Father Ryan Hilderbrand of Huntingburg, Ind., has a useful thread explaining why Joe Biden was barred from receiving the Eucharist at a South Carolina church on Sunday:
By his actions, he leads us to believe that he has willingly placed himself outside the communion of the Church. Therefore, so that he does not “eat and drink unto his own condemnation,” it is an act of mercy to deny Mr. Biden Holy Communion. 5/
— Fr. Ryan can’t think of a spooky name (@FrHilderbrand) October 29, 2019
This is formally explicated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which states at Can. 915:
Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.
Not all of the clergy agreed with Fr. Hilderbrand, however. Jesuit Father James Martin tweeted:
Denying Communion to politicians, Democrat or Republican, is a bad idea. If you deny the sacrament to those who support abortion, then you must also deny it to those who support the death penalty. How about those who don’t help the poor? How about “Laudato Si”? Where does it end?
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) October 29, 2019
Surely Fr. Martin does not mean to suggest that support for the death penalty for heinous criminals — a practice the Catholic Church has supported (and enacted!) in various moments in its history — is comparable to supporting the slaughter of unborn children. Neither, one imagines, could he possibly be suggesting that excessive use of air conditioning, or failing to recycle plastic goods, as outlined in Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical “Laudato Si,” are acts of similar moral gravity as a politician publicly supporting abortion rights.
Surely that’s not what he means. Right?
Fr. Martin would do well to consider the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.