Eucharistic Coherence and Public Sin

Considering all the brouhaha over the question of pro-abort politicians being admitted to Communion and all subsequent hand-wringing by various bishops on what to do, the answer is simple. Enforce Canon Law #915 which clearly states that obstinate public sinners are to be denied Communion, not out of any meanness but in true charity for these souls which have put themselves in such grave danger. There is really no need for a study group or special commissions or joint statements. Each prelate in his own diocese holds both the power and the responsibility for preventing blatant sacrilege, while also seeing to it that the faithful at large are not unduly scandalized. No, it doesn’t take some special document to fulfill one’s apostolic duties.

One of the issues that seems to be muddying these particular waters, however, is confusion on the part of the laity about the nature of grave sin. Many so called “cafeteria Catholics” have convinced themselves and others that no one should have the right to determine what is objectively sinful. Moral relativism is the flavor of the day among too many Catholic politicians who seem to believe that persons ought to decide for themselves what is sinful and what is not. In this attitude they are confusing two very different things, objective sin and subjective culpability. I am no trained moral theologian, so I need simple illustrations to help me understand the distinction between objective sin and subjective culpability. I therefore imagined some kind of meter with a red line running down the middle marked 100%. Think of that red line as the objective sin boundary. Everything to the left, going from 0 to 99%, is less than grave matter and therefore not sinful (mortally). Everything to the right of the red line, 100% and above, is grave matter which, objectively speaking, represents mortal sin.

But there is another black line on that meter which is not fixed as the red one is. It can move left and right. Sometimes it registers 5% or 15% and at other times it may read 100% or even 175%. This is the subjective culpability part of the meter. It measures the degree of responsibility that the individual shares when some transgression occurs. The degree of responsibility for a sinful act may actually be mitigated based on any number of factors. The person may be simply weak, uninformed about the seriousness of an act, or perhaps under great pressure or duress. A starving man who steals money to feed his children may only register 5% culpability on the meter whereas a crooked banker who unjustly forecloses on some family’s home will probably register 100% or more. He is fully culpable for his freely willed, dishonest actions.

Sometimes things are not actually sinful, per se, but more of a predisposition. For instance, same sex attraction falls to the left of the red line because it is not objectively sinful to experience such an attraction. It is only when, and if, the individual crosses the red line by “acting out” i.e., engaging in a forbidden sexual act that mortal sin is objectively committed. Even then, his degree of subjective culpability might depend on any number of factors. But there still needs to be some sense of remorse over such acts so that the person does not become hardened in the sin. Remorse is a hopeful sign that subjective culpability is less than 100%.

Objectively sinful acts concerning grave matter must never be justified, however, regardless of the subjective circumstances, especially where some intrinsic evil is involved. Intrinsic means “by its very nature” which is why an intrinsic evil such as abortion can never be justified or promoted. And working to justify, legalize, or monetize (especially through taxpayers) such an evil is of itself objectively and gravely sinful. This is where subjective culpability can actually go over the 100% mark on the meter because to actively promote something which is intrinsically immoral is no longer acting out of human weakness but in a deliberate and premeditated manner. And doing so in such a highly public way is to scandalize others and to teach them, wrongly, that objective sin is not really sinful. One doubles the sin and his or her own subjective culpability when they drag others along with them.

This is why high profile politicians who profess their Catholicity and yet support public policies such as abortion that are objectively sinful should, more than any other group, be denied public Communion subject to Canon 915. Their sinful promotion of abortion, LGBT ideology, etc. is both public and flagrant. They then add to that additional sins of sacrilege and grave scandal to others in a very public way, and so the Church’s sanctions should also be proportionately public so that the faithful clearly understand the serious nature of the offenses being committed. Yet, rather than remorse or contrition such politicians exhibit pride and arrogance, even going so far as to threaten their prelates if they dare “create a scene.”

We are truly a Church of sinners but that phrase does not mean that we entitled to bask in our sins or show contempt for select moral precepts, yet that is exactly what has been happening for far too long. Eucharistic coherence means showing a profound respect for the great Sacrament of Love which Christ left us and not to abuse it. It means making a good confession before approaching the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord in the Eucharist so that no stain of sin mars our souls. We must double down in prayer so that our pastors will be given the courage to restore the proper respect due to the exalted Blessed Sacrament which is the source and summit of our Catholic life.

Francis J. Pierson + a.m.d.g.

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