Sunday, April 28, 2013

Withholding Eucharist

Apparently the Catholic Church is saying that Catholics who disagree with the church’s teachings on abortion and gay marriage may be refused communion. According a theologian quoted in this article:
"… about 30 or so bishops have said that pro-choice or pro-gay-marriage Catholics should not present themselves for Communion."
An Episcopalian retired bishop, Gene Robinson, has criticized the Catholic bishops for injecting politics into a sacrament. “I believe that using Communion as such a manipulative tool surely profanes the sacrament.”

I will try to avoid the temptation to make snarky comments about Episcopalians and politics – however laughable it is that a minister of a mainstream Protestant denomination in the US should criticize anyone for politicizing religion. Isn’t politics (under the term ‘social justice’) pretty much all the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists are about these days? Which may have something to do with their declining membership.

I didn’t do a very good job of avoiding that temptation, did I?

With that aside, however, my feelings are mixed on this. I do not agree with the Catholic Church on a number of points (which is why I am no longer a Catholic). I have ambivalent and regularly changing views on abortion and I am opposed to the church’s position on gay marriage.

However, what is not mixed is my belief that a church, any church, has the right to make any rule it wants on any subject, however stupid you or I may think that rule.  Those who don’t like the rules can either keep quiet about it or leave (which was, eventually, my choice). If enough people leave a church because it has silly rules, then the church will fade into insignificance and the issue will be resolved that way. Sort of a free-market approach to religion, I guess.

When I was reading these articles, though, a memory of an old case from my youth hopped into my mind. A bit of googling and wikipeding proved my memories to be fairly accurate.

In 1962, at the height of the battle over school desegregation in the south, the Archbishop of New Orleans, Joseph Rummel, announced that Catholic schools in the archdiocese would be (belatedly) integrated at the beginning of the coming school year.

Of course, many Catholics were among those who opposed his decision, some quite loudly. My recollection was of a woman coming to the communion rail and being refused because of the Archbishop’s orders. That may well have happened, but apparently Rummel went further – he excommunicated some of the opposition leaders.
Archbishop Rummel formally announced the end of segregation in the New Orleans parochial school system on March 27, 1962. The 1962-1963 school year would be the first integrated school year in the history of the Archdiocese.
White segregationists were outraged. Politicians organized "citizen's councils", held public protests, and initiated letter writing campaigns. Parents threatened to transfer their children to public schools or even boycott the entire school year. Rummel issued numerous letters to individual Catholics, pleading for their cooperation and explaining his decision. He even went so far as to threaten opponents of desegregation with excommunication, the most severe censure of the Church. The threats were enough to convince most segregationist Catholics into standing down. Nevertheless, some parishioners continued to organize protests.
On April 16, 1962, the Monday before Easter, he excommunicated three local Catholics for defying the authority the Church and organizing protests against the Archdiocese.
 I wonder if Bishop Robinson would have criticized Rummel for politicizing the Church through his actions.

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