from moral rights. If a legal right is founded on moral error, then all citizens have a duty to use peaceful and just means to realign the law with moral rightness. I don't think Bishop Sheridan is confusing moral and legal rights; he's pointing out the misalignment between the two on the matter of the HHS mandate. Morally, he's being a good shepherd; legally he's being a good citizen.Also: within the church's proper sphere, Bishop Sheridan has both moral and legal authority - the legal authority being that which belongs to a bishop with regard to church law. Bishop Sheridan has both the moral and the church-legal right to enforce the church's standards for who is to be admitted to holy Communion.As I said in a previous comment, it could be open to question whether Biden's promotion of the HHS mandate meets Canon 915's "obstinate persistence" requirement. I don't believe it's open to question that Sheridan has a right and an obligation to enforce Canon 915 in his diocese.

"The good Bishop should spend certainly extend the same proscription to his flock: If you use contraception you should refrain from receiving the sacraments. Say it loud and clear. You are not a Catholic in good standing if you use contraception or if you condone its use."Personally, I hope he doesn't. But the bishop's statement in the interview isn't about contraception per se; it's about upholding the fundamental human right to have one's religious liberty respected and protected. And note that he's not a disinterested party; he's the leader of a minority religion that is being persecuted under the law.

Funny thing jbruns; I agree with your first post and do not see it as sarcastic at all.

Jim P. says: "Legal rights should flow from moral rights." I ask: Does it follow that all moral obligations ought to be inscribed into public law? That a bishop has the moral right to impose sanctions on those who resist his conception of what public law ought to be?As a citizen he is legally entitled to argue for his conception of public law. That he, as bishop, has a moral right to impose ecclesiastical penalties on those who do not agree with his conception of public law I deny. That his views about public law are entitled to a presumption of soundness may well be the case, but it is a rebuttable presumption, rebuttable by good prudential reasons thought through by anyone, including members of the diocese of which he is the Ordinary.Take the obvious case, namely abortion. I agree that no one has a moral right to obtain or perform an abortion. Before I sign on to inscribing that prohibition into civil law, I would want to know the full legal changes that would take place, e.g. what would be the penalties for violating this law and who would be subject to these penalties, what sort of policing would be rrequired to enforce these laws, would the burden of obeying these laws fall equally on all citizens, rich and poor, young and mature, etc. So far as I know, there has been no well worked out proposed body of law abolishing the constitutional right to abortion that would give one the assurance that this body of law would be what replaced the present constitutional right. Can such a body of law be developed? Probably. But until it has, I can't see that a bishop could rightly simply demand of his people that the support the abolition of the present constitutional rights as a condition for their worthiness to receive the sacraments.

Jim P. I simply disagree that Catholicism is being 'persecuted under the law.'

The bishop is right to say what he has said if that is truly his view, and I see no reason to think it isn't his view. Those whose consciences compel them to disagree must also act as they think is right. Thank God for freedom of religion which allows the faithful to disagree with their bishops and allows us to continue the dialogue about the teaching at issue. I still agree with the bishops who say *their* freedom has been violated by HHS forcing compliance re providing employees' contraceptives. But that's a different issue.Complexity in the extreme.

The Catholic Church still adheres to the theory of just war, but Dorothy Day was a pacifist who believed there is never a justification for war. Would she have been refused communion by today's bishops?

I cant see that a bishop could rightly simply demand of his people that the support the abolition of the present constitutional rights as a condition for their worthiness to receive the sacraments.Bernard,Your question poses a logical fallacy: that requiring that immoral acts not be legal is equivalent to moral obligations being inscribed into law.I do not believe the Bishops are advocating for any particular civil penalties for those who obtain abortions. What they (and I) want is that our legal system at least eliminate the current positive legal right to abortion because on its face it is immoral as you note. No one has the right to kill another innocent human being, yet that is what our current jurisprudence provides.

"Personally, I hope he doesnt. But the bishops statement in the interview isnt about contraception per se; its about upholding the fundamental human right to have ones religious liberty respected and protected. And note that hes not a disinterested party; hes the leader of a minority religion that is being persecuted under the law."Jim P,I'm glad you did not say "universal" as well as "fundamental," for of course this country is one of the few in the history of the world that proclaims and strongly defends religious freedom. It is in the First Amendment partly as a reaction against the religious barbarity that prevailed in Europe for many centuries. And I think you know that the Church came rather late to its belief in freedom of conscience, only after its own ability to coerce obedience was curtailed."Minority religion" is a peculiar way to speak of the largest denomination in the country and the largest in most of the individual states. That phrase conveys a sense of marginalization that is simply untrue of the modern Catholic Church in America, which exercises, if anything, an outsized influence on public discourse and decisions.And "persecuted under the law"? Millions, nay, billions of men and women would be delighted, if they were still alive, to suffer such persecution rather than what they actually incurred. And what have our modern martyrs incurred? A mandate to provide insurance coverage to their employees, which they find objectionable. But also the right to sue for relief in a court system established under the same Constitution that conferred what they wish to defend. And a presupposition in this case that puts a burden on government to show that its policy goals cannot be advanced in other ways.Like it or not, that is the civilized and pacific way that we settle differences. No one gets a special set of rules. (Well, that last is not strictly true, but that's another matter.)

Bruce --Please give the pro-choice people the courtesy of recognizing that many if not most of them think that the fetus *is not a human person*, and therefore killing a fetus is not murder. The thing to do if you want the laws to change is to change their thinking by offering sound arguments appealing to common human knowledge, not revelation. Until your (and my) arguments are persuasive the laws will not change.

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