Holy Communion: A Case Study
Most Reverend Rene Henry Gracida, DD
Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi
"So you wish to stray and be lost?
How much better I do not also wish this.
Certainly, I dare say, I am unwelcome. But I listen to the Apostle who
Preach the word; insist upon it, welcome and unwelcome.
Welcome to whom? Unwelcome to whom?
By all means welcome to those who desire it; unwelcome to those who do
However unwelcome, I dare to say: You wish to stray, you wish to
but I do not want this For the One whom I fear does not wish this.
And should I wish it, consider His words of reproach:
The straying sheep you have not recalled; the lost sheep you have
Shall I fear you rather than Him?
Remember we must all present ourselves before the judgment seat
I shall recall the straying; I shall seek the lost.
Whether they wish it or not, I shall do it."
(St. Augustine, Sermo, 46, 1-2: CCL 41, 529-530)
The controversy over denying Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians
has generated a lot of heat and very little light. Sacred Scripture and
the Magisterium of the Church have spoken clearly on the subject, but some
either do not understand what has been said, or worse, have chosen to ignore
Saint Paul said: "This means that whoever eats the bread or drinks
the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the body and blood of the Lord.
A Man should examine himself first, only then should he eat of the bread
and drink of the cup. He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body
eats and drinks a judgment on himself." (1 Corinthians 11:27-29) The
prohibition found in the declarations of the Magisterium is based on this
divine revelation. The Church is not free to enact positive ecclesiastical
laws which would oppose this revealed doctrine.
"Therefore it is the shepherds task not to keep silent, and it
is your task, even if we the shepherds are silent, to hear the words of
The Shepherd from the Scriptures." (St. Augustine, Sermo 46,
The Magisterium repeats the injunction of Saint Paul in Canon 916 of the
Code of Canon Law: "A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to
celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental
confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity
to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing
as soon as possible." The Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches
has a parallel canon: "Those who are publicly unworthy are forbidden
from receiving the Divine Eucharist" (can. 712).
According to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts in that Councils
June 24, 2000 Declaration on the question: "Should a priest deny Communion
to a Catholic who is an obstinate public sinner?" The answer is "yes."
The reason cited by the Pontifical Council is: "In effect, the reception
of the body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective
harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights
of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies
of that communion" (No. 1).
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Code of Canon Law clearly states
that "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" (can. 915). Significantly,
in the light of the current controversy in the United States, the Pontifical
Council further stated:
Any interpretation of can. 915 that would set itself against
the canons substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the
Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries,
are clearly misleading. One cannot confuse respect for the wording of
the law (cfr. Can. 17) with the improper use of the very same wording
as an instrument for relativizing the precepts or emptying them of their
Relativism is a philosophical term describing a theory that conceptions
of truth and moral values are not based on objectivity and the absolute,
but instead are baseless and grounded on that which is relative and subjective
to the persons or groups holding them.
I suggest that those who maintain that they cannot support the refusing
of Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians because the time of the distribution
of Holy Communion is a time of unity in the Body of Christ are indeed relativizers
of the objectively established precepts. Further, their belief that it would
therefore be wrong to make it a time of confrontation and discord by refusing
Holy Communion to anyone is indeed relativizing the precepts, but moreover,
emptying them of their substance as well.
Those who relativize the belief that it would be wrong to make the time
of receiving Holy Communion a time of confrontation and discord are guilty
of relativizing the objectively based precepts, which are based on Ultimate
Truth Himself. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To relativize or
compromise the objectively based precepts is to directly relativize Truth
The position of those who are opposed to the implementation of Canon 915
for the reasons just cited is untenable. First, because most priests have
had to refuse Holy Communion to someone at one time or another for reasons
having nothing to do with that persons beliefs. No priest, upon seeing
a person standing before him whom he recognizes as having profaned the host
on another occasion would give the host to that person again.
Similarly, most priests, on recognizing that the person standing before
him is not a Christian, would not give that person Holy Communion but would
simply give the person a blessing and ask the person to see him after Mass.
To do otherwise in either case would gravely scandalize the congregation.
Some have indicated their unwillingness to act under the provisions of Canon
915 because they say that they are not in a position to judge another persons
thinking or conscience on the subject of abortion, euthanasia and fetal
experimentation. This is another example of relativizing the precepts or
emptying them of their substance. This is another example of attacking the
Truth Himself, Who is the objective foundation for these precepts, and Who
IS the Holy Communion being attacked!
.when you hear Me say anything, you shall warm them for me.
If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak
out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he shall die for his guilt,
but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked
man, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way,
he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself" (Ezekiel 33:7-9).
The Pontifical Council clearly stated that: "The phrase and others
who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin is clear and must be
understood in a manner that does not distort its sense so as to render the
norm inapplicable. The three required conditions are:
a) grave sin, understood objectively, being that the
minister of communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability;
There can be no doubting that most of the major political figures who
b) obstinate persistence, which means the existence of an objective
situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual
member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements
(attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish
the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.
c) The manifest character of the situation of grave habitual sin."
are on record publicly as favoring abortion-on-demand, euthanasia, cloning
or fetal experimentation qualify under those three conditions for censure.
They qualify for being denied Holy Communion because they have a direct
impact on the moral or immoral structure of a government, inasmuch as they
are the direct agents in matters pertaining to legislation which forms a
structure of sin, or a structure of goodness.
It is true that the Pontifical Council stated that: "Naturally, pastoral
prudence would strongly suggest (emphasis added) the avoidance of instances
of public denial of Holy Communion." Those who seize upon this statement
to justify their refusal to act under the provisions of Canon 915 relativize
the Canon and rob it of all its force. Note that the Pontifical Council
used the word suggest rather than the word demand.
Prudence as defined by Aristotle is the virtue which deals with contingency
and gray areas (cf., Nicomachean Ethics 1144a-1145a). What prudence
strongly suggests in one contingent scenario might be totally different
from another contingent scenario. In an ideal world, we would always avoid
confrontational instances. We are obviously not in an ideal world.
There is no need for public denial of Holy Communion. There is no need to
reduce the need for public denial of Holy Communion to the worst case scenario:
the minister of Holy Communion loudly refusing to give the Host to a loudly
protesting pro-abortion politician in front of a church full of people.
The implementation of Canon 915 can be carried out in complete privacy and
Here is a real case history of implementation of the Churchs prohibition
against politicians who are publicly notorious for their promotion of abortion,
euthanasia, cloning or fetal experimentation.
In 1993 a State Representative, a member of the House of Representatives
of the State of Texas Legislature who maintained a domicile in the Diocese
of Corpus Christi, gave an interview to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times,
the major newspaper in South Texas. The paper profiled the State Representative
on two full pages.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times has always been, and remains today,
a strongly pro-abortion newspaper. The wife of the founding publisher was
one of the founders of Planned Parenthood of Corpus Christi. The paper was
eager to reveal to the world that the State Representative, who had voted
in the Legislature for pro-abortion legislation was a "practicing Catholic."
In the course of the interview, as reported in the newspaper, the State
Representative admitted being a practicing Roman Catholic who felt justified
in supporting abortion-on-demand.
Recognizing the scandal to the faithful which the publication of this interview
would cause, I realized that it was my duty, as Ordinary of the Diocese
of Corpus Christi, to write to the State Representative. I pointed out to
the State Representative that grave scandal had been given in that interview.
I proposed a meeting to discuss the matter with a view to obtaining a retraction
which could be published. Here is the text of that letter:
June 3, 1993
I recently read in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Local News Section
(May 20, 1993), a story entitled "Abortion Amendment is Defeated"
in which you are quoted as having said that you consider yourself "a
very good Catholic." If you are a Catholic I am confident that you
will understand that I am writing to you as the Bishop of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Corpus Christi, and therefore as your pastor.
I am most disturbed to learn about your views regarding abortion. I am
writing this letter to offer you an explanation why no Catholic can be
for abortion in any manner and be a Catholic in good standing. The arguments
against abortion can be seen from two perspectives, from natural law and
from faith. Natural law refers to the fact that when God created us, he
made unwritten laws which bind all human beings in virtue of our nature
regardless of any particular beliefs they may have. From natural law we
have the norm "Thou shalt not kill" which is binding upon all
citizens in any human society.
This norm of natural law respects all innocent human beings from the moment
of their conception in the womb of their mothers to the time of their
natural death. Medical science is very clear in showing that the origin
of each human being in the womb of his/her mother is the moment of conception.
After conception normal development occurs until the baby is actually
born. Therefore from the perspective of natural law abortion is a grievous
offense against this norm which binds all human beings.
But we Christians have an even greater responsibility to respect human
life from conception until natural death. Our faith sheds additional light
on this issue. I am speaking now of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We are told in the Scriptures that when the angel Gabriel came to Mary,
she conceived of Jesus Christ and the Word became flesh. In other words,
Jesus Christ became man from the moment of His conception in His mothers
womb. As Christians we proclaim the truth in the Apostles Creed
that Jesus Christ our Savior became man when he was conceived in the womb
of the Virgin Mary.
He did not become man when he was born, but when he was conceived in the
womb of Mary. And if this is true of Jesus, Lord and Savior of the human
race, then clearly it is true of every human being who God creates through
conception in the womb of its mother. The Church has always taught that
Jesus was like us in every way but sin. We even have a feast day we celebrate
in the Catholic Church to proclaim that Jesus became man at the moment
of Gabriels greeting and Marys response. This feast is called
the Annunciation and it celebrates the fact that God became man at the
(Here followed a paragraph devoted to the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth).
(Here followed a paragraph devoted to teaching that "
man or woman can say I believe that a woman has a right to chose
to kill the baby in her womb.)
I realize that civil law can go against Gods law. This was a problem
for the early Church when Christians were willing to die at the hands
of the Roman state rather than disobey Gods laws. As Catholics we
know that Gods law is to be followed even when civil law fails to
recognize it or even legislates against it. Gods law expressed through
the Bible and in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church has a greater
value than civil law. This is particularly true of Gods law concerning
(Here followed a paragraph explaining that abortion is a mortal sin and
that automatic excommunication from the Church immediately befalls anyone
directly procuring an abortion.)
(Here followed eight paragraphs further detailing the Churchs teaching
on the subject of the sacredness of human life.)
In light of the important teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on human
life beginning at conception, I would like to meet with you personally
about this issue. The position which you presented in the Caller-Times
as a "Catholic" is contrary to the teachings of Jesus as expressed
in His Church. As Bishop of this Diocese and the Shepherd of the souls
entrusted to my care by the Lord and by the successor of Saint Peter,
I have the responsibility to resolve this serious scandal which your public
position on abortion has created.
I will be looking forward to visiting with you about this matter. Please
call my office (XXX-XXX-XXXX) and ask for an appointment to meet with
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Rene Gracida
Bishop of Corpus Christi
There was no response to this letter.
On Sunday, January 30, 1994, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times published
another interview with the State Representative in which it was stated that
the Representative, "a devout Catholic" had not backed away from
advocacy of abortion rights. On February 4, 1994 I sent the Representative
the following letter:
I am writing concerning the article entitled "Upbringing Shaped XXXXXs
Career" on the front page of the Sunday edition of the Corpus Christi
Caller-Times dated January 30, 1994. I am most distressed that the article
notes "XXXXX, a devout Catholic, has not backed away from advocacy
of abortion rights." If the article accurately states your beliefs
and your status as a Catholic, then I am confident that you will understand
that I am writing to you again as the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese
of Corpus Christi, and therefore as your pastor.
My earlier letter to you dated June 3, 1993 was a teaching letter explaining
why no Catholic can be for abortions and be in good standing in the Catholic
Church before the eyes of God. In my earlier letter, I had asked you to
see me about your views, but I never received a response from you.
I regret that now I am compelled by the pastoral good of the local Church
and for the salvation of souls to take the followings actions. I am attaching
to this letter a copy of the teaching letter I wrote to you on June 3,
1993. Secondly, I am writing to inform you that your public position for
abortion is in violation of Canon 1371 which forbids any Catholic to teach
a doctrine condemned by the Roman Pontiff or by an ecumenical council.
Both Pope John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council have condemned abortion
as a grievous offense against the law of God. Thirdly, I am by this letter
giving you a formal warning according to Church law that unless you repent
of your position, I will have no other choice for the good of the Catholic
Church and for the salvation of souls to impose the penalty of forbidding
you from receiving the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Anointing
of the Sick.
As Bishop of this Diocese and the Shepherd of the souls entrusted to my
care by the Lord and by the successor of Saint Peter, I have the responsibility
to resolve this serious scandal which your public position on abortion
I pray that God will give you the grace to repent and retract your advocacy
of abortion. I do want to hear from you about this matter. Please call
my office (XXX-XXX-XXXX) and ask for an appointment to meet with me.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Rene Gracida
Bishop of Corpus Christi
Again, there was not response from the State Representative. Accordingly,
On November 9, 1994 I signed and mailed to the State Representative the
following decree of Interdiction:
DECREE OF CANONICAL PENALTY
In the name of God, Amen!
His Holiness John Paul II, Supreme Pontiff, Gloriously Reigning
I, Rene H. Gracida, Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, am issuing
this decree to you, XXXXXXXX, concerning the matter of your advocacy of
"abortion rights" as reported in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times
dated May 20, 1993 and January 30, 1994. I am distressed that you have
not responded to my two letter dated June 3, 1993 and February 7, 1994
(copies of which are attached to this letter). My letter to you dated
June 3, 1993, was a teaching letter explaining why no Catholic can advocate
abortions and be in good standing in the Catholic Church. My letter dated
February 7, 1994, was a pastoral warning, asking you again to meet with
me and calling you to repent and retract your advocacy of abortion. To
both of these letters, I have never received a response from you.
As Bishop of this Diocese and the Shepherd of the entrusted to my care
by the Lord and by the successor of Saint Peter, I have the responsibility
to resolve this serious scandal which your public position on abortion
has created. Having failed to obtain a retraction from you, I regret that
now I am compelled by the pastoral good of the local Church and for the
salvation of souls to take the following action.
In virtue of the fact that your promotion of abortion is in violation
of Canon 1371 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and in virtue of the fact
that Pope John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council have condemned abortion
as a grievous offense against the law of God and in virtue of the fact
that you have not responded to my two letters nor made known to me any
intention or effort to repent and retract your advocacy of abortion, I,
as Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, have no choice but, by this
letter, to formally impose upon you the penalty of forbidding you to receive
the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick.
I continue to pray that God will give you the grace to repent and retract
your advocacy of abortion. If you come to a change of heart on this matter,
please call my office (XXX-XXX-XXXX) and ask for an appoint to meet with
me. It is with deep sadness and with much regret that I am required for
the good name and pastoral well being of the Catholic Church to affix
my signature to this decree, on this the Seventh Day of November 1994.
Rene Henry Gracida
Bishop of Corpus Christi
Reverend Deacon Roy M. Grassedonio
I never heard from the individual, who died in 2001, while still under Interdiction.
I never publicized the Decree of Interdiction. It was a matter between me,
the individual and God. Whether or not the individual ever received Holy
Communion after having been Interdicted, I do not know, and it is not important
that I should have known since it was a matter of the internal forum. If
the individual did receive Holy Communion while under a Decree of Interdiction
it would have been a further sacrilege.
Some will argue that the Decree of Interdiction should have been made public
at the time it was issued. I disagree. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times would
have exploited the news just as they had exploited the three Decrees of
Excommunication I had earlier issued against three abortionists in Corpus
Christi who chose to make their excommunication known publicly. If it had
been reported to me that the individual was receiving Holy Communion after
receiving the Decree of Interdiction I would have published the decree in
the Diocesan Newspaper.
In summary, every bishop has the duty and obligation to implement the provisions
of Canon Law in accordance with the Declaration by the Pontifical Council
for Legislative Texts. There is no need for confrontation at the altar rail
during the distribution of Holy Communion. The Canons can be implemented
without public confrontation at the time Holy Communion is being distributed.
The Most Reverend Rene Henry Gracida, DD
Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi
PO Box 217
Tynan, Texas 78391-0217