Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Friday, May 16, 2008

Was Prof Douglas Kmiec really denied Communion?

He certainly says he was, by a chaplain irate over Kmiec's endorsement of Obama for president. Now I am as nonplused as the next guy about Kmiec's backing of the unborn's worst enemy (ok, technically he's tied with Hilary for a 100% NARAL approval rating), and I was quietly hoping that Kmiec would remain an anomalous singularity. That hope was dashed, however, when Nicholas Cafardi, a prominent lay canonist and retired dean of Duquesne Law School, lent his name to Obama's Catholic advisor list. Good grief. Oh well, they don't move me: I'd rather watch televised soccer than cast a vote for either Obama or Clinton.

But to deny Kmiec holy Communion for his actions to date? No way. In the face of Canons
18, 213, 843, and 912, Canon 915 indeed authorizes withholding Communion from those who (a) obstinately, (b) persevere in (c) manifest (d') grave (d'') sin. But about the only thing Kmiec is (so far) is manifest.

I have been urging for years that greater respect for Our Lord in the Eucharist be shown by, among other ways,
withholding holy Communion from certain figures who fail to meet the requirements set out in canon law. I suppose it's inevitable that, with steps finally being taken toward the enforcement of Canon 915, some hotheads are going to misapply the law. But that's not the law's fault; that's bad catechesis, something over which even priests can stumble.

In short, by my read, Prof. Kmiec is owed an apology.

Same day update: I'm always struck by how many more people can write than can read. I've been getting several notes and links criticizing me, saying that I have denied the right of ministers to make Communion-distribution decisions. Where, oh where, have I ever said that? Indeed, against some who argue plausibly that a Communion-withholding decision can only be made by the bishop, I have always upheld, alebit on the narrowest grounds, the authority of the minister to make an immediate decision (even though in the majority of cases I think they are wise to wait for directions from higher up) in order to deal with flagrant, urgent cases (e.g., drunken skin-head Neo-Nazis marching up to take Communion). What I said in the Kmiec case was that, imho, the minister of Communion was quite wrong to withhold the Eucharist from Kmiec, not that he as ordinary minister was unauthorized to make such determinations.

Which let's me comment on second point: some have said that I feel the Church owes Kmiec an apology. Nope. The minister owes Kmiec an apology. I don't think "the Church" has to run around apologizing for every misapplication of her laws by an intemperate official.

Being the minister of Communion is a heavy responsibility; misuse that authority, and expect to bear some consequences for it.

Updates: NR Online, 16 June 2008; Mirror of Justice, 16 June 2008; Fumare, 17 June 2008; The substance of this post was accurately conveyed by Our Sunday Visitor, 15 June 2008, p. 17.