Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Does Being Catholic Have Any Meaning?

Charlie Angus MP (NDP Timmins-James Bay) is back in the news via a July 5th Canadian Press article in the Ottawa Citizen. (Hat tips to Kathy Shaidle of Relapsed Catholic, Angry in the Great White North and Neale News.)

Back in March of this year I posted on Charlie Angus's troubles with the Catholic Church. At the time his parish priest, Father John Lemire, was warning him that he would be refused communion if he voted in favour of same-sex marriage. Ultimately, as expected, Mr. Angus chose loyalty to the New Democratic Party over his Catholic faith. Father Lemire, backed by his bishop and the appropriate provisions of Canon (Church) law, then did what he said he would do and told Charlie Angus he was no longer welcome to receive communion in the Church.

"It's quite disturbing,'' said Angus, pointing to what he called "the rising militancy of language within the church. I went to Ottawa feeling that I would be speaking as someone rooted in a faith tradition and rooted in a justice tradition. "Then your involvement in the sacraments becomes a political pressure point. It was unacceptable.''

His comments are very revealing. Mr. Angus appears not to grasp the essential thing about what it means to be in communion with the Church and to be eligible to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

To receive communion we must be in communion. When we receive the Eucharist we affirm we are one with the Church as members of the Body of Christ; an affirmation that presupposes assent to the teachings of the Church, through which Christ administers the sacrament.

His reference to being disturbed by the "rising militancy of language within the church" is cute beyond measure. Reports have it (see Kathy Shaidle?s comments) that Charlie used to be an activist in the Catholic Workers movement in Toronto. I suspect that he, as a member of the NDP caucus, is quite content with militant Catholic language pertaining to many social justice issues (critique of capitalism etc.). It is the moral theology component of Catholic belief that gives him spiritual heartburn.

Angus, who represents the riding of Timmins James-Bay and lives in New Liskeard [Ontario], has only attended mass a couple of times since the incident in the spring. "I haven't accepted communion,'' he said. His wife and three daughters have stayed away from mass.

"It's something I don't feel very comfortable discussing,'' he said, his voice quavering. "So much of politics is spin ... party position ... (or) having some one-liners. But when it speaks to the essence of what you feel and what you believe, it's very hard to rationalize it or to articulate it.''

It certainly does speak to the essence of what Mr. Angus believes alright. And just what is that?

"As a legislator, I have to represent the Catholics and the non-Catholics. I have to represent the bigger picture and I can't be taking my orders from the pulpit.

Political or religious pressure is not the basis for informing your conscience.''

If we exclude his political and religious beliefs from his conscience formation, with what is he left? Just what does form the basis of his conscience? Does he have any idea of the ontological significant of religious beliefs, or their proper place in formation of the conscience?

The same article notes the plight of another distressed soul, Celina Symmonds.

Symmonds, who once managed the now closed Planned Parenthood office in Medicine Hat, Alta., had to find another place to be married about a month before her wedding in September 2002 after her priest discovered from a newspaper article that she was pro-choice on abortion.

"I was shocked,'' says Symmonds. "When you grow up Catholic you grow up awaiting the day where you can walk into that great big cathedral with your
husband. It's something you dream of as a little girl."

"And it got crushed within seconds.''

No not really, Celina. It got crushed during that period of time when you chose to abandon the faith of the Church that builds those great big cathedrals and agreed to manage a clinic with the sole purpose of killing children made in the likeness and image of God. You crushed more than dreams there Celina.

Symmonds remembers well the day when the priest's assistant phoned, and she hasn't attended church since the incident. "It hurts that you're told that you're not welcome to be a part of something that was very precious in your life,'' she said, her voice trembling.

A Planned Parenthhod clinic manager by trade and she is hurt by being excluded from communion?

"Getting the courage to go back, it's tough because you feel ostracized as far as what you believe ... You become intimidated going into a church because you don't know, will I be welcome, will I be stared at?'' ...

For Symmonds, what was so upsetting was the feeling that the church had made "a blanket decision without even knowing who I was ... I knew that the
church was not supportive of abortion rights. However I felt that the church would be supportive of me.''

However, what she discovered was that "everyone needs to fit into a little box and if you don't fit into that box, then maybe you don't fit at all,'' she said.

Oh, good grief! The Church has doctrine and requires you assent to that doctrine. The Church cannot support you if you persist in advocating the killing of children in the womb. The song "Feelings" is not a hymn. She is a member of the Holy Catholic Church, not the Birkenstock Commune for Situational Ethics.

Despite being denied communion, she managed to avoid being excommunicated after "a good discussion'' with the priest. He "encouraged me to come back to church. (But) I couldn't take communion,'' said Symmonds.

This makes no sense to me. I take it from the article that she has not changed her views on abortion. Canon law is quite clear on the matter.

Canon. 915 Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.

It does not appear, in fact, that the Church excommunicated her.

Canon. 1398 A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

A latae sententae excommunication is one which is imposed upon the actual commission of the act, rather than by later ecclesiastical juridical action. Accordingly, by participating in the procurement of abortions, Symmonds excommunicated herself. As I understand it, unless she has recanted her views and repents of the activity, she remains in a state of latae sententae excommunication (Are there any Canon lawyers out there to confirm this?).

One final note on media spin. While the article makes some effort to explain Catholic doctrines on communion and excommunication it cannot resist undermining Church doctrine with an irrelevant comparison to the United Church.

At the United Church of Canada, denial of communion "would be totally foreign to our system,'' said Rev. Bruce Gregersen, who's in charge of support to local ministries for the church, the country's largest Protestant denomination.

"Our policy is an open table,'' he said. "The language of the institution of the supper is that this is the Lord's table. It is not our table. And so the distinction we would make is that anyone who professes to be in relationship to Jesus Christ and who loves and desires to serve Jesus is welcome to his table.''

See the underlying message. United Church tolerant. Okay with abortion. Catholic Church intolerant. Forbids abortion. Of course, the two churches differ considerably on lots of doctrine, including the sacrificial reality of the Eucharistic celebration, the apostolic succession and consubstantiation (a matter for another time).

And just for the record. I take no pleasure from the self-inflicted plights of Mr. Angus and Ms Symmonds. I do retain a measure of hope from their reported "quavering" and "trembling" voices. It shows that they have some understanding of the seriousness of their situation.

Angry in the Great White North has posted at length on this matter. Go read the July 5th post, "Choices Have Consequences."


At 8:38 pm, July 06, 2005 , Blogger Kermit said...


Sounds sort of like John Kerry (North) a subburb of our illustrius previous presidential candidate and {unfortunately still} u.s. {lower case used purposely-because I find his presence demeans the upper house of congress} senator.

The priest in the article has the courage of his convictions and followed through on them! Bravo!!!


At 12:38 am, July 07, 2005 , Blogger Rebecca said...

Great post John - I've done a like-minded one as well. I think it's a good conversation to have, since it's easy to let the squeaky Catholics get all the press; us quiet types need to speak up and clear the air.

At 7:42 am, July 07, 2005 , Blogger Kermit said...

That almost sounds like a Jesuit organizer at the Union Hall. I have no problem with that. Some people have to be out front in the Army of God.

I prefer the Franciscan way. Work like a son-of-gun (almost invisible) and pray for the buggers behind their backs. It's sort of like a combination of going back to the Special Ops/Long Rifle thing.

Look like a non-threat whilst calling in a Divine Air Strike. It's an effective ploy. I believe more strongly in the Justice of God than I do in the power of the press...

Keeping a firm grip on my beads and smiling in the bog,


PS - Just make sure that the 'Air Strike' is coming from behind you, not toward you. Even Holy Napalm can be affected by Newtonian Physics (objects at rest remain at rest - objects in motion remain in motion...) which means that it goes the direction the delivery vehicle is moving. Pray hard and then pray harder. God needs to know where you are - His enemies don't.

At 10:16 am, July 07, 2005 , Blogger John the Mad said...

You made me laugh. I admit to being more of a Jesuit than a Francisan, although I admire the Fransciscans enormously. Spiritual special ops -I like it. Von Clauswitz said surprise is a principle of war. Hit 'em with unexpected prayer.

Diocesan priests are the regular army types. Good men to have in the trenches bearing the brunt of the advance and keeping the strategic offensive going.

I suppose the Jesuits are more like the US Marine Corps. Highly trained, disciplined, effective and proud (in the good sense of the word)shock troops. Much like the Canadian army - what is left of it, that is.

I started to read your post last night, but fatigue intervened and I went to bed. I'll get to it tonight. Thanks for the plug and the feedback.


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