Gay Marriage and Communion

by Steve Ray on April 25, 2013

Post-script on the Detroit debate over Catholics and holy Communion

by Dr. Edward Peters

A few days ago I gave written interview to Lauren Abdel-Razzaq of the Detroit News on the question of Catholic supporters of “gay marriage” approaching for holy Communion. Abdel-Razzaq quoted me accurately if not quite as precisely as I wrote and I’ve no complaints about the use she made of my remarks. I would note, though, that my remarks were, of course, offered in more detail than could have been accommodated in a secular news story and so, on the chance that some readers might like see to my longer comments, I am happy to provide them below.

1. A-R asked how I felt about the backlash that has come about because of the comments you and Archbishop Vigneron made regarding gay marriage.

First, I would prefer to use the word “reaction”, for to call it a “backlash” implies that the reactions are wholly negative. Some reactions have been negative, certainly, but many have been positive. Mostly, the positive responses are grateful for the clarity that I bring to the more technical aspects of Church law and appreciative of the obvious care toward one’s spiritual well-being that the archbishop expresses.

Church teaching on, say, the nature of marriage, on the licit expression of sexual pleasure in marriage, on the obligations of Catholics to act in accord with their identity as Catholics, and so on, is very, very old. What’s new in all this, at least for many, is hearing such points made succinctly and consistently even in the face of strong opposition.

It helps to keep in mind that, as a canon lawyer and professor, the only “authority” I speak with is the authority of the sources I cite, for example, magisterial documents, canon law, and so on. Either my use of these materials is accurate, or it’s not; I’m content to give people references to the positions I defend and to let them assess for themselves my fidelity in relating those sources.

Bishops, however, speak out of something much deeper than documents, they speak out of the living tradition of the Church.  While my goal is largely limited to making sure that Church discipline is correctly understood by those concerned, bishops strive to encourage the incorporation of Church teaching into the lives of the faithful. That’s a much harder task. Why? Because Catholicism is not simply an impressive set of academic propositions; it’s a path through life toward happiness with God. And that’s what bishops ultimately must care about.

2. A-R indicated that I had addressed “gay marriage supporters, not just LGBT individuals” in regard to holy Communion.

Close. I did not address LGBT persons per se, but rather, I stated that active support or promotion for redefining marriage (no matter who is doing the promoting) is to act contrary to the settled teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage. Catholics who engage in such public advocacy seriously damage their communion with the Church and should refrain from approaching for holy Communion.

I also said that, depending on circumstances, such public advocacy might result in Communion needing to be withheld from activists, but I did not try to assess any specific cases, nor did the archbishop even raise that topic. He was talking about the personal responsibilities of Catholics in taking holy Communion, not about the obligations of ministers in administrating it. It’s a related issue, but quite a distinct one, and one easily overlooked in conversations.

3. A-R asked whether the church needed to forge relationships with those who practice the faith rather than try to push people away?

I would agree. Of course, what one means by phrases like “forge relationships” and even “the faith” seem open to misconstrual, no?

4.  A-R asked whether I was concerned about alienating Catholics, particularly those who may have children or family members that are gay?

Sure, but again, that simply forces questions as what, for example, “alienating” means. I am mostly concerned that people have an accurate understanding of what Church tradition and law expect of Catholics.  No one seriously thinks, of course, that Church law has an answer to every question in Church life, let alone for civil society; nevertheless Church law, and the teachings it rests upon, does have lots of good answers to lots of important questions, answers that too often go unexplored because people are simply unaware of them.

5. A-R noted that New York’s Cardinal Dolan has spoken about not wanting to turn the defense of marriage into an attack against gay people and asked whether I thought that was possible.

Sure, for the simple reason that defense of marriage is not about attacking gay people. It’s about upholding a fundamental aspect of human society that cannot be redefined to suit the political agenda of one group or another. + + +

Other posts by me on this matter (not counting interviews) are:

  • Brief reaction to Rt. Rev. Robinson (24 April)
  • A reaction in two parts to Michael Sean Winters (11 & 15 April)
  • Response to CNN’s coverage of this story (9 April)
  • Response to Thomas Reese on the matters (8 April)
  • A primer on Church teaching regarding “same-sex marriage” (27 March) 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Edward Hara April 25, 2013 at 6:43 PM

Steve — Discussions like this often make me wonder why I want to become a deacon in our Lord’s Church. I have the feeling that one day, God willing that I am ordained, someone is going to approach as I am giving out the Holy Eucharist — someone whom I absolutely KNOW is in a state of mortal sin because of voting for Obama or supporting gay marriage or the like.

Then I will be faced with the decision of following Canon Law, which is obedience to Christ, and winding up on the “hit list” of a number of people, or going with the flow and betraying Christ. A priest in Gaithersburg MD followed canon law on this last year and for his fidelity to Church teaching he was removed from active parish participation — BY NO LESS THAN HIS BISHOP!!!!!

We live in bad times for those who wish to be faithful to the Church — not bad because of the world’s hatred. That we expect. Bad because of the hatred of those in the Church who should be supporting us.

Ed Peters April 26, 2013 at 10:58 AM

Hi EH. The rules for participation in holy Communion are set out here. Best, EdP.

Susy April 27, 2013 at 12:48 PM

Great defence of Church teaching by Dr. Edward Peters, thanks for posting it, Steve. Just a note of encouragement to Edward Hara, who posted above: First, a huge thank you for responding to the call of our Lord, in your consideration of holy orders in the diaconate! May you be richly blessed and maintain the peace that comes from knowing you are following His call for you in your life. Secondly, take courage, for He has conquered the World. Stand bravely for the Truth, come what may. May all of us do the same, as the world intensifies it’s anger against and disapproval of the Church and people of faith.

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