The question of reception of Holy Communion by public officials who profess Catholic faith while also openly rejecting Church teaching by their actions and policy decisions has come up again in recent weeks. What is the concern here and why does it matter?
At issue is the proper application of Canon 915 of the Church’s Canon Law that plainly states that any who are “obstinately preserving in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” What are these terms used in the canon? First of all, “grave sin” is simply another term for “mortal sin.” The canon further modifies such mortal sin in referring to any who “obstinately persevere” in it, referring to persons who continuously live in this state of mortal sin (thus persevering in it) without any regard for a need to repent of the sin (and are therefore “obstinate”). Finally, such a life of living in mortal sin is called “manifest” when it is publicly known to many and therefore a cause of scandal. Persons who live in this way of sin as described here are not to be admitted to holy communion – for the good of their own soul and to remove scandal.
Please note: this canon applies to all situations of persevering in grave manifest sin. – and is far broader than applying only to politicians. For it is a basic truth that mortal sin is contradictory to Eucharistic communion with God (who is without sin). That you might see a non-political application of Canon 915, consider this example: In the town of Noplace, Arthur Grotesque is a high school social studies teacher who both professes to be a faithful Catholic and member of Holy Desert Fathers Parish, and who also promotes occult practices in his classroom and in public life. In fact, Mr. Grotesque has even made public his participation in a black mass that was committed at the Noplace City Center. In addition, Mr. Grotesque voices his support for these acts and other related practices. Yet, Sunday after Sunday he attends 10:00 Mass at Holy Desert Fathers Church, presenting himself for Holy Communion each week as though he is faithful to the Church’s life and truth. Several parishioners have voiced their concerns to the local bishop and their pastor, yet Mr. Grotesque continues to receive communion with no apparent sense of a need to publicly repent of these evils or to go to confession (to confess these and any other mortal sins that may also be on his soul). Mr. Grotesque appears to have no regard for 1 Corinthians 11:27 where it says “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord,” placing his soul in great peril of eternal hellfire - and because his acts are committed in public he causes grave scandal in the community, doing spiritual harm to many who are sincere in their faith. Thus, according to Canon 915, Mr. Grotesque must not be given Holy Communion until he publicly repents, thus helping to save his own soul from “answering for the body and blood of the Lord” in eternal hellfire, and ending the public scandal the he causes through his persevering in manifest grave sin.
Sadly, this example is not farfetched. For in our moment, many public leaders are walking the same path. Our current U.S. president, several members of both houses of Congress from both major parties, and many more who live public lives of sin outwardly “say” they are Catholic while very clearly and consistently promoting such grave evils as abortion, contraception, assisted suicide, and other evils. Canon 915 is very clear – these people should NOT be receiving Holy Communion unless they publicly repent and go to confession. The importance of this canon is clear: we want to aid these individuals in calling them to repentance by a clear execution of canon 915, hoping to bring them back into communion after they publicly repent (which by the grace of God we pray that they will do). For this is truly a matter of eternal life and eternal death – one the matters to all of us.