The Catholic News Agency reported that in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., a lesbian woman, who had introduced her partner to the pastor of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, MD, just prior to her mother’s funeral, was denied Communion. Predictably, she was outraged.
Evidently, in order to assauge tensions in the aftermath, one monsignor “explained that this means the priest must know that the person’s sin is grave, that it is manifest – or well-known – and that the individual in question is obstinate in his or her sin before denying the sacrament. That generally means that the priest ‘would need to meet with them privately,’ he said." An auxiliary bishop of the same diocese even wrote to the lesbian woman apologizing for the pastoral insensitivity. Imagine that! What a departure from the New Testament and patristic pastoral standards [patristic i.e. Church Fathers] .
Unfortunately, the message the Archdiocese is sending out to the community is a confusing one. Enter Fr. William Byrne, secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington. He issued a statement in the days to follow. As CNA reported, “He explained that priests have ‘an obligation to make sure that the sacraments are respected.’ In the case that a person is in a state of mortal sin, he or she should not receive Holy Communion.”
Amen to Father Byrne! But herein lies the problem; and I have written about this extensively. The mixed messages from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. is an epidemic throughout the Catholic Church in the West. To be of one voice, preaching one Gospel, and using the same pastoral standard, is essential in expressing the unity of the Church. The absolute neccesity of this unity and oneness is articulated time and time again throughout the whole New Testament. But why? Why was it inculcated and driven into the minds of the early Christians? The answer is this: Without unity of doctrine, unity of mesasge and uniformity of action, the communication of truth is less effective. It does not take hold as it ought to. The same applies to parents. We all know that when a mother and a father take different and contradictory parental approaches to their children it causes problems. As it pertains to the spiritual fathers of the Church, it is no different!
The monsignor featured in the CNA article put a stipulation on refusing the Holy Eucharist to obstinate sinners that is most difficult to apply in many cases; and that is the Eucharistic minister should meet with an obstinate sinner in private before they refuse Communion. It may be preferable in some cases, but in many instances it is hardly practical; especially when the Eucharistic minister is not expecting such a person to present him or herself to Communion. And dare I say such a pastoral standard is not always necessary or desirable if it means that the obstinate sinner will receive the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily.
If you recall, in I Cor. 11 St. Paul did not mince words when he said that such a person will eat and drink judgment upon himself (or in this case, upon herself). Therefore, the burden of proof is placed squarely on the once obstinate sinner to demonstrate that he or she is repentant and that such repentance is made known to the elders of the Church. It should not be the responsibility of the Eucharistic minister, be it a priest or lay person, to do investigative work. Indeed, until such repentance is at least communicated and demonstrated to the pastor of the church, a Eucharistic minister is duty bound to refuse Communion to obstinate sinners, lest they partake in their sins (the N.T. and Church Fathers makes this quite clear).
Again, I ask, why did St. Paul instruct St. Timothy to reprimand sinners publicly? Why did he publish the names of blasphemers? Why did St. John, the darling of the Apostles, cast a public light on the “evil nonsense” Diotrophes was disseminating about him and other worthy pastors? Why did he instruct, in his Second Letter, not to receive in her house those who are so progressive so as to not remain in the teachings of Christ? Indeed, even said to do so would be to be a partaker in their sins. And lastly, why did Our Lord himself publicly rebuke obstinate sinners if speaking to them privately was the most important way to go? As Pope St. Gregory the Great said, public sins should be dealt with publicly and private sins should be addressed privately.
And as for Pope St. Leo the Great (400’s), he once wrote to a bishop that he who does not share in the Church's discipline cannot share in her communion. This has been the guiding pastoral norm for centuries. To be sure, it has worked well for the Church, preserving her unity and the coherence of her preaching. Sadly, however, it has been abandoned by many clergy members in recent years. The pastoral requirement to meet with the obstinate sinner in private is a “recent” practice taken to an extreme. We, the Church, have practiced diplomacy to a fault! Indeed, it is the status quo and one which has often been a pretext for non-action.
The clergy and laity alike should be more concerned about the lesbian woman’s soul over than her feelings. Now, of course, being that she felt judged, she vowed to do everything in her power to remove the priest from St. John Neumann’s church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. This "Dictatorship of Relativism," this intolerance of secular-liberalism, is running roughshod over the Church. Indeed, timidity, indecision and conflicting messages are the reasons why the Dictatorship of Relativism is alive and well in America. And I tell you, it will not be effectively resisted if Catholics- both clergy and laity –will not be vigilant and courageous custodians of the Holy Eucharist.
To deny Communion to a soul who has not demonstrated repentance for her sins is not only a sacred duty, but an act of charity. Keep in mind the woman involved introduced her lesbian partner to the priest just minutes before the funeral Mass for her mother. In response, the priest asked her not to present herself for Communion. The priest did his duty. We, as a Church, must do ours by speaking with one voice in support of such an ancient pastoral practice.