Giving a pro-abortion Catholic politician Communion contravenes Canon Law and creates a source of scandal for all believers, said canon law expert Fr. John J. Coughlin, OFM, at a scholarly conference Sept. 16.
The conference, called “Public Witness/Public Scandal: Faith, Politics, and Life Issues in the Catholic Church,” was sponsored by Our Sunday Visitor Foundation and Ave Maria School of Law at the Washington National Press Club.
Fr. Coughlin said according to Canon Law, bishops should deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians or any other Catholic who engages in “manifest grave sin.”
The professor of law at University of Notre Dame Law School and a doctor of law from both the Gregorian University and Harvard Law School addressed the controversy over Catholic politicians who consistently advocate and vote against pro-life positions.
His address, entitled “Canon Law and the Refusal of Holy Communion to Catholic Political Officials,” was recently made public by the Ave Maria School of Law.
Fr. Coughlin provided an analysis of Canon 915 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which states: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
He referred to several recent Church documents to explain what constitutes grave sin, since, he admitted, this question “has been answered differently throughout the Church’s history.”
He referred to the 2002 Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which states that the minister of Holy Communion must refuse the sacrament to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, who have not obtained an annulment.
He cited Pope John Paul II’s clear declaration in Evangelium Vitae that abortion and euthanasia are gravely immoral. Based on this document, Fr. Coughlin said, there is no question that the Church considers abortion and euthanasia to be gravely sinful.
As well, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s Statement of Six Principles “state that abortion and euthanasia have a greater moral weight than other serious moral issues, including ones that involve the taking of human life such as the death penalty and the application of just war theory,” he summarized.
The cardinal also affirms that Communion must be refused to a politician who continues to support abortion or euthanasia, even after being warned by his or her pastor.
“One can not logically profess to believe on a personal level that abortion or euthanasia is the killing of innocent human life, while speaking and acting in public as if the crime constituted some kind of good,” he stated.
Fr. Coughlin addressed the argument that a consequence of refusing Communion to Democratic public officials, whose positions on social justice are closer to the teaching of the Catholic Church, “could have an overall detrimental effect with regard to issues of social justice.”
“Although this kind of overall effect must be given its due in the application of Canon 915,” he said, “no political or financial reality no matter how pressing can alleviate the duty of a Church official to address the evil of taking innocent human life.”
Canon law serves to protect individuals and the entire ecclesial community, he stated.
“As with any rule of canon law, there can be exceptions,” but they “should not eviscerate the law from its deeper theological meaning,” he said.
Fr. Coughlin wondered “if the rule of Canon 915 is being taken seriously by the bishops in the United States.”
“During the last four decades in the United States, the rule of canon law was often not respected in the handling of sexual abuse cases,” he observed, “and the consequences of the failure are now all too painfully evident.”
Fr. Coughlin’s full remarks can be read at: