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October 04, 2012

How Many American Catholics Should Receive Communion?

Placing particular emphasis on the gay marriage issue, John J. Myers, the Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, maintained in a pastoral letter here that Catholics who cannot assent to the Church’s teachings on marriage and the family “must in all honesty and humility refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they can do so with integrity.” Many reacted to the letter as if it were unprecedented, but I do not believe it is.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2006 here insisted that “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. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.” In context, as I read it, a Catholic is obstinately rejecting doctrines of the Church if he or she has given up trying to believe that the Church’s moral teaching is correct. What distinguishes the letter of Myers from the statement of the Bishops is that Myers identifies the failure to assent to a specific moral teaching as bringing about separation from the Church. If Myers is right about this, it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of American Catholics should not be receiving Communion. To reject the Church’s teaching on contraception is to reject the teaching authority of the Church, and the overwhelming majority of American Catholics do exactly that. My guess is that relatively few of American Catholics who reject the contraception teaching are still trying to accept Church teaching on the issue.

It is not surprising that the Conference of Bishops is more circumspect about what causes separation from the Church than Archbishop Myers. Nonetheless, the same day the Bishops stated that the failure to accept the teaching of the Church on moral issues should cause one to refrain from receiving Communion, the Bishops in separate documents reaffirmed their teachings on contraception and same sex relations. There is already a crisis in the teaching authority of the Bishops. If they follow the lead of Archbishop Myers in being specific about which moral teachings cannot be rejected while continuing to receive communion, Catholics will either leave the Church or contumaciously receive Communion anyway. In other words, the Emperor will lose many of the clothes that are left.

 

Posted by Steve Shiffrin on October 4, 2012 at 09:10 AM | Permalink

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Your view would seem to suggest that to really gain legitimacy the bishops ought not only to stop pointing out the need for assent, but ought to delete the substantive underlying teachings, rather than have them remain a dead letter that are not only neglected in practice but that bishops don't even outwardly insist on. But if one views the crisis in teaching authority as being fed by a failure to have taught clearly for so many years and having made the written teachings inconsistent with the proclamation and practice, then the bishop's position can be seen as stengthening the teaching office in the long term rather than continuing on the path of inconsistency. And in the short term, your dialectical conclusion overlooks one possibility--some Catholics might actually rethink their positions.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 4, 2012 9:30:15 AM

Actually Matt i was not suggesting any
such thing. First, I doubt the Bishops can gain legitimacy, and
deleting the substantive positions, however wrong I think they may
be, would make the Bishops look like desperate politicians
following the polls. I do not think the failure of authority is
the failure to teach clearly. The failure stems from a polarized
set of beliefs in the faithful that cannot be overcome by clarity
or fist shaking.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Oct 4, 2012 10:00:44 AM

With all due respect, there can be no polarization in The One Body Of Christ, so the term "polarized set of beliefs in the faithful", in regards to Faith and morals, would be an oxymoron.

Posted by: N.D. | Oct 4, 2012 10:18:40 AM

Do you really think "fist shaking" is the most apt description of Bishop Myers' words, which you quoted, "must in all honesty and humility refrain from receiving Holy Communion until they can do so with integrity?"

Might we consider the possibility that part of the problem that we have a laity than tends to translate words like those quoted above as "fist shaking?"

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 4, 2012 10:37:27 AM

"If they follow the lead of Archbishop Myers in being specific about which moral teachings cannot be rejected while continuing to receive communion, Catholics will either leave the Church or contumaciously receive Communion anyway."

Uh, that wouldn't be the first time such a thing happened. If you would recall your scripture, the interesting thing was that the same sort of thing happened in John 6.

"Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?"

"Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh 22 is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.

"And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."" As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

"Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

This is the same question posed to all of us by the Teaching Authority of the Bishops. Reject it at your peril.

Posted by: CK | Oct 4, 2012 10:41:37 AM

No John, I do not think fist shaking
would be an apt description of Archbishop Myers words, nor did I
suggest otherwise.
More to the point of my post, I wonder if someone in this thread
will indicate what percentage of American Catholics should receive
Communion.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Oct 4, 2012 10:56:58 AM

Casey, I am sure you believe it
appropriate to and perhaps feel obligated to say, Reject it at
your peril, but, as a sociological matter, I think this rhetoric
increases resentment in the Church, undermines faith, and drives
some people away. (The second largest religious group in the US
consists of those who have left the Catholic Church). Whether or
not it is good doctrine (I do not think so), it is bad from a
pastoral perspective. The best pastors no longer rely on fear to
persuade; they appeal to the head and the heart.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Oct 4, 2012 11:08:37 AM

I would venture to say that under these guidelines, probably about 90% or more should not receive communion. I think we know that perhaps 95% of sexually active Catholics use some form of artificial birth control. I don't think many who are past childbearing age and no longer have any need for contraception could convincingly make the case that they now embrace Humanae Vitae.

There are some interesting findings in a 2008 Georgetown survey of Catholic beliefs and attitudes. Only 12% responded "Always" to the question, "How often do you attend a Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation when it does not fall on a Sunday?" Only 57% believed in the Real Presence, and even among those who attended Mass weekly or more, 9% did not believe in the Real Presence.

I think there is a tendency to believe that Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly should not be counted, because only faithful and obedient Catholics are "real" Catholics, but I suspect that even a great many Catholics who attend Mass weekly are "dissident" on issues like contraception. And according to one survey I saw, only a minority of Catholics (31%) who attended Mass weekly (they were 38% of the sample) were opposed to both same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage. By my (unreliable) calculations, that means about 12% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly oppose same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 4, 2012 11:53:35 AM

"I think this rhetoric increases resentment in the Church, undermines faith, and drives some people away."

Our generation is tired of the mealy mouth cowardice that has led to, among other things, the sex abuse scandal. Calling a spade a spade as the abuse scandal percolated might have increased resentment, but it would have been appropriate. While Christ is the Lamb of God and the Prince of Peace, we must not also forget that he is the Lion of Judah who called the emperors of his day a "brood of vipers."

These are times for a prophetic voice, not an overly measured or nuanced one, especially in America. This is a land of the culture of death who kills the unborn and foreign innocents in indiscriminate fashion. A lukewarm Church will only be spit from His mouth.

Posted by: CK | Oct 4, 2012 12:03:37 PM

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is something about Catholics who would like to see the bishops come down hard on people they consider dissenters that reminds me of Catholics (or Christians in general) who are bitter because they think Muslims who are offended by insults to Islam are treated with too much sensitivity while Christians who are offended by insults to Christianity are ignored. There's a kind of resentment or envy that the "bad Catholics" or the overzealous Muslims are getting away with something, and it's so *unfair*! It's a little like the older brother of the Prodigal Son.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 4, 2012 1:59:34 PM

St. Paul warns about eating the Eucharist unworthily in Corinthians, and his warning is far more severe than anything our Bishops are saying. Maybe a better question is this: are any of us worthy to receive the Eucharist? I think the Church gives us the answer: I am not worthy . . . but only say the word. I think it may be this sort of humility that our Bishop is encouraging.

Posted by: BMoney | Oct 4, 2012 2:03:46 PM

Prof. Shiffrin: if you "doubt the Bishops can gain legitimacy," it doesn't really hurt the bishops to follow Archbishop Myers' lead. If they are relegated to obscurity anyway, it might as well be principled. In terms of your request that people say what percentage of Catholics should receive communion, I have a hard time believing you expect folks to take that request literally, or that your argument somehow creates the burden to offer such a number. Saying that to deny belief X is to deny Christ and precludes receipt of communion, in no way commits or imiplicates one in the project of actually reading the hearts of fellow believers by percentages, especially based on polling data. I think you know that.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 4, 2012 2:51:21 PM

I am appalled at the strident rigidity of many of the comments to this article. Our God is a God of love; He is not an accountant Who keeps tabs on whether someone uses a condom. He has commanded us to love Him and love our neighbor. He has said nothing about artificial contraception. The hierarchy of our church has to get off the pelvic issues and concentrate on justice and peace.

The Eucharist is food for the journey. It is not a reward for "good behavior". The individual, having consulted his well-formed conscience and communed with his Redeemer, is the ultimate judge of whether he should receive communion.

Posted by: Elizabeth Bueding | Oct 4, 2012 3:26:01 PM

Wouldn't the "ultimate" judge be, not the individual, but Christ himself?

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 4, 2012 3:30:39 PM

Only if you're counting on His verbally advising you each time you go to mass.

Posted by: Elizabeth Bueding | Oct 4, 2012 3:34:06 PM

That is what I am counting on, actually. But I take your answer to be no. I think our disagreement is, however, not one of "strident rigidity" but of ecclesiology. You think the individual is the ultimate judge of Christianity. I think Christ is, through his bishops. You can call people names when they disagree with you on that point, if you want. But the people you are disagreeing with are, at worst, only following your own advice: they are making an individual judgment about how Christ speaks, instead of deferring to you on that question. I don't see how you could be the individual judge of ultimate questions, but then turn around and rigidly tell me I can't decide that the Church (not you) is Christ's voice on individual questions.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 4, 2012 5:09:58 PM

"St. Paul warns about eating the Eucharist unworthily"

Yes, and this is not meant to exclude but out of caritas it is meant to keep a person from condemning him or herself against the Judgment of Christ. We moderns tend to forget the four final things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. When a bishop warns against taking communion in such states of mortal sin, it is out of caritas.

Posted by: CK | Oct 4, 2012 6:33:50 PM

"When a bishop warns against taking communion in such states of mortal sin, it is out of caritas."

CK,

Do you really think Catholics in the state of mortal sin receive communion? I find this difficult to believe. They may have done things that you or the bishops consider mortal sin, but why in the world would anyone who considers himself or herself in the state of mortal sin go to communion? Or, for that matter, Mass?

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 4, 2012 7:25:37 PM

Why would someone profess to be Catholic if they did not desire to be a witness to The Catholic Faith?

Posted by: N.D. | Oct 4, 2012 8:06:30 PM

DN, Catholics who are in mortal sin receive communion all the time. The fact that every person in a parish on a given Sunday receives communion should be evidence enough that Catholics are receiving communion unworthily. I abstain from communion from time to time for the sins that I commit until I get to confession. And feel like a pariah as I sit in the pew and people give me funny looks because they know I am Catholic. That doesn't mean I shouldn't go to mass.

Once upon a time, a fair proportion of Catholics wouldn't receive communion at every mass they attended. Now, if you don't receive, you stick out like a sore thumb.

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Oct 4, 2012 8:14:25 PM

Catholic Law Student,

How do you know they are in a state of mortal sin? Is there some rule of thumb that a certain percentage of people attending Sunday Mass are in a state of mortal sin?

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 5, 2012 12:32:13 AM

I hope and pray that they are not. But if the rest of the parish is made up of people like me, and not availing themselves of confession, than I have my suspicions. People fall all the time, that's what we have the sacraments for.

Perhaps they are all far holier than I am. Who knows?

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Oct 5, 2012 9:48:06 AM

"How do you know they are in a state of mortal sin? Is there some rule of thumb that a certain percentage of people attending Sunday Mass are in a state of mortal sin?"

I'm not about going around looking policing who is or who isn't worthy of Eucharist. But if someone failed to adhere to the moral teachings of the Church, intentionally so, then in their heart they would be condemning themselves against Christ. Thankfully, the one who monitors this process are the Bishops and Christ Himself but not me.

BTW, if one does not go to Confession at least once a year, then they are likely in a state of mortal sin.

Posted by: CK | Oct 5, 2012 10:50:59 AM

"Once upon a time, a fair proportion of Catholics wouldn't receive communion at every mass they attended. Now, if you don't receive, you stick out like a sore thumb."

I've been to many parishes around the country, and I grew up in parishes with substantial white and hispanic populations in the Southwest. I've noticed that in predominantly white parishes, everyone goes up all the time for Communion. However, if you go to the Spanish mass or a Church predominantly attended by a Hispanic population, you will see that there are a substantial number of people who will discern not going up. These people follow a more discerning examination of conscience.

Sorry to point out this uncomfortable distinction, but predominantly white parishes tend to have an entitled mentality with respect to the Eucharist (it is also interesting that these parishes overemphasize Social Justice and diversity, of which they have none). Such is not the case with the humbler Hispanic parishes. They know what the Eucharist is, and they tend to respect the Real Presence of Christ.

Posted by: CK | Oct 5, 2012 11:01:18 AM

Clarity in teaching is a good thing. Mr. Shiffrin seems put out that nobody is answering his question. The question, remember, is: "How many American Catholics should receive Communion?" The answer, of course, is that *all* of us *should* receive Communion (because we believe, and have confessed if need be, and can do so with integrity). No doubt some of us have received when we shouldn't have ... all the more reason for clear teaching, repeated.

Posted by: Anon | Oct 5, 2012 11:17:10 AM

I would contend that we can deduce that a majority of Catholics in this country should not receive Holy Communion. Where is the evidence for this? Short/non-existent Confession lines. Almost no one goes. Either they are Saints, or immaculately conceived, or they are sinning and not repenting. Also, consider that the vast majority of Catholics of sexually active age practice artificial contraception and reject Humanae Vitae. These, too, should not receive Holy Communion. And the 75% of Catholics in the U.S. who claim to be Catholic but don't attend Mass on Sunday's or Holy Days (except maybe at Christmas and Easter), should also refrain from receiving Holy Communion.

Posted by: Steve B. | Oct 5, 2012 12:02:39 PM

Steve B, I agree with what you say, but
the point of my post goes further. I take the Bishops statement
to mean that if you disagree with Humanae Vitae (or the Churchs
positions on same sex relations), you should not take communion
even if you are a married heterosexual who does not use
contraceptives and are not living in serious sin of any kind. The
theory of the Bishops, as I understand it, is that you may not
have engaged in sin by following your conscience, but you have
separated yourself from the Church. So understood, the number of
Catholics who should not receive communion is very high. I do not
think religious conservatives want to face this especially the
Bishops. I understand Matts desire for the Bishops to be more
specific and forceful on this in the interest of integrity. A
smaller and more faithful (to the Bishops teachings) Church
might enable it to serve a more prophetic function (recognizing
that not all prophets are right). If the Bishops are more specific
and forceful, however, they need to recognize that many who leave
the Church lose faith altogether, and I suspect that Bishops who
believe that the Church is the one holy Church might think that
driving persons away from Christ is even more problematic than
driving them away from the Church. Some of the comments in this
thread seem to imply that people who do not believe the teachings
of the Church are going to hell. I do not think the Bishops
believe that. It is not Catholic teaching, and it is not Christian
teaching. But the Bishops do believe that if you do not believe
the teachings of the Church you are not a Catholic. That seems
sensible to me. The serious question, however, is whether there is
play in the joints. Can a Catholic still be a Catholic while
rejecting some magisterial teachings. The Bishops statement is
susceptible to the interpretation that the answer is no, and that
is the way I have read it. Most Catholic liberals I know do not
care what it means because they believe the statement reflects
hubris, not Christian virtue. Admittedly the statement is not
crystal clear. Perhaps, that is deliberate. It gives many
Catholics wiggle room.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Oct 5, 2012 1:52:04 PM

I guess I take an "eyes on my own paper" response to this. I'm not certain I do a good enough job examining my own conscience; I'm not eager to take on the burden of examining others, and thankfully, it's not a burden I am expected to bear.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 5, 2012 2:37:39 PM

Steve S., good points! I would further refine it, perhaps, by saying that there is a distinction between "being Catholic" and "being a Catholic in communion with the Church." I would contend that anyone who obstinately rejects just one teaching that is "required to be believed with Catholic and Divine faith," removes him-/herself from communion with the Church, which is communion with Christ, and in so doing, jeopardizes his/her eternal soul. Further, if one even obstinately doubts any one such teaching, then he/she removes him-/herself from communion with the Church, because these descriptions are how we define what it is to be a heretic. (CCC 2089) According to Canon law, all heretics are automatically excommunicated (latae sententiae).[1983 Code of Canon Law c.1364]

The key word here, I think, is "obstinate," which implies knowledge and prideful rejection. This would give a "pass" to those who were invincibly ignorant of a particular teaching. On the other hand, the Church teaches us that we have a "serious obligation" to properly form our conscience, i.e., to form it to the objective norm of truth, which is the teachings of the Catholic Church. To obstinately refuse to do so could make one guilty of culpable ignorance.

Posted by: Steve B. | Oct 5, 2012 3:30:52 PM

With all due respect, the key word is communion, because one cannot be Catholic if one is not in communion with His Church, to begin with.

Posted by: N.D. | Oct 5, 2012 6:15:54 PM

See revised Catholic Canon Code 750.

Posted by: N.D. | Oct 6, 2012 12:03:07 AM

Perhaps I'm unable to read between the lines, but are Catholics obliged - upon penalty of mortal sin - to note only refrain from gay marriage and contraception but to use every legal means available to ensure that everyone else does as well by banning both?

Posted by: JamesBradshaw | Oct 7, 2012 5:04:37 PM

James, Not sure what lines you are
reading between. I doubt efforts to outlaw contraception would
ever be successful and even if they were, enforcement would be
ineffective. In any event, reading the Gospels would suggest that
reducing poverty and treating the despised with compassion and
respect should take priority over both of the issues you mention.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Oct 7, 2012 10:46:14 PM

How Many American Catholics Should Receive Communion?

The above article reflected a sensative and yet sensible position on Church teaching and practice. So, I was shocked to come to the concluding lines and read ...

If they follow the lead of Archbishop Myers in being specific about which moral teachings cannot be rejected while continuing to receive communion, Catholics will either leave the Church or contumaciously receive Communion anyway. In other words, the Emperor will lose many of the clothes that are left.

What?

First, 'Catholics' who leave the Church when She is 'being specific about which moral teachings cannot be rejected while continuing to receive communion,' seem to be 'Catholic' in name only.

The same can be said for those who ' contumaciously receive Communion anyway' except in this case these people are committing mortal sin and are in danger of hell.

As for the conclusion that 'the Emperor will lose many of the clothes that are left'...I for one would rather see Our Church walk naked in all honesty, humility and integrity then clothed with the filthy rags of contumaciously and falsehood.

Posted by: sharontheil | Oct 28, 2012 5:51:23 PM

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