Three reasons for excluding obstinate sinners …

… from the communion of the Church are presented by Joe Tremblay in a new Homiletic & Pastoral Review essay, “The Pastoral Mandate, Politicians and Religious Liberty”:

Indeed, there are at least three reasons why the pastoral practice of excluding obstinate sinners from the communion of the Church was enjoined by our Lord, and practiced by the apostles, the Church fathers, and the saints.

First, the failure to reprove or exclude from the Church unrepentant sinners creates the public perception that mortal sin is compatible with the life of Christ. Worse yet, such failure is a disservice to the sinner himself. Politicians, who publicly advocate for abortion rights and same-sex marriage with impunity, naturally suffer from the mistaken belief that they are in communion with the Church and, therefore, in communion with God. In fact, there are many adversaries of the Gospel of Life who go to their deathbeds with this assumption. But as the parable of the wedding banquet suggests, the King has a dress code in heaven. To be sure, those without a wedding garment will be asked to leave the table by the King. The question then becomes: When “Catholic” politicians enjoy full communion with the King’s Church, are they not made to believe that they can attend the heavenly banquet without a wedding garment? Are these current pastoral practices really preparing obstinate sinners for eternity?

The second reason for exclusion is this: Many bishops, again with good intentions, often engage in an ongoing conversation with wayward politicians behind closed doors. However, the unintended consequence is that mortal sin is perceived to be negotiable because of the high public profile politicians enjoy. It is because of unintended consequences like this that St. Paul instructed St. Timothy to reprimand the sinner publicly (1 Tim 5:20). It is why Pope St. Gregory the Great said that private sins should be addressed privately, and public sins should be dealt with publicly. Furthermore, it is why St. John the Apostle did not go behind closed doors to correct Diotrephes, a wayward brother. He said: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to dominate, does not acknowledge us. Therefore, if I come, I will draw attention to what he is doing, spreading evil nonsense about us” (3 Jn 9-10). “I will draw attention to what he is doing.” Today’s conventional wisdom in the Church is to avoid “drawing attention” to those who cause scandal. Again, this is yet another departure from the New Testament pastoral mandate.

The third reason is that when public sinners can sit next to faithful Catholics on your local church pew, when they can stand before the altar to receive the Eucharist—that is, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ (even after St. Paul’s warning about the dangers of receiving such a sacred gift unworthily; cf. 1 Cor 11:28-32)—and when they enjoy the fellowship of Catholics, intermingling with them, it inevitably creates moral confusion. In other words, when the bishops make no public distinction between obstinate sinners and repentant sinners, then in the minds of Catholics, and other onlookers, there cannot be but little distinction between error and truth, between sin and holiness, and between vice and virtue. Thereafter, all homilies and pastoral letters will be undermined by this indiscriminate mix of obstinate sinners and repentant sinners. From this indiscriminate mix, emerges a division within the Body of Christ, the Church. Why? Because sin and error divides! What is more, a consensus on the most important issues of life and death is much harder to come by.

Meanwhile, Dr. Edward Peters, in a First Things (November 2012) article, “Fencing the Altars”, writes:

For several years, Raymond Cardinal Burke, now Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and I have been among the chief exponents of the view that Catholic sacramental and canonical discipline supports, and in some cases demands, that Catholic ministers withhold Holy Communion from certain Catholics in response to their public conduct. In particular, serious questions have arisen about the eligibility of some prominent political figures to receive Communion. Almost invariably, these questions focus on their personal, albeit public, conduct, rather than their beliefs, and are being decided, or conspicuously not decided, case by case.

While some earlier disputes about participation in Communion focused on the receiver’s private conduct, recent disputes concern conduct that is particularly public, indeed often formally political or, at any rate, packed with societal consequences. These modern debates emerged first in regard to Eucharistic participation by the millions of Catholics who civilly divorced and remarried, followed by arguments about Catholic politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Kathleen Sebelius, Andrew Cuomo, and Rudy Giuliani, and most recently Catholics participating in various forms of pro-homosexual activism.

Many Catholics who support untraditional marriages, Pelosi’s near-perfect pro-abortion politics, or Rainbow Sash-style activism profess outrage at seeing the Eucharist “used as a weapon” against fellow Catholics. Others, however, are appalled at seeing such markedly contrarian Catholics take Holy Communion.

The Eucharist is central to the identity, doctrines, and practices of the Catholic Church. As canon 897 of the Code of Canon Law puts it, “The most august sacrament is the Most Holy Eucharist in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered, and received and by which the Church continually lives and grows. The eucharistic sacrifice . . . is the summit and source of all worship and Christian life, which signifies and effects the unity of the People of God and brings about the building up of the body of Christ.”

Canon 898 adds: “The Christian faithful are to hold the Most Holy Eucharist in highest honor, taking an active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice, receiving this sacrament most devoutly and frequently, and worshiping it with the highest adoration.”

Against Burke’s view and mine stand some scattered negative episcopal demurrals (Cardinals Roger Mahony, emeritus of Los Angeles, and Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., come to mind) and some short essays by academics. Mostly, it seems, the opposition reflects an institutional reluctance to enforce ecclesiastical discipline when the public outcry might be loud.

Read his entire essay.

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About Carl E. Olson 1197 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.