Nov 23, 2009

Will Catholic Bishops Start Denying Communion to Gay Marriage Supporters?

CommunionU.S. Catholic Bishops have made a giant leap toward using Communion as their next political weapon, with Rhode Island's bishop telling Rep. Patrick Kennedy that he is no longer welcome to receive Communion during Mass at any church in the entire state. The move by Bishop Thomas Tobin follows through on previous threats by many U.S. Catholic bishops that they would ban pro-choice and pro-gay politicians from partaking in one of the Church's most important sacraments.

Rep.  Kennedy told the Providence Journal that Bishop Tobin has been targeting him for years by threatening to withhold Communion, mostly for his support for reproductive rights. Bishop Tobin finally followed through with those threats, in a move that's being seen by many as the politicization of a Church practice that's supposed to be seen as the epitome of peace.

"The bishop instructed me not to take communion and said that he has instructed the diocesan priests not to give me communion," Kennedy said.

Today happens to be the 46th anniversary of the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, the nation's only Catholic head of state. What a difference four decades make in reshaping Catholic identity. Back then Catholics celebrated President Kennedy's leadership. Today, Kennedy and his family would be told by many bishops that they're not welcome to the table.

The announcement by Bishop Tobin to control Communion like a mafia leader stems from debate during the 2004 election, when Sen. John Kerry (himself a Catholic) was running for President. During that year, conservative U.S. Catholic leaders put together what they considered a list of "non-negotiable" issues that they said Catholics could not waver on.

It was a narrowing of Catholic theology to strip issues like poverty and social justice from the forefront of the Church, and replace them with opposing abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. It was also a call to Catholic politicians: oppose abortion and gay marriage at all costs, or risk the threat of the Church denying you Communion and publicly tarring and feathering you as a sinner.

Bishop Tobin's action toward Rep. Patrick Kennedy doesn't have anything to do with gay marriage on its surface (Rhode Island doesn't allow gay marriage, and Rep. Kennedy has kept a relatively low profile on the issue). Rather, Rep. Kennedy's sin in the eyes of the church was voting against the Stupak amendment to the U.S. House's health care bill, and siding with reproductive rights activists.

But the question is that if the Church is now ready to do this on the issue of abortion, are they also ready to do this on the issue of gay marriage, an issue the Church says that they view with as much disgust? Do Massachusetts politicians who support gay marriage or abortion rights now have to wonder whether they'll be denied Communion at weekly mass? What about Catholics in Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut or New Hampshire?

Time will tell. But we've already seen bishops with the Catholic Church threaten to stop caring for the poor in Washington, D.C. over the issue of gay marriage. There's no reason to think that Church leaders won't head to even deeper depths, politicizing one of their oldest traditions in Communion to simply toe a line on gay marriage that is increasingly out of step with public opinion.

Hmmm. I would say it was time to reclaim the  Eucharist away from ecclesiastic control, as many of us are already doing. This pathological hatred is not going to go away soon. It's not a question of 'leaving the Church,' but rather of forming pockets of spiritual witness and holiness on the peripheries. At this point in history, the message needs to be conveyed that the time for tribal distinctions  and dividing walls is long past. Let those who need the walls remain shut up within them. Jayden


Terence Weldon said...

I have been following the story of Tobin with horror, but without comment. The man is despicable. Fundamental to Catholic faith, along with the commitment to life and social justice, is the idea of freedom of conscience. Somewhere in canon law is a precept (I am not, thank God, a canonist) which says that we do not have the right to judge the interior state of another's soul.

To be "Catholic" simply means to have been baptised into, and to accept by annual baptismal vows,the church which calls itself universal. Nowhere do the creed or those baptismal vows include unquestioning loyalty to a self-selecting cadre of bishops, no matter how much Tobin and his cadres wih that they did.

If Tobin and his colleagues wish to "excommunicate" (i.e. exclude from communion) those they disagree with, I shall be happy to reciprocate: I no longer regard Tobin as truly "Catholic" - by his own words, he does not support a universal church that welcomes all, but a narrow and subservient one of sycophants.

Terence Weldon said...
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Jayden Cameron said...

Wonderful suggestion, Terence, 'reciprocal excommunication.' At the moment, these individuals have far too much power because of the present Catholic attachment to the dubious idea of an unbroken apostolic succession - the implication that if a priest has not been ordained by a bishop who stands in the line of this questionable succession, then the Eucharist 'confected' remains invalid. But as numerous theologians, Schillebeeckx among them, and church historians have already pointed out, this 'succession' is primarily a myth. There are far too many broken moments in the line. A community can, in the power of the spirit, elect and bless a leader from their midst who can then validly represent them at the table of the Lord, without the necessity of being 'zapped' by a bishop in continuity with this mythical line. Somehow, this basic principle has to be developed so as to free us from the present tyranny of Eucharistic control. Part of the solution, however, would have to be the education of the laity into the nature of this 'myth' of apostolic succession.