“If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues, however, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church,” the new document states, repeating the bishops’ 2006 guidance.
“Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation," the guidance states, "would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.”
During the media briefing, journalist David Gibson, the moderator, asked Stowe if there were “any circumstances” where a Catholic should be denied Communion.
Stowe pointed to the document's reference of St. Paul's words in his first letter to the Corinthians about receiving the Real Presence worthily.
In 1 Cor. 11:27-30, Paul states: “Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.”
Paul’s admonition needs to be placed in proper context, however, by "looking at the social construct of Corinth and the Corinthian community at that time," Stowe said.
“And what Paul was chastising was in the context of a communal meal. Some people are eating more than their share and getting drunk before the other people even arrived there. How could you say this is a sacrament of unity?” he said.
“So I guess the short answer is there should be some discernment on the part of the individual about receiving the sacrament and preparing oneself for it. But I think Pope Francis gives us the right direction. It's not a prize for the perfect, but medicine for those who are on the way, who really want it,” Stowe said.
During the media briefing Stowe disclosed that he has denied Communion to someone on at least one occasion.
“I can't say, like Pope Francis, that I’ve never denied Communion to somebody, because I was in a conversation with somebody who outright told me they did not have any beliefs in anything that the church teaches, and then the next day presents himself at Communion. Well, it was almost like a personal test to me, what I was going to do. And I did not think there was any grounds on which I could give that person Communion,” he said.
“But that's such a rare … occurrence, for me, but not based on somebody's public stance,” Stowe said.
“Plus, you know, if it were well-known that Joe Biden encouraged someone that he impregnated to abort a child, that would be one thing,” Stowe continued. “That's a very different reality, publicizing this personal involvement in that sin, as opposed to saying that it's the law of the land, and I will abide by that law of the land. There's … several layers of separation there.”
Archbishop Aquila, however, noted that there are other questions to consider.
“Pope Francis has been clear that ‘abortion is murder.’ I would like to ask my brother bishops: Have you had conversations with Catholics in public life who take positions contrary to the dignity of the human person, whether it be abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty or other life issues? How do you suggest we respond to those Catholics who lose faith in the Church because of those public figures providing a counter-witness and receiving the Eucharist? How do you see them following the teaching of Vatican II to be a leaven in society?” Aquila said.
“These are questions that need to be answered if we are going to fulfill our role as shepherds who protect our flock and the faith,” he said. “As bishops, we are responsible for both the public figures and the faithful who are led into sin or lose their faith when the integrity of the faith is publicly undermined on so many levels.
“One day we will be judged,” Aquila said, “and the Lord has warned us in Ezekiel 33 to be his sentinels and with truth and charity to warn those who turn from the way of the Lord.”
Joseph Bukuras is a journalist at the Catholic News Agency. Joe has prior experience working in state and federal government, in non-profits, and Catholic education. He has contributed to an array of publications and his reporting has been cited by leading news sources, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Catholic University of America. He is based out of the Boston area.