By Tim Waggoner

  WASHINGTON, June 2, 2008 ( – Father Francis G. Morrisey, who for years opposed the denial of communion to pro-abortion politicians, has recently told the Washington Times his position on the matter has changed. This comes on the heels of numerous other canon lawyers uniting around outspoken clergymen on the issue.

  The Washington Times reported that Father Francis G. Morrisey, a highly-respected canon lawyer who taught canon law at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada, has admitted he now advocates refusing communion to pro-abortion politicians, but maintains an individualistic application of canon law 915: “we have to look at the individual conscience of each politician, and just when a person has overstepped the line.” He also asked,  “Is the politician ready to look at things and reevaluate certain situations, or has the politician simply closed the door and said mind your own business?”

  Father Morrisey additionally reflected on the fact that abortion is not the only life issue to be considered in the matter.  “There’s a contradiction being opposed to abortion but being totally in favor of the death penalty,” said Morrisey. However, the Church’s teaching on capital punishment is not anywhere as precise and condemning as that against abortion which results in the death of vastly greater numbers of always completely innocent humans.

  Patricia M. Dugan, a Philadelphia lawyer who practices both canon law and civil law, also observed the need for consistency in the application of canon 915, which states that those, “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

“We need to be more definitive in how we spread this and how far we allow this practice to go,” Miss Dugan said. “Denial of the sacraments is the equivalent of being shunned in the Amish community, or being expelled from your Jewish congregation.”

“Eight or ten years ago, when people first started advocating on this, they were voices crying in the wilderness . . . What we’re seeing is a consensus emerge; it’s more of a discussion now than a debate,” added Morrisey, commenting on the fact that numerous canon lawyers, who operate in the Church’s internal legal system, are rallying behind those clergymen and laity who are upholding and supporting the proper application of canon 915.

  One such advocate is canon lawyer and vicar general of the Diocese of Lincoln in Nebraska, Monsignor Timothy Thorburn, who identifies a possible lack of respect for the Church when a politician, who knowingly disagrees with a serious Church teaching, attempts to receive the Eucharist: “If a person identifies himself as a Catholic, yet holds a position that is directly contrary to the Catholic faith in a very serious matter – the killing of innocent children by means of abortion – it would seem that they should have the respect for the Church to refrain without coercion from receiving Holy Communion.”

“That some do not [refrain] seems to indicate almost an intention to insult the church,” added Thorburn.  An example of this can been seen in April when at least five pro-abortion politicians received Holy Communion during Pope Benedict’s U.S. visit.

  Furthermore, shortly after Archbishop Naumann privately told pro-abortion politician Governor Sebelius to refrain from receiving Holy Communion, she publicly received the sacrament shortly after. 

  A common argument that opposes the position of these canon lawyers and of the Catholic Church, suggests a separation of Church and State, saying a politician should represent their constituents in office rather than their personal beliefs. Yet Monsignor Thorburn addressed this concern, asserting, “If they are representing citizens, they should represent all citizens – including the most defenseless, who are children in the womb.”

  Archbishop of St. Louis Raymond Burke, who is a Member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court in the Catholic Church, which would oversee any complaint over pro-abortion politicians being denied communion, has over the years been outspoken in favor of applying the canon.

  According to lay canon lawyer R. Michael Dunnigan, as reported in the Washington Times, Archbishop Burke has gained tremendous support from other canon lawyers and Bishops surrounding the application of canon 915, especially when Archbishop Burke opposed presidential candidate John Kerry on the issue in 2004.

  Father William Woestman, a retired professor of canon law, also agrees and trusts in the bishops’ ability to uphold canon 915: “They have the grace of state and they have to make the judgment,” Fr. Woestman said. “Each bishop knows what is more beneficial for the welfare of the faithful in his diocese.”

  For more on the issue see: