SPRINGFIELD, IL, April 3, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, known for his outspoken defense of the right to life and the natural family, has signaled his support for denying Communion to Catholic politicians who publicly endorse activities gravely contrary to the moral law.
The bishop wrote recently to a pro-life activist to affirm that he is upholding a diocesan priest’s decision to deny Communion to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, who has a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood.
Paprocki’s e-mail was reported Thursday by Catholic commentator Matt Abbott.
“Senator Durbin was informed several years ago by his pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish here in Springfield that he was not permitted to receive Holy Communion per canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law,” Paprocki wrote. “My predecessor upheld that decision and it remains in effect. It is my understanding that the senator is complying with that decision here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.”
Canon 915 states that those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
In placing the onus on ministers of Holy Communion, canon 915 is distinct from canon 916, which places the onus on the communicant to not approach for Communion if they are “conscious of grave sin.”
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Canon 915 has been at the center of the dispute in recent years over how Church leaders should deal with the plethora of Catholic politicians who vote for pro-abortion and pro-homosexual legislation.
Some prelates argue that denying politicians Communion turns the Eucharist into a political “weapon.” Defenders of the canon, however, argue that it is an expression of charity by protecting the individual from taking part in sacrilege and protecting the faithful from scandal.
The clear position from the Vatican has been in favour of enforcing the canon. In 2004, as America’s bishops were debating whether to deny Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then-head of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a letter to the bishops exhorting them to do just that.
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” , nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.
The cardinal’s letter was not considered during the U.S. bishops’ debate, however, because Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to whom it had been sent, withheld the text. The letter was eventually leaked to Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, who published it in full. Cardinal Ratzinger’s office then confirmed its authenticity.
U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke has been the most prominent defender of canon 915. In an interview published exclusively in English last month by LifeSiteNews, Burke insisted denying Communion when required is not about punishment but charity.
“The priest’s refusal to give Holy Communion is a prime act of pastoral charity, helping the person in question to avoid sacrilege and safeguarding the other faithful from scandal,” he explained.
“The exclusion of those who persist in manifest and grave sin, after having been duly admonished, from receiving Holy Communion is not a question of a punishment but of a discipline which respects the objective state of a person in the Church,” he added.
As prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Burke is considered the Church’s highest-ranking canonist.