National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  February 13, 2004

Sacrament denial is serious business

Denying any Catholic the “spiritual assistance” of the sacraments is serious business.

“Christ’s faithful have the right to be assisted by their pastors from the spiritual riches of the church, especially by the word of God and the sacraments,” according to Canon 213. Further, Canon 912 states that “any baptized person who is not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy Communion.”

Canon 843, meanwhile, says “a sacred minister cannot refuse the sacraments to those who ask for them at appropriate times, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.”

While the presumption goes to the recipient, there are exceptions. Canon 915, cited by Bishop Raymond Burke in his recent “notification,” states that “those who are excommunicated or interdicted, after the imposition or declaration of the penalty, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion.”

In employing Canon 915 Burke, a canon lawyer, declared that “a Catholic legislator who supports procured abortion or euthanasia, after knowing the teaching of the church, commits a manifestly grave sin which is a cause of most serious scandal to others.”

Because Canon 915 represents a restriction on a right, said Mercy sister and canon lawyer Sharon Euart, “it must be interpreted strictly” and procedures must be followed. Burke privately communicated with at least three Catholic legislators in Wisconsin -- and presumably gave them the opportunity to “repent” their “manifest grave sin.” Still, his actions were broad, applying to all Catholic legislators in the diocese.

“As far as I understand, it [the Communion ban] can only apply to those individuals whom he warned and gave the opportunity to repent,” said Euart.

Those affected by the ban have the right to appeal to Rome, said Euart.

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, February 13, 2004

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