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An Examination of Conscience: Archbishop Vigneron, Communion, and Canon 916

April 10, AD 2013 0 Comments

Archbishop Vigneron

Earlier this week,  it was reported that Archbishop Allen Vigneron made comments about supporters of “Gay-marriage” and their reception of Communion. The story originally broke in the Detroit Free Press, and was rather sketchy on quotes and sources, but the money-line was in there – supporters of “Gay-marriage” should not receive Communion.

The original Free Press report:

Asked by the Free Press about Catholics who publicly advocate for gay marriage and receive Communion, Vigneron said Sunday:

‘For a Catholic to receive holy Communion and still deny the revelation Christ entrusted to the church is to try to say two contradictory things at once: ‘I believe the church offers the saving truth of Jesus, and I reject what the church teaches.’ In effect, they would contradict themselves. This sort of behavior would result in publicly renouncing one’s integrity and logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.”

Vigneron said the church wants to help Catholics “avoid this personal disaster.”

CNN quoted the original article and reported:

On Monday, the archdiocese looked to step back and add context to the statement.

“The archbishop’s focal point here is not ‘gay marriage’; it is a Catholic’s reception of Holy Communion,” Joe Kohn, the archdiocese spokesman, wrote in an e-mail to CNN. “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.”

Kohn continued: “As the archbishop states, the pastors of the church are ready to assist Catholics to help them understand and avoid this conflict.”

Catholic heavyweights Father Z. and Dr. Ed Peters laud the stance and comments by the Archbishop and have gone into detail on their blogs how his statement is supported by doctrine, Canon law, and theology.

In the various news reports that have come out, the usual cast of characters are slamming the Archbishop and the Church, and we can expect that. What is troubling though is that Catholics are going on record and showing a poor understanding of the faith. This is misleading others to believe that the Church is “wrong” here because this is the Archbishop’s personal view, or that the Church is delayed in “evolving” their message. Many have said that the Church has made “mistakes” and that this is another one. They equivocate what people in the Church do, and the teachings of the Church.

One example from a local Fox news station:

A lifelong Catholic involved in every aspect of it, she just returned from a Catholic retreat only to question her church, even sending Archbishop Allen Vigneron a letter.

“I have brought many people into the Catholic Church, and right now because of this, I am ashamed of the Catholic Church. I am ashamed of what Archbishop Vigneron said,” remarked Solano. “I’m distraught about this actually. This will be a defining moment for me in my Catholicism.”

She is not the only one concerned. Catholics we spoke with in southwest Detroit are wondering if they are welcome in their own church.

“We all have loved ones and family and friends who are gay and lesbian, and frankly as a practicing Catholic, it deeply offends me that the church would take that position,” said David Koelsch.

“I don’t support gay marriage, not at all,” said Jose Riojas. “How can you say no you can’t have communion?”

The problem isn’t that these folks have certain beliefs, it is that they think about the faith in a way that the Archbishop says is an incompatible with truth: to believe in the Truth of Jesus Christ, and yet to deny the teachings of the Church.

You can’t have one, and deny the other. If you do, then logically, you are being self-contradictory. The Church isn’t, nor should it be, like political institutions, in that it changes and it evolves its precepts based on public opinion. When Jesus came to Earth, it wasn’t to install a new and better political regime, but a Kingdom that transcends and makes null the political realms of the world that are doomed to fail because of sin and human frailty.

Where these Catholics go wrong is that they fail to understand the purpose of the Church on Earth, as well as the full teachings of the Church.

Clearly the formation of these Catholics is poor. They fail to see that the Archbishop wasn’t imposing his will, or his beliefs onto others, but that he was simply stating Canon Law and the teachings of the Church.

The Canon Law that much of this centers on is Canon 915:

1983 CIC 915. Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.


This law though isn’t the one that applies in this situation. What many have assumed, whether they know the full depth of Canon Law or not, is that the Archbishop was using his authority to prevent a certain set of people from Communion.

But what is missed in this particular situation is that Archbishop Vigneron wasn’t doing anything except to remind folks of what the Church teaches. He wasn’t denying, condemning, or even excommunicating anyone. He was in fact showing compassion and offering pastoral assistance.

Stretch of theological understanding? No. Simply the application of Canon Law, but the law that is actually at issue here is Canon 916:

1983 CIC 916. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible. (See also CCEO 711)

Without causing scandal, I think it is safe to say that what this law does is to bind us all, who freely choose to receive the Holy Eucharist, to examine our conscience and ensure that we are properly disposed to receive Communion. So when the Archbishop spoke, he wasn’t enforcing anything, he was simply reminding us to follow the Church’s teaching.

We all have this obligation. We need to recapture the correct understanding of what it is we are doing at Mass, and we need to have greater reverence for the Eucharist. When we approach the Holy Sacrifice, we should do so with utmost humility. In this country we are so used to having the right to something. Yet, we have no right to Christ, in fact we are unworthy as we say just prior to reception of the Eucharist during Mass. It is only by Christ granting us the ability to do so that we are granted the opportunity to receive Him and be healed.

So, as I said, the Archbishop did nothing but restate the Church’s teaching on the reception of Eucharist. All he did is to remind certain individuals that Communion is not a right, but a mercy granted to us by God.

Filed in: Columnists

About the Author:

Joe is a husband and father, and with his family has recently moved from Alaska to Michigan. He is doing a temporary tour of duty with until November. Joe graduated from Ave Maria School of Law a few years ago and has since then been working in politics. His family enjoys outdoor adventures, watching and playing sports, and enjoying the adventures God places before them.