Monday, February 28, 2011

Communion, Cuomo, Bishop Hubbard, Peters

As some of you may know, to quote the National Catholic Reporter
Edward Peters has started a brouhaha by suggesting that Gov. Cuomo should not be given communion because he lives with a woman to whom he is not married.
Cuomo was admitted to Holy Communion at an inauguration Mass at Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Albany, NY. (See NY Governor Andrew Cuomo Should Be Denied Communion says Canonist Dr Edward Peters.

Most simple Catholics (amongst which I am happy to count myself) would think that Peter's "suggestion" is a fairly reasonable and logical position to hold. To allow someone living in a scandalous state of life to receive Holy Communion is itself a cause of scandal.

Canonists amongst us, and many informed Catholics, will know that there is actually a Canon in the Code of Canon Law expressing this "suggestion" (as the NCR calls Peters' position) as law:
Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.
Has Cuomo been excommunicated? No. But he is obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin. That is to say, there is something external, something that can be verified in the external forum, in his state of life that is, objectively, sinful. To live with a woman with whom you are not married, making the not unreasonable assumption that the two are engaged in a sexual relationship, is fornication. And St Paul had something to say about fornicators.

Not only that, but Cuomo has consistently supported pro-abortion legislation and same-sex marriage.

It is totally wrong for the diocese or anyone else to say that this is a private matter between Cuomo, the Church and God. It is not. Holy Communion is a public matter. Only the other day we heard at Mass these tough words from Our Lord:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea."
Those who cause scandal are to be cast out from the community.

This is a very different case from judging the internal state of another's soul. None of us may judge Cuomo's soul. Only God can do that. Whereas Canon 915 places the onus on the minister of Holy Communion not to admit someone in manifest grave sin to the reception of the sacrament, Canon 916 places the onus on the potential communicant to refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they are conscious of grave sin:
Can. 916 A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.
This is not the case where there is some externally verifiable and continuing obstinacy in a state of grave sin, but where only the person concerned knows in his/her own conscience that he/she is in a state of grave sin. Interestingly, however, Canon 916 allows such a person to receive Holy Communion
  • if there is a grave reason
  • and there is no opportunity to confess
on condition they make a perfect act of contrition with the intention to go to confession as soon as possible. This is so that a person is not deprived of Holy Communion if it is not possible to go to confession, and also so that the person may preserve his/her reputation. People may wonder - especially today when almost everybody receives Communion at Mass - why he/she is not receiving Communion.

It could be that Cuomo is not conscious of grave sin, and so he would not be obliged under Canon 916. But the minister of Communion approached by Cuomo is obliged under Canon 915.

In short, I think Peters has it exactly right. He is of course following the line that Cardinal Burke famously took when he was Bishop of La Crosse.

See Peters' blog posts:
Michael Sean Winters' column “Peters v. Cuomo”: a reply
Some brief reactions to Fr. Reese's characterizations of my position on Canon 915

See also my article on the admittance or otherwise of the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion and my previous post here.

This is not the first time Dr Peters has criticised Bishop Hubbard - he did so a year ago concerning the distribution of syringes and needles to drug users. See American Catholic.


  1. Nice blog you have, Fr. Came here via Te Deum. I will be linking to you.

    God bless in the northern climes of our wondrous state!

  2. Thanks, Larry. Will put a link to you.


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