Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Thursday, March 25, 2010

One canon 915 case at a time: Nancy Pelosi

Some who believe that Canon 915 is meant to be enforced might yet harbor reservations about actually barring from Communion this pro-abortion Catholic politician or that one, for fear of igniting endless debates about why one does not also bar that pro-abortion Catholic politician or this one. The prospect of being criticized for "imperfectly" applying the law might cause some prelates otherwise inclined to invoke the law to hesitate doing so.

I understand their concern, and have argued elsewhere that enforcement of Canon 915 is not as simple as some seem to believe. But, lest the perfect become the enemy of the good, I am convinced that one has to start what one might call the 'national application'* of Canon 915 somewhere, and that the best case to start with is that of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Before proceeding, let's be very clear about something: verification of the conditions described in Canon 915 does not merely authorize ministers to withhold holy Communion from those 'obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin'; it requires ministers to withhold holy Communion in such cases, this, upon pain of dereliction of their sacred office (1983 CIC 128, 1389).

Now, I suggest that there is no US Catholic politician whose conduct at the national level is more stridently and widely pro-abortion (to name just one area in which Pelosi's machinations are gravely objectionable) and whose scandalous rhetoric is more overtly Catholic (many of her bizarre assertions the bishops have had to stop and refute) than is Nancy Pelosi's. If her prolonged public conduct does not qualify as obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin, then, in all sincerity, I must admit to not knowing what would constitute obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin.

But, if I am right about the objectively evil quality of Pelosi's public conduct, then hers should be the first case in which Canon 915 is applied, even if no one else follows suit (although frankly, I think others would follow suit, ad bonum Ecclesiae et salutem animarum, which cases should be dealt with on their own merits). One is not required to commit to doing every conceivable good before one is required to do the good right in front of one's nose. One acts on what life presents, and life has presented us with Pelosi. She is our responsibility, not our parents', not our children's.

Of course, the bishops with immediate authority to act in regard to Pelosi are the Archbishop of San Francisco CA, George Niederauer, followed by the Archbishop of Washington DC, Donald Wuerl.
The decision to apply Canon 915 to Pelosi is, and must be, theirs (and recall that Abp. Wuerl, joined by Bp. Loverde of Arlington VA, has already signalled his willingness to honor the banns imposed by "home" bishops on politicians when they are in DC, though I think Wuerl's authority is more extensive than that).** Pretty clearly, some people are already thinking this one through, and I am sure other prudent and qualified persons are available to assist if needed.

My main point is this: if anyone is hesitating to apply Canon 915 to an obvious case because he thinks he would be quickly forced to apply it to several others only nearly as obvious, such hesitation is ungrounded. + + +

* My supposition is not that Canon 915 can only be effective at the "national level", but rather that, the most prominent Canon 915 cases are invariably going to be those with national repercussions, and that those factors might as well be anticpated from the outset. Obviously, a few Canon 915 cases have already arisen at regional levels, and some seem quite instructive.

** Conceivably other prelates with sufficient notice of Pelosi's intent to take Communion in their territory (say, during a visit there) could act to prevent such scandal, but that is, I think, to place them in a difficult position administratively, if nothing else.

Update, 26 March: This post now presented in French at

Update, 23 June: I think Brad Miner and my son Thomas have misunderstood my post above, at least to the extent that they seem to think it supports Pelosi's excommunication, now, which it doesn't.