.- A Franciscan priest in Portugal has caused a stir throughout the media for his refusal to give Communion to public officials who claim to be Catholic but support abortion and other attacks on human life. Father Nuno Serras Pereira responded to the media uproar with a letter published in a Lisbon newspaper in which he argued that his decision was based on the Magisterium of the Church and on Canon Law, which teach that priests, in fidelity to the norms of the Church, are not allowed to give Holy Communion “to those Catholics who stubbornly and manifestly persist in defending, contributing to, or promoting the death of innocent human beings.”
Media reports characterized the Franciscan priest’s comments as “exaggerated, dark and opportunistic,” and “too difficult to hear,” and reporters and commentators sought the opinions of well-known liberal priests such as Father Anselmo Borges, who dismissed Father Pereira’s comments saying, “Taking the pill in order to exercises responsible motherhood is not the same as euthanasia.” “If contraception is a grave sin, then at this point 80% of women are in grave sin. It won’t be long before everything will be forbidden!” he complained.
Father Borges said he was not concerned that Father Pereira’s comments conformed to the teachings of Pope John Paul II. “The Pope criticizes, but the Pope does not decide everything—he has the right and the duty to provide guidance, but the Catholic Church must learn that there is such a thing as moral autonomy.”
The bishops of Portugal have remained mum about the controversy, with the exception of Cardinal Jose Policarpo of Lisbon, who said Father Pereira’s comments were not very prudent and that expressing them through the media was not the most pastorally appropriate way to do so.
The Franciscan Provincial, Father Isidro Lamelas, in comments to the Ecclesia news agency, distanced himself from the comments of Father Pereira and said they were purely his own personal opinion. Strangely, he said that while he supports the pro-life cause, in his struggle he prefers “charity to law, mercy to morality, communion to excommunication.”
Father Pereira sent a second letter to the editor in which he wrote that he was thankful for the comments by Cardinal Policarpo, but that “if the cardinal desires to make a pronouncement, in communion with the Holy Father, regarding some doctrinal or moral issue, making use of the authority he has been granted, it belongs to me to listen to and meditate upon his words, and to try to put them into practice. I might add, however, just for informational purposes, that if he makes simple prudential judgments or expresses opinions, any Catholic is free to agree or not.”
“What’s at stake here is the objective responsibility of legislators and other politicians, researchers from laboratories and pharmacies, doctors, opinion makers, journalists, pastors of the Church, and any other person who professes to be Catholic, to not continue to publicly reject the teaching of the Church on such an essential issue as that of the respect for the commandment of the Law of God, Thou shalt not kill the innocent and the just,” Father Pereira wrote.
“The law is at the service of charity, morality at the service of mercy, and excommunication is a teaching at the service of communion—in this sense it’s not ‘either/or’ but rather ‘both/and’,” he concluded.