Friday, December 08, 2006

More on those two nice men

A reader and I have been having a spirited debate about the two men denied Communion by the archbishop of Halifax. For his side, you'll have to check out the comments on the previous post; mine I get to move to the top. I am the blogger after all. :) And I've written quite a bit. And thanks to the commenter--I've definitely enjoyed the conversation.

The crux of our disagreement is whether the archbishop is justified in denying Communion to two men who obtained a same-sex civil marriage. My commenter says that since the two men are in a state of mortal sin, the bishop has the right to do so. I disagree.

First, only an individual person can know whether he or she is in a state of mortal sin; it is a condition of conscience rather than a checklist. The church has traditionally said certain things are mortal sins--from masturbation and missing church on a holy day of obligation to rape and murder (how's that for range?)--but it has never said an individual person is in a state of mortal sin, nor, for that matter, has it said that anyone is in hell. To do so has long been considered a failure of charity.

Technically, for someone free to marry (not already married or a committed celibate) contracting a civil (even a same-sex) marriage is not a sin. The baptized are free to exercise their legal rights within the bounds of the moral law, and the church has never said that contracting a civil marriage is a sin in itself. (Sex within a "merely" civil marriage is, of course, another matter.) It has only said that homosexual sex is sinful, and as I've pointed out, we don't know anything about the sex lives of the gentlemen in question. Just because certain church leaders have opposed laws recognizing same-sex relationships doesn't mean it is a sin to enter one. They are, after all, merely civil contracts. And there are other church leaders who have supported the creation of these legal instruments for a variety of reasons.

[My commenter pointed out the the archbishop may be making a justified "preemptive strike" to defend the church against further government intervention in marriage, for example, requiring faith communities to perform or accept same-sex marriages. My response:]

I'm not sure how using the Eucharist as a "preemptive strike" could ever be appropriate. If the archbishop has an issue with the government, the political process is the proper forum for such an action. His concerns may well be legitimate, but I don't see how making an example of these two individual men--especially since many Catholics in Canada have probably entered these arrangements--will achieve his purpose.

The canons are very clear here: Only someone who "obstinately perseveres in manifest grave sin" can be denied communion. Canons that restrict the rights of the baptized have to be interpreted narrowly and on the basis of plain language. In this case, I think "manifest" is what is key: The sin has to be public, and in this case, if they are having sex, it seems to be in private. As I said, it is not a sin to enter a civil contract, and there could be many reasons one would choose to do so, government and tax benefits being obvious ones.

I know I'll be accused of naivete here--"of course they're having sex!"--but the point is, it's not my business, and canon law also says the baptized have a right to privacy. So I'm in no position to make presumptions about their secret sins or to speculate as to the condition of their consciences, both of which violate the demands of charity.


At 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you seem to imply that abstaing from communion is the worst embarssment one could ever face. There have been a few occasions where I have abstained from communion because I knew I was in a state of mortal sin. I didn't feel like everyone was looking at me. In some of the more traditional Catholic countries there are many who willingly abstain from communion each week. The Eucharist is not a right that we can demand under any circumstances. We must be properly disposed.

At 8:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We also have to realize that these men exercised an element of choice. They man have not chosen to be gay, but they did choose to enter into a relationship and get married. The Church was merely enforcing her rules.


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