From our friends at the Associated Press:
ROME (AP) - Cardinal Francis Arinze, the top Vatican cardinal in charge of the sacraments, was asked at a news conference whether priests should refuse communion to a politician who is unambiguously pro-abortion.
"Yes," he replied. "If the person should not receive it, then it should not be given."
Well, what do you know? For once, the Vatican and I are in complete agreement.
Like any self-respecting lapsed Catholic, I only attend Mass under duress, i.e. for weddings and funerals and when I'm visiting my parents and my dad makes me. But even on those rare occasions, when communion time rolls around, no matter how hungry I am I remain firmly planted in my seat.
Granted, I've forgotten and/or ignored most Church doctrines over the past twenty years, but the one rule I do heed is the one that says you don't go to communion if your soul has not been purified through confession. Since my soul is decidedly impure, and since I haven't set foot in a confessional since 1979, there is no way in hell I'm going to risk being struck down dead at the altar just for the sake of one of those teeny little wafers.
I was never a particularly good Catholic to begin with. For one thing, the whole "confession" thing never really worked for me. I could never quite shake the knowledge that our family priest always knew exactly who it was on the other side of that screen; thus, I always ended up editing my sins. I only confessed to the little ones, like lying. No way was I going to let him in on the biggies and then have to face him at CCD the following week. Besides, to be honest, I was much sorrier about my little sins anyway. I always feel bad when I tell a lie. Not just because I feel guilty, which I usually do, but because I am so horrendously bad at lying I invariably get caught. I'm such an incompetent liar I end up embarrassing myself, so I've pretty much given up lying altogether. Which, since lying was the only thing I would confess to, eliminated any further need to go to confession in my eyes.
As for the big stuff, the stuff the Church really tries to nail you on, like premarital sex, birth control, supporting abortion rights, that kind of thing —I just flatly refused to confess to any of that! In the first place, I wasn't really sorry about it; and, in the second place, even if I had felt a smidgen of guilt it's not like I could actually promise to never do it again and truly mean it, which is the whole purpose of going to confession in the first place. So, with all moral dilemmas neatly worked out in my own conscience, I decided there was no real purpose in going to Church anymore and now spend my Sunday mornings curled up on the couch with a big cup of coffee, a newspaper, and my TiVo remote securely in hand.
Most of the Catholics I know have taken a more measured position on the issues of confession and communion. They use birth control unapologetically, have more premarital sex than I do, and while stopping short of encouraging pregnant friends to have abortions, certainly refrain from proselytizing when asked for advice. Yet there they are, lined up at the altar every Sunday, palms outstretched, ready to scarf down the Holy Eucharist like it's some type of tasty bar snack, without expressing any sort of consternation at all that they may be endangering their mortal souls. I have no idea if they go to confession, or, if they do, what they actually confess to, but, given that they're all out there voting Democratic and buying rubbers by the truckload, it's pretty clear that they're not particularly remorseful.
Some of my craftier friends try to argue theology with me, pointing out that ancient Church teachings really don't address this issues of birth control and abortion, so therefore, they are matters of individual conscience. It's an admirable attempt on their part, but, unfortunately, the argument doesn't hold up under the withering glare of the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility, which basically tells vacillating Catholics that what the Pope says goes, and that's the end of discussion. Case closed. I win.
The Vatican has bestowed upon my friends the rather catchy designation "Cafeteria Catholics," i.e., individuals who attend Mass and accept communion but pick and choose which of the Church's edicts they intend to live by. It's a fairly accurate term, in my mind, and, over the years, the Church and the Cafeteria Catholics have gone blithely about their business, conveniently ignoring the disconnect between deed and doctrine. Both sides would pause every now and then for a good hearty scolding from the pulpit, but, for the most part, they co-existed in a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" stalemate that kept the collection plates full, the pews occupied, and everyone's conscience neat and tidy.
Well, no more.
I can't wait until they start banning people from accepting communion. In fact, I don't think they should stop at the politicians. I think they should ban everyone who supports abortion rights, along with those who use birth control, have sex outside of marriage, associate with practicing homosexuals, and eat meat on Fridays. Rules and regulations are one thing when they're relatively abstract, but once they really start impacting the way you live your life, maybe you'll finally sit down and ask yourself what it is you're actually supporting.
And, if you're truly honest with yourself, you might even start to ask yourself why.
I have no real rancor toward Catholics. Even the really insane ones who pray outside abortion clinics and insist the abuse scandal was a vicious plot by Godless Communists and Secular Humanists to undermine the good name of the Church are entitled to their beliefs. God bless 'em. But I do think that an awful lot of people—reasonable, intelligent, well-meaning people— have closed their eyes to both the impetus for and the consequences of the Church's actions out of sheer habit, and, as a result, have ended up blindly supporting an institution that, while it has done a tremendous amount of good over the years, has also done a great deal of harm.
You can disagree privately all you want, but the Vatican has made it clear it will tolerate no public dissent. That's a position that is intrinsic to the faith. So what then? Do you suck it up and obey the rules? Or do you continue down the path of least resistance, conveniently ignoring the things you don't want to think about for the sake of tradition, or habit, or outright fear of eternal damnation?
One forward-thinking archbishop was smart enough to actually realize the implications of the Vatican's decree, and was promptly smacked down by conservative Catholic groups for publicly expressing his discomfort:
"I have not gotten to the stage where I'm comfortable in denying the Eucharist," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Well I, for one, intend to stand with the Pope on this one.
So, come on Cardinal—what are you waiting for?