This weekend, two prominent Catholics in Detroit made public statements suggesting that Catholics who support marriage equality or a woman’s right to an abortion should not receive communion. Archbishop Allen Vigneron suggested taking communion while opposing the Church’s positions would “logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.” Professor and Vatican legal adviser Edward Peters (father of National Organization for Marriage Communications Director Thomas Peters) said such Catholics “risk having holy Communion withheld from them… being rebuked and/or being sanctioned.”
On Monday, in an attempt at damage control, archdiocese spokesman Joe Kohn issued a statement confirming the validity of what Vigneron and Peters said:
KOHN: The archbishop’s focal point here is not “gay marriage”; it is a Catholic’s reception of Holy Communion. If a Catholic publicly opposes the church on a serious matter of the church’s teaching, any serious matter — for example, whether it be a rejection of the divinity of Christ, racist beliefs, support for abortion or support for redefining marriage — that would contradict the public affirmation they would make of the church’s beliefs by receiving Communion.
As the archbishop states, the pastors of the church are ready to assist Catholics to help them understand and avoid this conflict.
This approach of pressuring Catholics out of full participation in the Church for non-conforming positions would be a significant reversal of the Church’s tactics. There continues to be a massive disconnect between the hierarchy of bishops and the millions of people who identify as Catholic, with polls consistently showing, for example, that Catholics support same-sex marriage at rates higher than the national average — even by double digit margins. The bishops attempting to influence social policy derive their symbolic power from the parishioners they represent, even if the Church structure is not a democracy. If they actually attempt to limit participation (and arguably membership) to just those who subscribe to the Church’s beliefs, they would have to eliminate more than half of their membership.
It remains unclear what kind of “assistance” pastors are prepared to provide, but it seems like the Church is prepared to threaten parishioners that they must choose between receiving the Blessed Sacrament or supporting their LGBT loved ones — a new interpretation of “bully pulpit.”