At the Dominican parish where I attend Mass, we have a wonderful pastor, a priest born in Jamaica. He celebrates Mass reverently, his homilies are always thoughtful, well-constructed and profoundly orthodox, and most people in the parish view him as a tremendous gift. We have not always been blessed with great pastors, but we are now.
I was shocked and horrified, therefore, when I heard him announce last Sunday that he has been receiving anonymous, “uncharitable” emails. “I cannot change the color of my skin,” he announced, “so if you do not wish to associate with a person of color, then there may be churches that will accept you, but you have no place here.” Amen, Father.
My immediate reaction upon hearing that someone was writing such evil things to our pastor was to say to myself – I’m sure I was not alone in this – “You can’t write to my priest that way! How dare you!” And then, in my anger, I thought: “If I could find that guy, I would kick him in the stomach! I mean, don’t you dare darken the doorsteps of this church until and unless you repent of what you did.”
It’s not up to me to decide those who can and cannot present themselves at Mass. But I mean, really! The patron of the Dominican province in which I live is St. Martin de Porres, another black man. His statue is out in the courtyard of the church. Given all that, who would be so stupid as to imagine that keeping black people out of the Church would be acceptable for a Catholic? Some do, it seems. Likely not many, but at least one.
Should such a person present himself for Communion? Is this person really in communion with the Catholic Church? Or is he holding on to a hateful prejudice and acting on it in a way that has ruptured his relationship with Christ and His Church? It’s not up to me to decide, but it’s worth asking.
Now as disconcerting as it is to hear there are still people who would say such things, it’s not as uncommon as we might wish to believe. If you are anything like me, you might be saying to yourself: “I never see anybody make overtly racist comments. In fact, I don’t think I even know anyone who would make comments like that.” People of color will tell you, however, that people still do. How is this possible? Among the major divisions in our society, one is between the majority who would never talk or think this way and those who still do.
So when we claim that racism has largely disappeared from society, we should do so with caution. It may not be something certain groups of white people see, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in places we do not see. Sadly, it is. To a certain extent, incessant talk of “micro-aggressions” and “systemic racism,” which many people find questionable, can detract from admitting that overtly racist behavior still exists in dark corners of our society. It should come as no shock, however, given the constant teaching of the Church, that such attitudes and behavior are unacceptable for a Catholic.
There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce in which a woman after death is offered the chance to go to Heaven. “No, no,” she protests, “not if those people are there, people of that sort.” But accepting those people is the price of entry. She can’t, so back to Hell she goes. You don’t get to keep your hellish ways in Heaven.
How much eager support would I get if I said: “This racist person should not present himself for Communion”? What good liberal bishop would tolerate an openly racist person who supports violence against people of color proudly presenting himself repeatedly for Communion, even if that person was not guilty personally of perpetrating such violence?
A good liberal bishop would likely argue that such a person has clearly put himself outside the communion of the Church, especially if he were claiming publicly that refusing to serve people of color in schools or businesses was not only not contrary to being a Catholic, but a positive good for society. Plenty of people would agree that it would be unacceptable to allow this overt racist to come to Mass as though he were a Catholic in good standing acting in accord with the teachings of the Church. “We can’t have people believing the Church thinks this is okay,” people would say. And to my mind, rightly so.
So, why is Joe Biden still receiving Communion? The only reason any bishop could view his situation differently from the one I posed above would be if he does not believe abortion is killing a human child. And refusing to accept that would put such a bishop at odds with the very clear, definitive teaching of the Catholic Church.
The Second Vatican Council called abortion an “unspeakable crime.” And as John Noonan has shown in The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives, the Church taught from its earliest foundations that abortion is impermissible, even when the surrounding culture was indifferent to it. Where others defended abortion, “Christians proposed a rule which was certain, comprehensive, and absolute.” The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, an authoritative statement of Christian principles composed no later than 100 A.D., condemned abortion as an offense against God and ranked it as a principal sin included with the Ten Commandments.
A bishop who would instantly deny Communion to the overt racist but not to the overt supporter of abortion would reveal himself to be motivated more by current political fads and ideology than by the constant moral teachings of the Church. And whether or not the abortion supporter should be allowed to present himself for Communion, such a cleric should not be allowed to present himself as a bishop in the Catholic Church.
*Image: Pope Francis blesses a woman and her unborn child during a weekly general audience [AP photo]
You may also enjoy:
Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas’ The Church and Racial Questions
George J. Marlin’s The Lion of Münster