Out of the Closet: Schism is Here!
Savvy Catholics have known for years that America is in de facto schism; but the battle at the Communion rail is finally bringing it out of the closet and into the public eye. The signs have been there for decades. Only a third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence. Over 90% practice contraception. Catholics are as likely as unbelievers to abort their babies and divorce their spouses. The schism of attitude and belief is deeply entrenched among the laity partly due to ignorance, but for many due to malice. In a few cases clerics have literally taken a hike with their sheep in tow. Fr. George Stallings of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Fr. Jim Callan of the Diocese of Rochester, and Fr. Bill Hausen of the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh led many in their parishes out the Church door and into formal rebellion. Other false shepherds still occupy Catholic pulpits, but long ago abandoned the faith for their own brand of individualism where Catholic doctrine is ignored or perverted. This is blatantly apparent in parishes that sport the rainbow flag, promote “gay pride,” and agitate for “gay marriage.”
It is, perhaps, not surprising that the Eucharist has become ground zero in the war. It is, after all, Jesus really present – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – the same Jesus who said to His apostles, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you, the contrary is true; I have come for division.” [Luke 12:51]
Jesus Himself prophesied it; let’s review recent history.
For years Catholic pro-lifers around the country urged the bishops to stop just talking about defending the unborn and to discipline Catholic politicians and others like Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice who champion their murder. Websites appeared on the Internet seeking excommunication and other censures of renegade Catholic officials labeled “Herod’s Heroes.”
American Life League (ALL) is a leader in the battle with an on-going ad campaign targeting pro-abortion Catholic politicians including the U.S. Senate’s “deadly dozen.” That project uncovered over 500 pro-abortion legislators around the country.
At the start of the bishops’ November meeting last year in Washington, D.C. ALL challenged the clerics with a full-page ad in the Washington Times and a press conference urging serious action. Defend Life of Baltimore organized a demonstration outside the bishops’ hotel with signs picturing pro-abortion Catholic politicians and their respective shepherds calling on the clerics to “bravely deny” Holy Communion to pro-aborts. As the bishops boarded buses to the National Shrine for their opening Mass, the group offered brochures quoting the Pope’s exhortation to “Be not afraid” and Canon Law 915: “Those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Communion.” Before the end of the week the bishops announced they were establishing a task force to examine the question with Washington’s Theodore Cardinal McCarrick as head.
At least one bishop was on record admonishing a local politician. Most Rev. William Weigand of Sacramento. In January 2003 in a homily linked to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade he told California Governor Gray Davis to refrain from taking Communion. “As your bishop” he said, “I have to say clearly that anyone politician or otherwise — who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk and is not in good standing with the church."
Pro-life Catholics applauded. Davis, however, thumbed his nose at the bishop by publicly announcing he would continue to receive sacrilegiously. Sadly, Bishop Weigand blinked. Stating that people should act like adults, he declined to take further action. To many Catholics it seemed imprudent to make a point of Davis’ scandalous behavior, but shrug off his very public disobedience.
Then in November 2003 a David faced the Goliath of the pro-abortion establishment and their allies in the media. On the Feast of Christ the King, November 23, Bishop Raymond Burke of La Crosse, WI released a pastoral letter on “The Dignity of Human Life and Civic Responsibility.” In it he beautifully articulated the duty of politicians, especially Catholics, to defend the innocent. “The responsibility to defend human life in all its stages falls upon all Catholic citizens. It falls, with particular weight, upon Catholic politicians…[who] have the responsibility to work against an unjust law, even when a majority of the electorate supports it.” Bishop Burke challenged the specious excuses of public officials saying, “Oftentimes, Catholic politicians who hold anti-life positions defend their voting record on the ground that they are following their constituency or the will of the ‘majority.’ One cannot, however, defend an unjust law on the ground of political consensus. We do not consider the ‘Jim Crow’ laws, which discriminated against African Americans, ‘just’ because the majority of the population supported them.”
Simultaneous with the release of his letter Bishop Burke issued a decree barring pro-abortion politicians from Communion. He specifically instructed his priests that “Catholic legislators, who are members of the Diocese of La Crosse and who continue to support procured abortion or euthanasia may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion. They are not to receive Holy Communion should they present themselves, until such time as they publicly renounce their support of these most unjust practices.” This decree followed personal contacts with several local legislators.
Bishop Burke’s action, solidly grounded in canon law, set off a firestorm. Many faithful Catholics rejoiced; the mainstream media went berserk. Among those criticizing the bishop were many of his own confreres in the hierarchy, but like a true shepherd he remained unmoved. After relocating to St. Louis as the new Archbishop, Burke made it clear he would do the same thing there.
The situation escalated when nominal Catholic John Kerry became the presumed Democratic candidate for President. He immediately began using the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a “media op” (as one senior aide described it). During his Idaho ski vacation he popped into Mass ten minutes late dressed for the slopes and took Communion.
With the public’s attention riveted and orthodox laity calling for censure, bishops began to weigh in on Kerry and Communion. Would they allow him to receive? Archbishop Burke said no. So when Kerry campaigned in St. Louis his “media op” was Communion at a Methodist Church instead, another clear violation of Church teaching. Kerry received the symbol kneeling at the altar rail, an irony not lost on Catholics persecuted for kneeling before the Real Presence.
Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln soon joined Burke in saying he also would refuse Kerry Communion. Kerry’s own shepherd, Sean O’Malley of Boston, made a tepid statement that Kerry should abstain “on his own volition.” Kerry’s response? To attend Easter Mass at the gay-friendly Paulist Center in Boston and take Communion there.
To the exasperation of many concerned Catholics Cardinal McCarrick met privately with Senator Kerry in April and later expressed the modern American angst declaring he wasn’t “comfortable” denying anyone the Eucharist. He preferred lesser penalties: no honorary degrees from Catholic universities, no speaking at Catholic facilities, etc. D.C. pro-lifers found his position hypocritical since he frequently participates in events honoring pro-abortionists like AFL/CIO president John Sweeney. McCarrick’s politically correct stand brought a scathing ALL ad showing an agonized Jesus on the cross headlined, “Cardinal McCarrick: are you comfortable now?”
McCarrick’s position differed, to put it mildly, from that of Francis Cardinal Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments who some consider a long shot to be the next pope. At an April 23 Vatican press conference called to present the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum: On Certain Matters to Be Observed or to Be Avoided Regarding the Most Holy Eucharist the Cardinal answered a reporter’s question on the U.S. Communion controversy. “The norm of the church is clear,” he said. The Catholic Church exists in the United States and there are bishops there. Let them interpret it.” When pressed on whether Communion should be withheld, the Cardinal said, “If they should not receive, they should not be given.”
Other bishops made public statements, one of the strongest a May 2 pastoral letter, On the Duties of Politicians and Voters, by Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs. “The right judgment of conscience is not a matter of personal preference nor has it anything to do with feelings. It has only to do with objective truth,” the bishop wrote. “A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator.” After quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaching on the “right judgment of conscience” based on “objective truth,” Bishop Sheridan made a clear and unequivocal statement. “Any Catholic politicians who advocate for abortion, for illicit stem cell research or for any form of euthanasia ipso facto place themselves outside full communion with the Church and so jeopardize their salvation. Any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for abortion, illicit stem cell research or euthanasia suffer the same fateful consequences. It is for this reason that these Catholics, whether candidates for office or those who would vote for them, may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their positions and been reconciled with God and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance.” He went on to defend the integrity of the family and include politicians and supporters of same-sex “marriage.”
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper Bishop Sheridan said he selected issues “intrinsically evil in and of themselves.” When accused of driving Catholics from the Church he replied, "It's an unfortunate consequence, not one intended. The alternative is to say nothing and, if I do that, then I jeopardize my own salvation … because as a bishop I have the mandate to speak the truth."
The bishop’s stance brought criticism and blackmail from local Colorado lawyer and businessman Ric Kethcart. His message to his spiritual father: rescind the letter or lose a $100,000 pledge to a local parish campaign. The bishop’s response through a spokesman: moral truth is not for sale.
In late May, 48 Catholic members of the U.S. House of Representatives (all Democrats) sent a letter to Cardinal McCarrick warning the bishops not to deny Communion to politicians. “The Supreme Court has declared that our Constitution provides women with a right to an abortion,” they wrote. “Members who vote for legislation consistent with that mandate are not acting contrary to our positions as faithful members of the Catholic Church.” Their ridiculous claim that a Supreme Court decision trumps God’s law was matched by their arrogance. “We respectfully submit that each of us is in the best position to know the state of our soul and our relationship to God and our Church. Therefore, each of God's children should be the final judge as to whether it is appropriate for them to receive the sacrament of communion.” Like the dissenters of Call to Action and Voice of the Faithful, the politicians illustrated the heart of the schism – personal conscience is the final arbiter of truth.
The debate continued at the bishops June meeting in Denver. At its end, the clerics issued a statement, Catholics in Political Life, a paper tiger. They quoted St. Paul’s clear admonition against sacrilege but the document was ultimately ambiguous and weak.
Judie Brown of ALL called the document “pro-choice” because it let each bishop decide for himself whether to follow canon law. One is tempted to ask whether the clerics would adopt such a wishy-washy position if the politicians involved advocated the murder of Catholic bishops rather than unborn children?
Among the bishops stating they will not deny Communion are: Howard Hubbard of Albany; Carl Mengeling of Lansing; Kenneth Angell of Burlington, VT; Roger Mahony of Los Angeles; Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati; Paul Loverde of Arlington, VA; Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C.; William Keeler of Baltimore; Gerald Kicanis of Tucson; Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh; Sean O’Malley of Boston; David Foley of Birmingham, and William Weigand of Sacramento.
Those who have spoken forcefully against pro-abortion politicians receiving Communion are: Raymond Burke of St. Louis; Thomas Wenski of Orlando; Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix; John J. Myers of Newark; Charles Chaput, OFM Cap. of Denver; Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs; Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, NE; Samuel Aquila of Fargo, ND; John Vlazny of Portland, OR; Alfred Hughes of New Orleans; John Smith of Trenton; Joseph Galante of Camden, NJ; and Robert Vasa of Baker, OR.. (These lists are not exhaustive.)
Some like Weigand with strong statements have also publicly stated they will not deny Communion. It remains to be seen whether those who talk boldly will follow through. In his column in the diocesan paper in June Bishop Sheridan wrote, “The most serious misrepresentation of my letter was the conclusion drawn by many that I or other ministers of Holy Communion would refuse the sacrament to people who voted in a particular way. Nowhere in the letter do I say this or even suggest it.”
Les Femmes spoke to Peter Howard, Communications Director for the diocese of Colorado Springs on June 23 to clarify the bishop’s statement. “Bishop Sheridan would not hesitate to invoke canon 915 when necessary,” he said. The diocese is not in the same situation as Archbishop Burke’s in LaCrosse, he explained, because the area is very conservative with no Catholic pro-abortion legislators. As for barring John Kerry from Communion, Howard had not spoken to the bishop about it, but had no doubt he would act to protect his flock from scandal.
Many dissenters in the Church don’t care what the bishops say as long as they don’t do anything. Frances Kissling’s response to the controversy is telling. The Director of the notorious group Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) said, “The vast majority of bishops and dioceses have either been silent on the issue or have indicated that they would not deny Communion to policy makers who vote pro-choice. The most interesting aspect of the current debate is the tacit admission by many bishops that to be pro-choice on the legality of abortion is neither a grave sin nor a cause for denying Communion. Perhaps there is some hope for the church after all." Kissling’s letter to Newsday points up the scandalous result of failing to follow strong words with actions. While the bishops have said CFFC is not Catholic, Kissling’s outrageous behavior has not brought excommunication. She calls herself a Catholic “in good standing” and gets away with it. The bishops’ inaction speaks louder than their empty words.
To date the only bishops who have specifically stated they will deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians who persist in manifest grave sin are Archbishop Burke (formally through an episcopal notification) and Bishops Bruskewitz, and Galante (informally by publicly stating their intentions). In 1996 Bishop Bruskewitz issued a decree excommunicating members of Call to Action and several other groups. That decree remains in force. He publicly supported Bishop Burke. Bishop Galante announced he would refuse Communion to Gov. James McGreevey who, to his credit, said he would no longer receive.
In summary, if parents say one thing and do another children get a mixed message. The same is true for our spiritual fathers. The truth is clear. Do those who receive Christ sacrilegiously crucify him? Yes! Does sacrilege endanger their souls? Yes! Does the person giving Communion to a persistent public sinner cooperate in the evil action? Yes! Does the scandal endanger the souls of all who see it? Yes! Does the person giving Communion share in the scandal of the one committing sacrilege? Yes! May a priest or extraordinary minister of Communion cooperate with public sacrilege and scandal? No!
As a Church we stand at a crossroads. Will the bishops take the narrow path, defending Jesus from sacrilege and the flock from scandal, but risking the world’s condemnation? Or will they take the broad path of silence and capitulation that enabled abortion-on-demand, the sex abuse scandals, and is leading to the morass of same-sex marriage? The answer to both questions is yes. Some bishops will act like St. John Fisher defending the faith despite the white martyrdom of ridicule and public approbation. Others will follow the example of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury who put his king and his politics above his God. Welcome to the schism. [To be continued.]