The mainstream media has picked up on comments by Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast regarding reception of Holy Communion for pro-abortion politicians. However, one part of the discussion which has received little discussion is the reason why the Church would deny politicians reception of Communion.
"The Code of Canon Law says in #915 that 'those whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin," explains the religious leader of Canada's national capital,"are not to be admitted to Holy Communion'."
"What is at issue is whether a politician who does not himself or herself participate in an abortion but supports 'a woman's right to choose' (or however else shows support for abortion) is guilty of grave sin and then obstinately persists in this state of grave sin."
Archbishop Prendergast stresses that denying Holy Communion is undertaken out of concern for the offending Catholic (politician in the case at hand). "The Church's concern is for anyone who persists in grave sin, hoping that medicinal measures (which is how excommunication and interdict are to be understood) may draw them away from the wrong path to the truth of our faith."
The Ottawa prelate points out how Christians from the beginning were told of the need to be in good standing with the faith before receiving Communion. "(St.) Paul said that before receiving communion a Christian should take part in self-examination and only then receive the Body of the Lord after necessary conversion (1 Cor 11:28)."
Prendergast has no dislike for politicians, in fact just the opposite. "I deeply admire politicians for their desire to serve the public good and to make the many sacrifices necessary to win public office and to give themselves to public service," he says, adding, "They ought to be motivated by a concern for justice, good order, the public good, etc."
He notes however that "One of the greatest areas for effecting justice is the support of life in the womb and through all stages of life. Abortion goes against the Church's understanding, based on the teaching of Jesus, on the inviolability of innocent human life – including the unborn – and of the obligation of public servants to protect the weakest in society. It is hard to see how the support of abortion is not a very grave evil."
The decision to take "medicinal" remedies, says the Archbishop, is not taken lightly, and is simply an attempt at direct intervention with the politicians. "Perhaps politicians embrace the support of a woman's right to choose unthinkingly, following party policy; this is where the church with the help of its pastors and through fellow believers needs to come to the assistance of those who serve the public good," he said.
"It may take time to work with political figures before one can conclude that they are obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin and that, therefore, denial of communion or of encouraging them not to present themselves for communion is reached as the medicinal remedy to draw them back to the way of Christ, Our Lord, the Way, the Truth and the Life."
One other consideration in addressing seriously such grave violations of Church teaching is scandal. "If one were to allow Catholic political (or other public) figures to freely espouse abortion without drawing to their attention that this is a grave evil," explained Archbishop Prendergast, "other believers might be tended to accept this, not knowing any better and be led on the wrong path: that is what 'scandal' is. One must do everything possible to prevent others from falling away from the path of Christ – i.e. from being scandalized."