May 05, 2004


Andrew Sullivan demonstrates how much he misunderstands Catholicism with the following:

But the Catholic wing of the religious right wants not simply for the Church to defend its positions and criticize Kerry's; it wants the Church to deny communion to Kerry, effectively excommunicating him for his political views, principally on abortion.

Now Sullivan's a Catholic and it's a big Church but not going to communion is not excommunication, not even effective excommunication in any branch of the Church that I'm aware of. At issue is the root Christian concept that the sacraments are something that you are not automatically qualified for. There are barriers that you have to negotiate to qualify to receive them. The barriers can be lowered or raised depending on the conception of your local bishop and do change. My own bishop raised the barriers for communion a couple of years back by requiring a somewhat longer period of fasting prior to communion.

What the argument is fundamentally over is whether Kerry, and many other Catholic politicians, is causing moral scandal in the Church by ignoring the barriers and effectively thumbing his nose at a Catholic central organizing principle, that priests and bishops are an individual's spiritual partners, guiding, encouraging, and occasionally bitch slapping you when you need it.

Normally, people don't go up and get communion all the time. In Sullivan's construction, they're self-excommunicating. They might have arrived too late for services, eaten to close to mass time, not be in the proper frame of mind, have a sin weighing down on their soul, the reasons vary. I've been guilty of infractions that keep me from receiving the sacrament myself. Most Catholics have. And most Catholics have the sense to stay in the pews and not show up for a sacrament they don't (at that moment) qualify for. Sometimes people who aren't qualified show up anyway and the priest doesn't know and gives it to them. That's a sin but not any fault in the priest. But if the priest does know, he has a firm obligation not to give communion to someone who is not qualified. This is for both parties' sakes as it is sinful to partake of communion when you aren't qualified and it's a sin to knowingly assist in the first sin.

For Catholics, this is obviously more important than for non-Catholics though some faithful might look askance at someone who's not right with his own church even if they don't share that faith. But excommunication is an extreme judicial punishment that goes far beyond mere loss of communion privileges. Nobody's talking about excommunicating Kerry which would make it a sin to associate with him, even to vote for him until he relents. Sullivan's either ignorant or dishonest in conflating the two sanctions.

Posted by TMLutas at May 5, 2004 08:05 AM