NDLS event informs when Church should deny public figures Holy Communion

Over 90 attendees packed into Eck Hall of Law 1130 to hear Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend give a talk entitled “The Body of Christ: Caring for Souls in an Age of Scandal” on Wednesday, October 5. This event was hosted by the Saint Thomas More Society

The St. Thomas More Society strives to sustain the Catholic identity of Notre Dame’s Law School. Their president, Katie Alexander, affirmed “we’re trying to cultivate fellowship, community with fellow law students, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and also be able to provide opportunities for spiritual and academic growth, and also for professional development for Catholic law students.” 

Rhoades’s talk focused on Canon 915, the section of Canon Law that deals with the reception of Holy Communion. This canon attracted national attention when Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco released a public letter denying Holy Communion to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi because of her public support of abortion. Cordileone had met with Pelosi privately on many occasions to discuss her pro-choice stance; however, she refused to meet with the Archbishop after vowing to make Roe v. Wade federal law in September 2021. 

John Hale, vice president of the St. Thomas More Society and 2nd year law student, told the Rover that part of the reason for hosting Bishop Rhoades was to talk specifically about these issues in light of abortion: “Catholics or more broadly, people in the pro-life movement get maligned for only being pro-birth.” In bringing Bishop Rhoades to campus, the group hoped to provide context for the criticisms the Church has faced in the wake of denying pro-choice politicians Holy Communion. 

Canon 915 states, “Those … obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Canon 915 holds such great importance because according to Bishop Rhoades, the Eucharist “is the sacrament of love and ecclesial unity.” Communion unites Catholic believers with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and the entirety of the Church. Catholics are morally obliged to refrain from receiving the Eucharist while in a state of mortal sin. Quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Rhoades emphasized that, otherwise, the recipient would be “lying to the sacrament.” 

Rhoades debunked the claim that the restriction of Holy Communion is a new phenomenon, citing 1 Corinthians 11:26–34, which states that Christians must not receive the Sacrament in an unworthy state. Bishop Rhoades described the visible and invisible requirements for Catholics to be in ecclesial communion with the Church. To receive Holy Communion, one must visibly be in communion with the Church by receiving the sacrament of Baptism and following Church teachings. People reject ecclesial communion with the Catholic Church when they publicly reject Church doctrine or live a life contrary to the teachings of the Church. 

Whether a person is in a state of grace or not is invisible; Bishop Rhoades attested, “I cannot judge the state of soul of Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden.” Accordingly, when it comes to denying Holy Communion, Bishop Rhoades specified that “we cannot judge the invisible—we must judge the visible.” According to Bishop Rhoades, by denying the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians who are publicly and notoriously living in a state of sin, priests are not judging the state of their soul. Rather, they are assessing their public denouncement of the Church’s foundational teaching about the dignity of human life. 

Rhoades also made it clear that Canon 915 does not just concern politicians who support abortion. Rather, it applies to anyone who formally cooperates with grave evil, which takes many forms, including euthanasia, terrorism, or racism—Rhoades pointed to Archbishop Rummel of Louisiana, who denied Holy Communion to three Catholics who refused to integrate Catholic schools in 1962. 

Critics accused Archbishop Cordileone of placing politics over pastoral care by politicizing the Eucharist; however, Bishop Rhoades argues that Canon Law is concerned with the salvation of souls. He underscored that withholding Communion is meant to be a call to conversion. Politicians who publicly reject Church teachings are not barred from the sacrament for life; if they publicly repudiate their formal cooperation with evil, such as promoting abortion, and receive the sacrament of Penance, they will again be able to receive Holy Communion. 

In the words of Bishop Rhoades, “to receive the body and blood of the Lord implies that we are configured with him and his sacrificial self in love by living in accordance with His commandment of love.” 

Viana Schlapp is a sophomore majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies with minors in constitutional studies and theology. She loves people, crossword puzzles, and Cuban coffee. If you ever want to ask about her day with Coach Lou Holtz, email vschlapp@nd.edu

Kathryn Bowers is a sophomore who is majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies. Email her at kbowers2@nd.edu to go on a walk around the lakes.

Photo credit: https://diocesefwsb.org/bishop/