Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Denial of Holy Communion to Public Supporters of the RH Bill.

An Application of Canon 915: Obligation to Deny Holy Communion to
Those in Obstinate and Manifest Grave Sin.

Recently, the national broadsheets carried an emotional story─that ran for several days─of a tug-of-war regarding the threat of excommunication to the proponents of the Reproductive Health Bill. In the end, the issue died down with the CBCP clarifying that there was no such threat. I remember that in the course of the U.S. electoral campaign of 2004, a similar crisis arose with the case of Catholic politicians who publicly, after admonition, continued to support legislation favouring procured abortion and other measures contrary to natural moral law─e.g., harvesting stem cells by the destruction of cloned human embryo, redefining marriage to include a relationship between persons of the same sex. The application of c.915 of the Code of Canon Law─to deny Holy Communion to those persons obstinate in manifest grave sin─generated quite a bit of discussion. Can that norm be applied to the case of the proponents of the RH Bill?

CARDINAL Raymond L. Burke, presently the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Signatura Apostolica─like the Supreme Court of the Catholic Church─wrote a lengthy article about this issue, from which we can quote heavily. In effect, the discussion among the Bishops uncovered a fair amount of serious confusion regarding the norm of c.915. Specifically─Burke pointed out─the denial of Holy Communion was repeatedly characterized as the imposition of a canonical penalty, which of course shouldn’t be done in such summary fashion by the sacred minister, without a due process─whether judicial or administrative.

In fact─he continued to pointed out─c.915 “only articulates the responsibility of the minister of Holy Communion─ whether ordinary or extraordinary─to deny Holy Communion to those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin.”

In effect, the denial of Holy Communion can be the result of the imposition or declaration of the canonical penalties of Excommunication and Interdict (cf. cc.1331, §1, 2º; and 1332). However, there are other cases in which Holy Communion must be denied: (1) to respect the holiness of the Sacrament, (2) to safeguard the salvation of the soul of the party presenting himself to receive Holy Communion, and (3) to avoid scandal.


The canonical discipline in question has its source in Sacred Scripture. St.Paul admonished the Christians of Corinth to examine their consciences before approaching to receive Holy Communion: Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (1Cor 11,27-29).

“The emphasis is on self-examination, in order to discover preparedness to receive the Sacrament or not. If one is not prepared, for example, because of serious sin which is unremitted, then he simply is not to approach to receive Holy Communion. However, if the lack of right disposition is serious and public, and the person, nevertheless, approaches to receive the Sacrament, then he is to be admonished and denied Holy Communion. In other words, the Church cannot remain silent and indifferent to a public offense against the Body and Blood of Christ.”

This doctrine is summarized by Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia, "On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church," issued on Holy Thursday, 17.IV. 2003. In Chapter Four of the Encyclical Letter, "The Eucharist and Ecclesial Communion," Pope John Paul declared, among other things:

(1) The celebration of the Eucharist cannot be the starting point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection.

(2) John Paul II reminded us of the requirement that we be in the state of grace in order to receive Holy Communion. Making reference to 1Cor 11,28, he declared that whoever desires to participate in Holy Communion must be about the daily work of growing in holiness of life, that is, in the practice of the virtues of faith, hope and love. Noting the teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n.1385) and following the rule of the Council of Trent, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed that, in order to receive Holy Communion worthily, one must have confessed and been absolved of any mortal sin of which he is guilty.

(3) The judgment of one's state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one's conscience. However, in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. With the words, “cannot fail to feel directly involved”, the Roman Pontiff clarified the obligation, on the part of the Church, to take action, when a person who remains in grievous and public sin approaches to receive Holy Communion.


The canon reads: Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.
As Card. Burke points out, “the text makes it clear that the Church has the responsibility to deny Holy Communion to those who are known to be under the imposed or declared penalties of excommunication and interdict, and to those who are known to persist obstinately in manifest grave sin. Although the text does not state so explicitly, it is clear that the Church's responsibility is carried out by the minister of Holy Communion.”

It stands to reason that it would be necessary to know that indeed the persons concerned obstinately persist in manifest grave sin─i.e., that his pastor has informed him about the grave and public sinfulness of what he is doing and has cautioned him to refrain from approaching Holy Communion.

On June 24, 2000, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, “in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments”, issued a declaration making it clear that c.915 applies to the faithful who are divorced and remarried. Referring to the text of 1Cor 11,27, 29, the Declaration expresses the theological and canonical reasons of c.915:

“In effect, the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage.

The long-standing discipline of the Church requires that the minister of Holy Communion exercise discretion regarding the distribution of Holy Communion to those who persist in manifest and grievous sin. The exercise of such discretion is not a judgment on the subjective state of the soul of the person approaching to receive Holy Communion, but a judgment regarding the objective condition of serious sin in a person who, after due admonition from his pastor, persists in cooperating formally with intrinsically evil acts like procured abortion.”

Card. Raymond Burke draws the following conclusions from the aforementioned review of the history of the canonical discipline of denying Holy Communion to those who obstinately persist in public grave sin?

(1) The consistent canonical discipline permits the administering of the Sacrament of Holy Communion only to those who are properly disposed externally, and forbids it to those who are not so disposed, prescinding from the question of their internal disposition, which cannot be known with certainty.

(2) The discipline is required by the invisible bond of communion which unites us to God and to one another. The person who obstinately remains in public and grievous sin is appropriately presumed by the Church to lack the interior bond of communion, the state of grace, required to approach worthily the reception of the Holy Eucharist.

(3) The discipline is not penal but has to do with the safeguarding of the objective and supreme sanctity of the Holy Eucharist and with caring for the faithful who would sin gravely against the Body and Blood of Christ, and for the faithful who would be led into error by such sinful reception of Holy Communion.

(4) The discipline applies to any public conduct which is gravely sinful, that is, which violates the law of God in a serious matter. Certainly, the public support of policies and laws which, in the teaching of the Magisterium, are in grave violation of the natural moral law falls under the discipline.

(5) The discipline requires the minister of Holy Communion to forbid the Sacrament to those who are publicly unworthy. Such action must not be precipitous. The person who sins gravely and publicly must, first, be cautioned not to approach to receive Holy Communion. This, in fact, is done effectively in a pastoral conversation with the person, so that the person knows that he is not to approach to receive Holy Communion and, therefore, the distribution of Holy Communion does not become an occasion of conflict. It must also be recalled that “no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it”.

(6) Finally, the discipline must be applied in order to avoid serious scandal, for example, the erroneous acceptance of procured abortion against the constant teaching of the moral law. No matter how often a Bishop or priest repeats the teaching of the Church regarding procured abortion, if he stands by and does nothing to discipline a Catholic who publicly supports legislation permitting the gravest of injustices and, at the same time, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, then his teaching rings hollow. To remain silent is to permit serious confusion regarding a fundamental truth of the moral law. Confusion, of course, is one of the most insidious fruits of scandalous behavior.

It would be interesting to study the possibility of applying this norm to the case of those who persist in publicly promoting the RH Bill in its present form, which the Bishops have collectively classified as contrary to the natural moral law.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Obligation to wear Ecclesiastical Garb


I have always been edified by priests who dress properly─either with a clergyman barong or at least a barong with a distinctive cross insignia, and even more so with an old-fashioned cassock or sotana. Considering that the tropical climate must surely make such attire a bit uncomfortable, I am awed by the spirit of sacrifice of such men of the cloth who thereby present a credible witness of the presence of Christ and his Church in the midst of our too often secularized communities. On the other hand, I also notice that many more of our Filipino clergy go around dressed casually like everyone else, to the point that quite often it is impossible to identify them as clerics. I consider this a setback for us ordinary faithful for several reasons: (1) we cannot have easy access to them when we are in dire need of them, since we cannot identify them easily; (2) when we do identify them, it is not easy to give them the reverence due them because─as a diocesan priest blurted once─he thought the priest was the driver; (3) it is quite disconcerting to see denims with a really casual T-shirt peeking from under the flowing liturgical garb of a priest during Mass; worse if he is wearing rubber shoes or sandals. What does Church Law say about this matter?

THIS is not the first time that a layman has expressed this sentiment to me; laywomen, on their part, are even more expressive and disconcerted. Of course, the more comic opposite is what happened to me once when I visited the former bishop of Sorsogon, whom I had never met at that time. Upon arrival at the bishop’s residence late in the afternoon, I and my companion─a well-known professional who was going to deliver another lecture with me─were met by a man in his 50s, in T-shirt, casual pants and slippers. My companion, a layman with great respect for the clergy, immediately took the hand of the middle-aged man and kissed it, saying “Good evening bishop” or something to that effect; my clerical sense made me hesitate. At that moment, the good bishop appeared, dressed in clergyman, welcoming us with great affability. It turned out the other fellow was his driver!

The Purpose of the Ecclesiastical Garb

On 1.I.1994, John Paul II approved and authorized the publication of a very important document emanating from the Congregation for the Clergy, signed by its Prefect then, Filipino Cardinal Jose T. Sanchez. Entitled Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, it came as the juridic expression of the rich teachings of John Paul II’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis of 25.III.1992, which in turn gathered the results of the Synod of Bisops of 1990 dedicated to the topic of the identity, life and ministry of priests. In order to outline the content of that Directory, the suggestions of the entire world episcopate─consulted for that purpose─as well as the considerations of many theologians, canonists and experts on the matter from diverse geographical areas and involved in current pastoral work were taken into account. Thus, that Directory can veritably be considered as a manual on the life and ministry of priests, and is the final word when it comes any question of practical nature as the issue at hand.

The Directory deals with the matter of ecclesiastical garb under the rubric of Obedience, first stating the reason for such garb:

“In a secularized and materialistic society, where the external signs of sacred and supernatural realities tend to disappear, it is particularly important that the community be able to recognize the priest, man of God and dispenser of his mysteries, by his attire as well, which is an unequivocal sign of his dedication and his identity as a public minister. The priest should be identifiable primarily through his conduct, but also by his manner of dressing, which makes visible to all the faithful, indeed to al men, his identity and his belonging to God and the Church” (n.66).

Hence, it is not a question of blending in, as some would propose in a misguided pastoral desire to make the priest more present in secular environments. For as St Josemaría Escriva used to say, such attempts would result not in a priestly presence, but rather in a priestly absence─in the sense that it would make the priest’s presence unrecognizable because of the absence of any outward sign of the priest’s identity.

The Proper Priestly Attire

The Directory continues: “For this reason, the clergy should wear suitable ecclesiastical dress, in accordance with the norms established by the Episcopal Conference and the legitimate local custom. This means that the attire, when it is not the cassock, must be different from the manner in which the laity dress, and conform to the dignity and sacredness of his ministry. The style and color should be established by the Episcopal Conference, always in agreement with the dispositions of the universal law” (n.66).

The Code of Canon Law─the universal law referred to by the Directory─precisely stipulates that “Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb in accord with the norms issued by the conference of bishops and in accord with legitimate local custom” (c.284).

For its part, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines─the Episcopal Conference referred to by the Directory─has laid down the following:
“The proper clerical attire…are as follows:

1) Cassock or religious habit;
2) Clergyman suit;
3) Trousers of dark one-tone color or white, and shirt of one-tone color, with the clerical collar. The shirt may also be either polo-barong or barong tagalog, with a distinctive cross.”

An attentive reading of the above dispositions shows that the following are the options for proper priestly attire, in decreasing order of preference:

1st: Cassock or religious habit. In this regard, it is worthwhile remembering that the Philippine clergy enjoys a long-standing privilege from the Holy See to use white cassock, in view of the tropical climate.

2nd: Clergyman suit. Given the tropical climate and local custom, it would seem that this option is suitable for more formal occasions of a non-liturgical nature (e.g., conferences, formal banquets and the like) where airconditioning would make the attire comfortable.

3rd: Dark one-tone colored trousers (or white) and one-tone colored shirt with clerical collar. Otherwise known as the Roman collar, this is a distinctive collar equipped with a white plastic (or stiffened cloth) strip running through the front.

4th: Dark one-tone colored trousers (or white) and polo-barong (or barong tagalog) with a Roman collar.

5th: Dark one-tone colored trousers (or white) and polo-barong (or barong tagalog) with a distinctive cross (in lieu of the Roman collar).

With the foregoing, it is very clear that casual T-shirts and polo shirts (of whatever color), whether with or without collar, do not constitute proper priestly attire. Neither do shorts, of whatever color or style. The impropriety of such attire is even more pronounced during liturgical ceremonies, especially since the common use of the chasuble-alb makes what is worn under it to be more obvious and incongruous. It stands to reason that all these norms do not apply when the priest is in a private recreational activity─e.g., doing sports, going on outdoor excursions, and the like. Nevertheless, common sense and sensitivity might dictate that the priest limits his movements in these latter conditions, being sufficiently discrete as not to be too public when he is not in ecclesiastical garb.

There is nothing mentioned about footwear, leaving it to the common sense and sensitivity of each priest to choose whatever is fitting to the occasion and circumstances.

The Binding Force of the Directory as regards Ecclesiastical Garb

On 22.X.1994, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts─the competent dicastery of the Holy See charged with the official interpretation of all norms of Canon Law─issued a Clarification regarding the Binding Force of Art.66 of the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, i.e., the provisions regarding ecclesiastical garb that we are considering. In that Explanatory Note, the Holy See pointed out that although the aforementioned Directory is imbued with a deep pastoral sense, this “does not detract from the prescriptive force of many of its norms, which do not only have an exhortative value but are juridically binding” (n.1).

“With regard specifically to Art.66 of the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests─the Note continues─it contains a general norm complimentary to c.284 of the CIC, with the characteristic proper to general executory decrees (cf. c.31). It is therefore a norm which clearly enjoys juridic enforceability, as can be deduced even from the tenor itself of the text and the place where it is included: under the rubric “Obedience” (n.4).

Furthermore, the Note urges, with a categorical declaration, the right observance of the discipline regarding ecclesiastical garb, stating that “for their inconsistency with the spirit of this discipline, contrary practices cannot be considered as legitimate customs and should be removed by the competent authority” (n.5, c).

On the other hand, the Note specifies the subjects of the aforementioned norms of Art.66 of the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests as “all those who are obliged by the universal norm of c.288, namely the Bishops and priests, but not the permanent deacons (cf. c.288)” (n.7). This is worth underlining, because─as can be easily observed─the aforementioned norms on ecclesiastical garb are being violated not only by priests (rampantly in the Philippines), but unfortunately on occasion even by Bishops.

This is doubly unfortunate because, as the Note adds, “The Diocesan Bishops are the competent authority for demanding obedience to the aforementioned norms and for removing eventual contrary practices as regards ecclesiastical garb (cf. c.392, §2).” For its part, the Note concludes “The Episcopal Conference should help the individual diocesan Bishops in the fulfillment of this duty” (n.7).

Since we are demanding more compliance with the law on the part of our politicians and civil servants, this simple matter of the norms regarding ecclesiastical garb give food for thought for priests and Bishops alike.