Monday, April 26, 2004

"The Final Sanction" and "Pascal's Wager"

In a column for, Charlotte Hays (describing herself as a Republican, and Arinze as "one of her favorite cardinals") makes her case that the Church should -- for the time being -- continue to give Senator Kerry communion "if he asks for it", regardless of whether he stands in opposition to his Church's teachings (You can read her column here).

Ms. Hays contends that

The Church must do a better job of forming consciences in general, and John Kerry's conscience in particular. Kerry deserves to know, and to be told repeatedly, first in private and then in public, that he cannot claim to be a good Catholic as things stand. Public sinner though he is, Kerry deserves lengthy, intense, and private consultation from his Church before, if it comes to that, he must be turned away from communion. In a way, it's possible to regard Arinze's remarks as a way to open the campaign to educate John Kerry about what it means to be a Catholic. . . .

The important thing is to offer John Kerry the chance to do the right thing. Is a holy flip-flop impossible? Improbable? Yes, but with God all things are possible, and John Kerry deserves the chance to embrace his faith publicly. If he refuses, and if he becomes president, then the Church should turn him away. Having a Catholic of such stature flout the teachings of the Church would be untenable. The matter would no longer revolve around one politician's conscience but around the edification of the entire flock.

Ms. Hays makes some good points in her column, and I agree with her on this:
The problem with sanctioning Kerry is that part of the blame lies with the Church itself. The Church has not done an adequate job of forming consciences in this regard. Ordinary Catholics do not realize why certain difficult teachings are of paramount importance to leading a Christian life. So many Catholics think of abortion as something on which the Church has a "rule," but they do not realize that the Church's defense of innocent life has a direct link to Christ himself. There is a connection between killing an innocent child and killing Christ all over again. The Church teaches that every life matters. Every human being is offered redemption by that one oblation made on the cross. Because every life is important, even the most inconvenient among us cannot be snuffed out in utero.
However, I disagree with her proposal that the prudential and compassionate route would be to continue to give Kerry communion and postpone the "final sanction" until his presidency for the following reasons:
  1. From the Pope's encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" to the recently published "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life" (specifically for those in Kerry's line of work) to the Bishop's document "Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility" to the public responses of several courageous bishops to Kerry's own private meeting with Archbishop Kerrick, who I'll wager reiterated the Church's teaching -- I believe the Church has already put forth a significant amount of effort to educate Kerry (and other Catholics) on the incompatibility of supporting abortion and being a "Catholic in good standing." If Kerry doesn't get the message, he's either deaf or unwilling to listen.

  2. Ms. Hays' plea to give Kerry communion EVEN IF he persists in supporting abortion would contradict the Church's chief obligation to care for the salvation of his soul. If Kerry's priest values his soul, and takes seriously St. Paul's warning of "eating and drinking to one's damnation," then -- until Kerry publicly renounces his stance and indicates that he will adhere to the Church's teachings -- I would think it far better to refuse communion, causing temporary public embarassment, than risk jeopardizing his soul for eternity.

Finally, getting philosophical for a moment, I find the dilemma is reminiscent of "Pascal's Wager": supposing that the Church's teaching were true, and that one could indeed merit damnation by unfaithful reception of the Eucharist . . . wouldn't it be in one's best interest to refrain? And seen in this light, wouldn't it be the greatest sign of personal disrespect and carelessness as Kerry's priest to continue to dispense communion under the present circumstances?

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