Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Monday, October 15, 2007

In re the Eucharist: Cdl. McCarrick vs. Abp. Burke

Recently Cardinal Theodore McCarrick expressed his opinion on an important point of pastoral practice, namely, whether to withhold Holy Communion from notoriously pro-abortion Catholic politicians. McCarrick specifically expressed disagreement with Abp. Raymond Burke, who holds that the Eucharist should not be administered to certain pro-abortion Catholic politicians. But in disagreeing with Burke, I think that McCarrick mischaracterized the question and Burke's compelling answer to it.

According to the October 12 Catholic News Agency article, McCarrick seems to think there are only two ways to deal with the scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians: either withhold the Eucharist from them or work to persuade them of the error of their ways. McCarrick regards Burke as having chosen the first of these two supposedly mutually exclusive options, whereas he, McCarrick, supports the latter. This needs sorting out.

Burke fully supports engaging politicians with the truth of Church teaching on the humanity of the unborn child, on the responsibility of all public servants to protect the innocent, and on the specific duties of Catholic leaders to imbue the temporal order with the message of the Gospel (CIC 225.2). What Burke does not countenance is offering, in the meantime, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (CCC 1413) to Catholics whose public record is one of chronic contempt for any (let alone all!) of those truths.

Burke knows that Catholics are obligated to examine their conscience before approaching the Eucharist (CIC 916); but he also knows that ministers are obligated to withhold Holy Communion from those who "obstinately persist in manifest grave sin" (CIC 915). Furthermore, he believes that the failure to observe Canon 915 has grave repercussions for those receiving, and for those administering, the Eucharist. What is there to disagree with, here?

To be sure, important questions such as the point at which one's pro-abortion voting record constitutes objective grave sin, or exactly which ministers of Holy Communion are charged with assessing public conduct, must be addressed. But how can such questions even be broached when the most fundamental points of Eucharistic discipline have become so muddled?

We are living through a terrible, perhaps unprecedented, unraveling of respect for Jesus in the Eucharist. Such a crisis compels all of us, I think, to examine our consciences for how our sins might have contributed to this disaster. But in the meantime (and though he might cringe to hear such praise) let me suggest that Abp. Raymond Burke has emerged as the most articulate defender of our Eucharistic Lord among our bishops, and that his leadership is valued more widely than he can possibly imagine.


Read more about this issue: Edward Peters, "Denial of the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians", Homiletic & Pastoral Review (Oct 1990) pp. 28-32, 48-49.