by Tom Grenchik
June 13, 2008
Early in May, in his diocesan newspaper, The Leaven, the Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas made a unique pastoral request of his governor. Archbishop Joseph Naumann formally asked Governor Kathleen Sebelius not to present herself to receive Holy Communion until she had sought to repair the public scandal of her long-standing, 30-year history of public advocacy for legalized abortion.
Being a faithful pastor is difficult work. For quite some time the Archbishop has been engaged in the time-intensive process of verbal and written dialogue with the governor. He has counseled her on the spiritual and moral consequences of her actions and tried to help her understand the scandal that her actions cause for others.
Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. Anyone who uses the power at his or her disposal in a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal, and consequentially, is responsible for the evil that he or she has directly or indirectly encouraged. When a prominent Catholic leader in public life advocates for the legal sanctioning of the killing of unborn children and then approaches the Eucharistic table, it sends a false and scandalous message to other Catholics: "I am a good Catholic and I support legalized abortion. You can be a good Catholic and support legalized abortion too."
Normally, it is the responsibility of an individual Catholic to discern whether he or she is able to receive Communion. This responsibility requires a well-formed conscience that is informed by the teachings of the Church. However, if an individual persistently and publicly acts in a manner that is inconsistent with fundamental moral teachings of the Church and continues to receive Holy Communion, a bishop may feel obliged to intervene for the good of the individual and to protect others from being misled. The pastoral intention is to restore a broken relationship between the believer and the body of Christ through reconciliation. Only then is shared participation in Communion fitting.
This is not about politics. This is about a shepherd's genuine concern for an individual soul, and the souls of other members of his flock who are endangered by the false witness of scandalous actions.
Archbishop Naumann has made it clear that it is the Governor's responsibility not to present herself for Communion. Ministers of Communion have an obligation to protect the Sacrament from misuse or abuse, but at present, the Archbishop has not asked these ministers to withhold Holy Communion from the Governor. He is hopeful that the Governor will do the right thing.
Some may try to portray this pastoral intervention as a case of church interference in politics, or as a public showdown between the highest ranking state official and the pastor of her diocese. But for faithful Catholics, it should remind us how much our Church values the importance of each soul, and the lengths to which some pastors will go to bring souls back to the fold. Let us pray for the Governor's openness to this moment of grace and for the Archbishop's patient endurance of the media harassment that he will most likely have to endure for his pastoral stance.
Tom Grenchik is Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Go to www.usccb.org/prolife to learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities.