The Apologetics of Abuse

America Magazine argues that no one should be banned from the Eucharist. No one? Really? What about the unbaptized? Are they free to receive? What about Satanists?

A colleague of mine, whom I greatly respect, just sent me an article from America magazine, a Jesuit publication for which I have very little respect. “Read it and weep,” he advised. This I have dutifully done—along with a fair amount of fury, for which I may have to go to Confession.

The title of the piece, coming on the heels of Archbishop Cordileone’s decision to ban Nancy Pelosi from the Eucharist, says it all: “I don’t think we should be banning anyone from the Eucharist.”  

Really? No limits at all? What about the unbaptized? Are they free to receive? What about Satanists? Must we extend Eucharistic etiquette to avowed enemies of God? People who, by their own admission, regularly show up in Communion lines for Hosts to desecrate at Black Masses? The author does not say. 

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The author, by the way, is a Jesuit priest (no surprise there), by the name of John Whitney, whose current assignment at a parish in San Francisco puts him perhaps within spitting distance of where the archbishop lives. Which hardly matters, I should think, since there’s plenty of spit in the essay itself. All slyly spewed, of course; Fr. Whitney not having quite the spittle to tell his archbishop to his face what he really thinks of him. Instead, we get statements of high sanctimony like the following, which are fairly typical these days among progressive elements within the Church:

While we must, in humility, respect the authority of teachers in the church, those who seek to teach by withholding the Eucharist abuse the very sacrament they claim to defend. Even if we acknowledge that—through a just process and in extreme circumstances—a baptized Catholic may be sanctioned by the church, we must question the individual bishop who uses the Eucharist in a preemptory manner, without process or appeal. One who seeks to teach by withholding the Eucharist abuses the very sacrament he claims to defend.   

One must surely wonder at claims such as these. Does he really think what Archbishop Cordileone has done amounts to an “abuse” of the Eucharist? But that the pro-death Catholic politician who presents herself for Communion is not abusing the sacrament? And that the manner of his exercise of episcopal authority regarding Pelosi has been so “preemptory” as to disqualify him from deciding? Does he even know the meaning of the word? That it indicates a course of action leaving no room for discussion, with the expectation that one’s opponent will instantly submit to higher authority? 

Is he so clueless of the history between Cordileone and Pelosi that he is simply unaware of years spent in unremitting effort to get her even to show up for a conversation? Discussion? There hasn’t been any. One might as well describe Churchill’s declaration of war on Adolf Hitler as “peremptory,” inasmuch as it amounted to a failure of British diplomacy to keep the dialogue going. In most cases, yes, it is better to keep on talking; but not when the other side is determined to take out all of Europe.

Not an altogether farfetched comparison, by the way, when the side represented by Speaker Pelosi has been, these past fifty years, taking out the lives of sixty or more million children. And in Pelosi’s case, certainly, claiming to justify it all on the grounds of her Catholic faith.

The effrontery of the woman is more than mortal flesh will bear. And at some point, surely, it becomes necessary to call her out on it by applying the only available sanction that just might awaken her to the peril she has placed herself in.

But one will search in vain for anything remotely approaching concern for her soul on the part of our Jesuit author. He is far too fixated upon the delinquencies of his own Archbishop, whom he accuses of clericalism, no greater sin than which can be imagined. “The original sin of the church,” he calls it, “clericalism emerges when those called to minister the sacraments begin to believe that the sacraments belong to them, or are a product of their special power as God’s chosen vessels.” In other words, not content to remain the servant of the Lord and his people, “the ordained minister begins to act like he is the host, empowered to set up criteria of reception not present in the example of Christ.” 

Once this happens, he warns, and the clericalist has secured “access to the Eucharist,” he is thereupon free “to use the body and blood of Christ as a cudgel to punish or train,” assuming in effect “the role of guardian of the altar or the bouncer from the feast—usurping the role of Christ who calls all to the table.”

So, Archbishop Cordileone has now become the Church’s very own self-appointed “bouncer”?   Well, he has certainly taken his time in assuming that role, hasn’t he? Years and years, in fact, leaving not a few of his supporters wondering if he ever would.  

As for the One who calls all to the table, is there anyone on record denying it? Certainly not the archbishop. But as regards Christ’s invitation, doesn’t that rather depend on whether or not all who are called see themselves primarily as sinners in need of the healing mercy of Jesus Christ? What if they don’t think they need it, their souls having grown so calcified by sin that they no longer see the truth of who and what they’ve become? But they persist in showing up anyway, so convinced are they of their essential sinlessness. How incensed they then become if one were to point it out to them—even when their own bishop tries to tell them. 

But Fr. Whitney is not on board with any of this. He just doesn’t get it. Nancy Pelosi simply does not regard her status in the Church as that of a sinner. It is, rather, her big bad archbishop who’s the sinner, and God help him if he tries to refuse her admission to the feast.  


  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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