The National Catholic Review

The internet has certainly democratized publishing: Anyone with an opinion can find an outlet, if not with a formal blog entry then by posting a comment to someone else’s entry. The readers of America do this all the time and I look forward to comments from some of the regular readers, especially those who disagree with me. This democratization of opinion-publishing is a great vehicle for increased participation in the political process and an unalloyed blessing.

But, what about the cranks? This morning I encountered a comment about myself in reply to an article about Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The writer’s indictment of me was typical of some other replies, voicing concern that I was insufficiently pro-life and a cafeteria Catholic. I plead guilty on the second charge but not on the first. But, then I got to this: "Nancy Pelosi is pro-abortion. Thus, Nancy Pelosi is a public, grave sinner. Thus, Canon 915 requires ALL ministers of Communion to refuse Communion to Nancy Pelosi. Archbishop Niederauer has a GRAVE OBLIGATION to obey Canon 915. But Archbishop Niederauer REFUSES to obey Canon 915. Therefore, Archbishop Niederauer is a public, grave sinner. Thus, Canon 915 requires Archbishop Niederauer NOT TO CELEBRATE MASS—because at every Mass, the priest gives himself Communion. The same holds true for EVERY bishop in the U.S. who STILL REFUSES to OBEY CANON 915. That is, all but about one dozen bishops in the United States."

Of course, as I began reading this, I assumed it was a parody, maybe a riff from Stephen Colbert showing the downward spiral of certain trains of paranoid speculation, as Colbert does so brilliantly. But, no, the posting was in earnest. And, the danger of cranks in the Church is that they can gain entry and access in ways that it is difficult to detect so it is critical that the rest of us speak out as clearly as possible and as often as possible in support of our bishops who have maintained their sense of pastoral solicitude in the face of so much political pressure from certain conservative lay people.

Specifically, there are two points about which we must be clear. First, those who say that abortion is the only issue upon which votes should be cast (or Communion denied) are correct when they say that we can attain a degree of moral clarity on the evil of abortion but that such moral clarity is not as available on issues involving universal health insurance or how to end the Iraq War. What they miss is that a voter can recognize that pro-life candidate A is not going to achieve anything on the abortion issue, that neither party has a realistic strategy for ending abortion, and so a voter can consider other moral issues not more important but more relevant. Analyzing the political consequence of my vote is not a doctrinal issue and it is part of forming my conscience.

The second point upon which we must be clear is that the "No Communion" policy is a radical innovation that should be resisted. First, it requires applying the canons in ways that are novel and dubious. Canon law is a pastoral instrument and recognizes that it should be applied with gentleness not vengeance. It also recognizes the role of the pastor, not the blogger, in discerning what is required for the spiritual health of his flock. By this I do not mean to suggest that pastoral decisions are free from criticism but, rather, that canon law recognizes that a pastoral perspective, not a legalistic one, still less a political one, is essential to the application of all canons. Political opinion makers want controversy but pastors want to save souls.

Those of us who do not support a blanket denial of communion to a class of politicians are not slackers. I am delighted that the Holy Father chose the occasion of his meeting with Speaker Pelosi to reaffirm the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life. I am also glad he looked at photos of her grandchildren: I suspect the encounter was not the "lecture" certain conservative commentators would have us believe. I think it may prove a mistake that the Press Office released a statement about the bacimano: From now on, every time the Pope receives a politician with whom a prelate has a problem, there will be pressure for a similar public statement. I hope Speaker Pelosi will look to her conscience as I hope every Catholic will. More than anything I hope that this "I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like other men" judgmentalism that has manifested itself against Mrs. Pelosi will cease. It is profoundly uncharitable and, just so, unchristian. "Judge ye not that ye be not judged," warned the Master, though I wonder if he meant to include bloggers.





Anonymous | 4/1/2009 - 7:33am
If the "crank" you quote was wrong, you utterly failed to demonstrate how. If denying Communion to obstinate, manifest grave sinners is "unChristian" and "an innovation," then your beef is with the Holy Spirit, who failed to inform St. Paul, and every other saint, Pope, Council, and canonist who has ever spoken on the subject of the sacrilegious giving and receiving of Communion. Archbishop Raymond Burke has written that the obligation to obey Canon 915 is a strict, grave obligation. It follows that the failure to fulfill that obligation is grave matter--or as laypeople are more accustomed to say, a mortal sin. Since what the "crank" said follows with strict logic from the text of Canon 915 and the vast scholarship marshaled by Archbishop Burke, in what sense is the "crank" really a "crank"? If any bishop, priest, canonist--or YOU--has assembled any argument demonstrating Archbishop Burke wrong, it has not seen the light of day. The misuse of "judge not..." is a centuries-old ploy. Have you nothing fresher?
Anonymous | 3/10/2009 - 3:22pm
"judgmentalism that has manifested itself against Mrs. Pelosi" Give me a break demigogue this is a public figure that crafts public policy and wants America to follow her public policy to murder the unborn. When she turns to agressive and passive agressive eugenics to murder your parents will you be a blind party loyalist dealing in the language of deciet and moral relativeism? Was Nazi physician, Dr Josef Mengele a "soul to be saved" at the avoidance of controversy ? It's all about your style and image , eh Mr. Winters?
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 1:43pm
Perhaps a clarification of what the Church expects from Catholic politicians would be helpful. Can someone articulate it? Does the Church expect Catholics to publicly attest to the sinfulness of abortion, or is it sufficent to describe it as a "tragedy" and commit to the "goal" of reducing the number of abortions? Is a Catholic politician expected to sponsor pro-life legislation, or just to vote in favor of it if it comes up for a vote? If a legislator votes for an annual budget bill that includes abortion funding provisions inserted by another legislator, is that a sin? Does he or she have to vote "no" or is abstaining enough to avoid a condition of grave sin? Surely being a Catholic and Democrat need not be mutually exclusive. But doesn't being a Catholic and a leader of the Democratic party require an extroardinary turning away from the teachings of the Church? Should Ms. Pelosi have simply demurred at the idea of ascending to the leadership? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a Mormon and (apparently) considers himself pro-life. What does the Mormon church require of him? Is he meeting their expectations? A final note: according to Wikipedia, 29 percent of US Senators and Representatives are Catholic.
Anonymous | 2/24/2009 - 7:35pm
In this day and age and in this church, I consider the title "Cafeteria Catholic" to be a badge of honor!
Anonymous | 2/23/2009 - 3:40pm
One is hardly a cafeteria Catholic for not supporting the opportunism of the National Right to Life Committee.
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 11:56pm
Who cares whether or not Pelosi and others receive communion? Not me! It is they who are damaging themselves, eating and drinking to their own destruction. Cafeteria Catholics are no longer Catholics...let us quit playing this a spade a spade.
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 3:21pm
I'm a crank who thinks that anyone who would justify as a "choice" abortion, slavery, or killing certain ethnic groups is either ignorant or evil! If they meet with the Bishop and during an exchange the Bishop thinks that person understands then they are no longer ignorant.
Anonymous | 2/21/2009 - 9:12pm
Frankly, as a Catholic who is involved in politics, sometimes holding appointive office, a hierarchy that still governs itself on a feudalistic model has nothing to teach me. When it reforms its governance to enter the modern world, they might be worth a listen - presently it needs to learn on these issues rather than teach.
Anonymous | 2/21/2009 - 8:32pm
My parish is a part of the Orlando Diocese. The Bishop of this diocese had sent a letter to all the churches which our pastor printed in the weekly bulletin the week before the last election. The letter stated the position of the church as to abortion and the election of the presidental candidates as respected their positions thereof. In effect telling us to vote replublican. Our pastor who I feel is a middle of the roader kinde shocked me as he more less wholeheartedly agreed with the bishop. At the end of the mass hw was shaking hands as we left the church, I shook his hand and held on, "Do you wish me to vote for McCain, I asked. He looked at me a minute, vote your conscience he said." That is what I did, I wish Pres. Barak Obama was prolife, but he wishes to curtail abortions in other ways I hope he is successful. By the way at next Sundays' mass our pastor commented "Boy, did I get an earful. I was surprised I thought our parish was on the conservative side.
Anonymous | 2/21/2009 - 6:11pm
I could agree more with the bloogers, and parishioners, who think that those in Congress who seem "to approve pro-choice" legistlation has the same zeel against those who would vote for capital punishment and euthanasia, and hunger in Dafur and other 3rd world countries.
Anonymous | 2/21/2009 - 12:21am
"The bottom line is, if failure to uphold the fundamental right of the most innocent human beings does not deserve the least extreme of canonical sanctions, what ever would?" Said sanctions have been in place for a long time: a woman procuring an abortion and a medical person performing one are excommunicated. It doesn't seem to have made a difference, so anti-abortion activists go after politicians. When that doesn't seem to work, they go after voters. Is there a pattern here? It continues with shrill rhetoric, outright lies and deceptions, and a sense of self-righteous desperation. This isn't about sanctions, shame, or murder anymore. It's about humiliating one's political opponents because one feels humiliated by a substantial ineffectiveness in moving public thinking on abortion. Is it any wonder some vehement and passionate Catholics feel isolated from their own tribe?
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 7:00pm
Whether or not you get in line to recieve communion is between you and God. The Pope met with Speaker Pelosi discussed the life issue with her and then did not release a photgraph of her visit. Enough said.
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 6:31pm
Speaking if judging, Professor Kmiec has written a article on the very disturbing implications for judicial independence in the Vatican's statement after Speaker Pelosi's meeting with the Pope:,8599,1880977,00.html
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 3:32pm
Laws, governments, bishops, churches and bloggers will not end abortion. Women no long feeling the need to have one will. Outlawing abortion will not end it. It happened before Roe and will happen if Roe is overturned. The Catholic Church has failed to convince its adherents and the rest of the world that abortion is evil. Trying to coerce when you cannot convince is the sign of a dictator, not a church. "Conviction without experience makes for harshness." Flannery O'Connor "Vigorous minds will not suffer compulsion. To exercise compulsion is typical of tyrants; to suffer it, typical of asses." Erasmus
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 2:45pm
I agree that the blog comments you cite are extreme in the extent of application he suggests. Pastoral discretion is called for, which, however, necessarily includes canonical admonishment and the opportunity for repentance. I also agree that the sanction of withholding communion is radical. I doubt if YOU would agree with my take on it, however. It is radical as the gospel is radical. Christ Himself said, ''if he [or she] will not listen to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector'' (Mt. 18:17). As Archbishop Burke has demonstrated in his exhaustive review of the subject, it is NOT radical in Church history, contrary to your claim. Rather, it is the norm. Indeed, St. Gregory the Great wrote an entire treatise (Pastoral Care) about the necessity of admonishing sinners. The bottom line is, if failure to uphold the fundamental right of the most innocent human beings does not deserve the least extreme of canonical sanctions, what ever would? Hitler killed 12 million people; 50 milion innocents have been killed in the US alone - authorized by the Supreme Court, yes, but sustained by congressional and presidential acts and ommissions. The cafeteria Catholic's claim of concern for life issues in some broader sense will ultimately ring as empty to future generations as that of Nuremberg. ''I was just following orders?''
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 1:47pm
The sanctimony of your condemnation of sanctimony is egregious. A non-cafeteria Catholic myself, I find our hierarchy remarkably inept. Their failure to reach a decision effectively declaring unacceptable the pro-abortion legislative behavior of so many American Catholic politicans and, in consequence, applying a meaningful punishment is another evidence of that ineptitude. To reach such a decision and dispense such punishment, by the way, need not be uncharitable, any more than the Pope's recent (and belated) admonition of (Bishop?) Williamson for his public statements about the Holocaust: the Pope was not condemning Williamson to perdition—that's God's call—but he was saying that this behavior was unacceptable for a Catholic clergyman. When our endless list of American Catholic politicians explain how they sincerely and painfully reached their legislative stance on abortion, I am ever amazed at their absolutely unanimous choice—moving to a pro-abortion position. I don't think this statistic reflects honest changes in opinion but rather demonstrates submission to the culture of their chosen political party, especially as personal ambition drives these officials to seek higher office and, thus, to require greater support from the party's leadership. Dodd, Durbin, Granholm, Kennedy, Pelosi, Sibelius, etc.—all individuals who have struggled painfully to end up with precisely the same position? Perhaps. But I find it hard to believe.
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 10:30am
You refer to issues "not more important but more relevant" than the pro life issues that could lead a faithful Catholic to vote for a candidate life Pelosi. There are no such issues as you and our bishops must know. I'm sorry to say your article reeks of the obfuscation employed by those unwilling to face the implications of Catholic theology. Peolosi, Biden et al are engaged in an effort to force the Church to change its stand on these crucial issues. It is not "vengeance" that motivates those of us who try to prevent that from happening. It is a concern for the good of the Church entrusted to us, something which, I respectfully suggest should motivate our bishops more vigorously than it now seems to. "Canon law is a pastoral instrument and recognizes that it should be applied with gentleness not vengeance", you say. When we hear the "ardent Catholics" like Pelosi proclaiming the absurdities they do about the Church's teaching we worry about the affect it will have on less-informed Catholics looking for a way to justify their deviations from Church teaching and laws. We recognize the damage being done to such young minds as are led astray by this. I think that is very much a pastoral concern. It fits no definition of vengeance that I have ever seen. We also are saddened that the Church allows itself to be used in such a way by opportunistic politicians. I ask you is that not a pastoral concern? The fact is the leadership of our bishops on the pro life issues has been appallingly bad, and I say that with great sadness and very reluctantly. I can understand your reluctance to criticize them as well. We all respect the hierarchical office they hold and the authority they exercise. But a greater good is at stake here. And it is simply not good enough to dismiss as "cranks" those who stand up for it.
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 11:48pm
Who cares whether or not Pelosi and others receive communion? Not me! It is they who are damaging themselves, eating and drinking to their own destruction. Cafeteria Catholics are no longer Catholics...let us quit playing this a spade a spade.
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 1:25pm
I've subscribed to America in print for years and when I started reading this blog I hoped for a more civil and respectful tone than one sees in many other blogs. Unfortunately folks are perhaps getting a bit too heated and ready to consign others to hell fire. Perhaps we should all reflect on the title of the blog "In All Things" and remember that the next word is Charity. I do wonder about the implications of branding Archbishop Niederauer and apparently all but twelve other American Bishops as "public grave sinners." If you are a Catholic who believes that, are you suggesting that a faithful remnant simply split away from the rest of the American Church, since it is largely headed by people judged as public grave sinners? The bishops answer to the Pope, and I do not believe he has rebuked those not refusing communion. Does that make him wrong? Where does this lead?
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 10:19am
Hi Sean, I am just wondering about your line ''The writer’s indictment of me was typical of some other replies, voicing concern that I was insufficiently pro-life and a cafeteria Catholic. I plead guilty on the second charge but not on the first.'' Wouldn't that admission (less than perfect fidelity) seem to weaken the strength of your commentary? My question is genuine, I am presently in RCIA and so I find the various internal Church debates both fascinating and somewhat disconcerting (when does exploration become a lack of loyalty or love for the Church?) Thanks, I enjoy your column, Brett
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 9:19am
Mr Winters writes a good article.However, by designating certain people as cranks you are putting them on the fringe, loonies so to speak.If we consider who is there we can have images of Hud Gibson and similar holcaust deniers like Bishop Williamson and Nancy Pelosi.I would further this thought but I think its meaning will be grasped and I fear being ranked as a crank . Now what scandalizes you and others is clearly different but by a strange twist of Faith we now consider the one vision as discerning or moderate and the other as fundamentalist .I agree with your overall view and the Colbert parody is true and correct to me. Please find more vices in Democrats and virtues in Republicans and the comments on Judgement will ring clearer
Anonymous | 2/20/2009 - 12:58pm
The loyalty or lack thereof of Church members to the positions promulgated by the Bishops or the Pope does not in any way affect their truth or falsity. Neither, by the way, does the office held. Something that is false, like the assertion that individual life begins at conception (rather than gastrulation, as embryology texts seem to indicate) or what any celibate says about married sexuality, does not become less false because it is said by the Bishop of Rome. All that papal infallibility lends to the position is that you won't be damned for believing it, since for you it is subjectively - or to be precise - relativisticly - true. Of course, I would not say that in RCIA class or to the Priest who is preparing you. Sometimes going along with the herd is necessary, if only for the comfort of the Priest (who may agree with what I said, but won't dare say so). Don't deprive yourself of the grace of the sacraments because of the church's bureauratic nonsense - God wants you to come to him - he is not concerned over our little debates (since none of us on the left or right has been struck dead lately over any of this).
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 6:56pm
I don't understand an author who, in warning the rest of us to "judge not", starts off by labeling all those disagree with him as "cranks". I just don't get it.
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 5:25pm
"Political opinion makers want controversy but pastors want to save souls." If pastors are concerned for souls they may pay close attention to the words of St. Paul in 1 Cor. 11: 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Better not to give Holy Communion to people who have publicly proven themselves to be in a state of mortal sin. You save them from sacrilege and you prevent scandal from damaging others. That's not being a crank, that's being careful for souls. Red
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 3:16pm
I wonder if Mr. Winters realizes what he has said in acknowledging that he is a cafeteria catholic?
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 3:12pm
Sarah Palin was baptized Catholic, but the issue of her receiving communion does not come up because she now belongs to some small fundamentalist church. How do the two women compare in Milbo's mind - that he now brings up Palin - is it just that both women are political figures that people have commented upon? However, this post was not about politics; it was a very good instruction about harsh judgmentalism-- which Jesus taught is wrong, wrong wrong to do. Judgment is the lord's. We may have political opinions, but that is completely different from judging our fellow humans. Good to be reminded.
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 2:51pm
Dear Michael, Thank you for investing your thoughts and insights on the blogosphere. The exchange of ideas holds great promise for the common good. You mention the following regarding the situation of bishops who choose not to deny communion to pro-abortion politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi: ''(let the rest of us speak out) in support of our bishops who have maintained their sense of pastoral solicitude in the face of so much political pressure from certain conservative lay people.'' My question is this: would you extend that same statement to Catholic bishops pre-1865 who refused to discipline slavery supporting Catholics? Or, likewise, to Catholic bishops who refused to challenge the anti-humanism of the Third Reich? If you would not, why not? Finally, concerning your fourth paragraph. While I agree that neither of two major parties is galvanized to the point of ending abortion, nevertheless their deficiencies in strategy is not a legitimate reason justifying me to gloss over the abortion issue and move to the next moral issue on the list. For the informed Christian's conscience, one simply cannot support the taking of innocent life, born or unborn.
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 2:07pm
Well, it looks the Vatican press office is being more timely and proactive with high-visibility events. It did a great job of setting the tone of the meeting by not allowing photos and making a statement very quickly before Pelosi's team did any spinning. Maybe they are learning something from the SSPX media debacle.
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 12:18pm
So are you a writer or a canonist? Your opinion notwithstanding, the Church has the right to establish regulations for Her members and the duty to make them obligatory if one is to be a member in good standing. Thankfully, no one is forced to stay. The Church says ''life'' is the principal social issue. You cannot be fed, clothed, have health insurance, etc., if you have been murdered. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2270-75) clearly spells out the Church's perennial teaching that abortion is always and everywhere a grave offense against human life. To indicate ''No Communion policy is a radical innovation that should be resisted” indicates your lack of Church history. St. John Chrysostom, (347-407), patron of preachers and a distinguished doctor of the Church once wrote to one of his priests: If some public figure, or some wealthy person who is unworthy, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, forbid him. St. John then explains that he's not speaking ''of some unknown sinner, but of a notorious one.'' He advocates withholding Communion only with respect to ''those who sin openly. Judge not? This appears another attempt to twist a teaching to suit your agenda. No, we may not judge a man’s heart, but we can certainly judge actions. We do this every day with our children, as jurors, etc. It is true Republicans did not overturn Roe although some steps were taken to reduce abortion. We now witness those steps reversed one at a time—more dead babies. Catholics with their votes now actively cooperate with evil. I will never stop thinking Roe will be overturned as was slavery and Dred Scott. It took a war “over one issue” before we finally saw the fallacy of the Supreme Court when it ruled Blacks had no rights. The day will come when we will recognize the rights of the pre born—I pray it will come before we sanction the murder of another 50,000,000 babies,
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 11:46am
There is a profound difference between criticizing one's fitness for office and publicly speculating on the state of one's soul and fitness to receive communion. Would that the Pro-Life office were better advised. They could have expressed a desire that the Speaker, who is in some ways equivalent to a Prime Minister (without the executive portfolio), bring forth a bill to grant the unborn some measure of recognition at some stage of the pregnancy - which Congress can do under the 14th Amendment. Not doing so is a sin of omission, rather than commission. One wonders whether some in the USCCB or Vatican pro-life offices are informed that the year is not 1972, meaning that the legalization of abortion is not on any legislative agenda.
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 10:10am
Oh, okay. As though refusing to give Communion to these people could never be a gentle, pastoral decision. Only giving them Communion is pastorally sensitive and wise.
Anonymous | 2/19/2009 - 9:02am
Remember all the uncharitable comemnts about Sarah Palin? Some of them were from your own pen. Let us be consistent if we are condemning those who judge others. Otherwise, your pandering is nothing more than hypocritical self-righteousness.

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