A Muslim Sheikh’s Unfortunate First Communion

An Archbishop defended giving a Muslim sheikh Holy Communion, contrary to the longstanding teaching and praxis of the Church.

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The Sunday Times of London carried a column the other day by a certain Rod Liddle. Its title was an attention-grabber: “Great, we banished Christianity. Now we’re stuck in a moral wilderness.” Mr. Liddle was lamenting the state of the state church. A poll of the Anglican priests presently serving showed that three-quarters of said clergy believe that the United Kingdom “cannot be called a Christian country.” The columnist’s rather acerbic point of view was reflected in his question, “Well, whose fault is that?”

Mr. Liddle said that at the last Church of England service (not a funeral) he attended, there was a congregation of 13 people. The preacher had illustrated his sermon by tossing an inflatable globe among the pews and asking the congregants to toss it around so that they could see “the awfulness of food air miles” (meaning the carbon footprint made by the transportation of comestibles from one place to another).

The exercise, which he said was “more suited to a preschool class,” verified his “suspicions that the Anglican church had jettisoned Christianity and replaced it with liberal grandstanding.” If the Lord had been present, said the Times pundit, He probably “would have made his excuses and left as soon as the inflatable globe came out. Or maybe earlier.”

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In Britain, very few people attend the official church with regularity—perhaps, says Liddle, as few as 1.2 percent of the general population. In contrast, there are growing numbers in the evangelical and Pentecostal denominations. Their message is much clearer, says the columnist, who himself has trouble with faith.

In fact, he says, “Much like the Church of England bishop I talked to a decade or so ago, I am not entirely sure there is a God. (‘How the bloody hell would I know, Rod?’ was his exact response).” When I read that a bishop confessed an agnostic temptation, I said to myself, “at least we’re not so far gone.”

That was before the news came from Brazil of a cardinal’s funeral in which a Muslim sheikh received Communion from an archbishop. After he heard of the controversy, the sheikh, according to Archbishop Geremias Steinmetz, the man who gave him Communion, “deeply regretted what happened, since his desire was not to disrespect the Catholic Church.” 

I give the sheikh credit for that, but I wish that the archbishop was as sincere in his remorse. Archbishop Steinmetz explained that the sheikh was a great friend of the deceased, Cardinal Agnelo, “and as a friend, he participated in the eucharistic celebration and, entering the Communion line, received the body of Christ.” The archbishop seemed to defend the sheikh’s First (presumably) Communion because, he reminded all of us, Nostra Aetate, from Vatican II, mentions that Islam considers Jesus a prophet.

To make matters worse, Steinmetz quoted from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, Desiderio Desideravi, paragraph six, which says, 

But every time we go to Mass, the first reason is that we are drawn there by his desire for us. For our part, the possible response—which is also the most demanding asceticism—is, always, that surrender to this love, that letting ourselves be drawn by him.

The prelate also referenced paragraph 65, “let us abandon our polemics to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Let us safeguard our communion.”

Did the archbishop imply that anyone who walked into a Catholic church during the Eucharist could receive Communion because Jesus was inviting him? What about baptism? What about safeguarding “our communion” by making sure that everyone who receives the Body of Christ receives with understanding and reverence. We don’t see the receiving of Communion as a mere gesture of solidarity in mourning. The sacramental life requires both consciousness and conscientiousness. Did the archbishop imply that anyone who walked into a Catholic church during the Eucharist could receive Communion because Jesus was inviting him?Tweet This

I cannot think of any explanation of the Communion of non-Christians that could be more unbiblical than to say that everyone is “drawn” to the Body of Christ, even if he or she is not incorporated in Him by baptism or aware of His True Presence in the sacred species. This is as bad as “How the bloody hell would I know, Rod?” which the Anglican prelate responded to an agnostic’s doubt. “If you don’t know,” the man should have responded, “Then get the hell out of the way of those who do or at least want to.”

Are we dumbing down our faith to the point where archbishops are less repentant than sheikhs about not respecting the Church’s values and laws about the Eucharist? If a Catholic high school student so cavalierly dismissed the sacrilege (not deliberate but very confusing), I would blame the lax teaching and think, O Tempora, O Mores! But an archbishop quoting the pope to defend the theologically indefensible? Do we dare hope that someone in Rome will “correct” the archbishop’s extraordinarily vague comment? 

This brings to mind another instance of an officially cavalier attitude about the contradiction of the Church’s own teachings. A retired bishop had flouted Rome and attempted marriage publicly while awaiting a canonical investigation. Nevertheless, his successor as bishop gave him a public memorial Mass. While I doubt that the man was in his right mind when he married a lady friend in what can be considered haste—and thus automatically incurred excommunication—I do not think a public Mass was in order. He received, we were told, the Anointing of the Sick before he died. Did he consciously repent and reconcile with Holy Mother Church? If so, why was that not made known?

It would be absurd to think that he would be given such a public liturgy without the permission or at least the informing of the apostolic nuncio. I find it hard to believe that the nuncio would allow something like that without the knowledge of the Holy See. That is shocking to me. 

Is my commentary only another example of the retrograde and reactionary attitude of American Catholics that the pope recently disparaged? Don’t the bishops see the threat of the scandal of the faithful in these cases? Do they only sigh and raise their eyebrows while the people are confused? Remember Milton’s Lycidas: “The hungry sheep look up and are not fed!”


  • Msgr. Richard C. Antall

    Monsignor Antall is pastor of Holy Name Parish in the Diocese of Cleveland. He is the author of The X-Mass Files (Atmosphere Press, 2021), and The Wedding (Lambing Press, 2019).

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