Archbishop Vigneron and Bishop Gumbleton may be less at odds than Bishop Gumbleton seems to think. Vigneron’s statements that some individuals should not present themselves for Communion referred to those who publicly advocate for such things as same sex marriages, or any other serious matter, such as the legalization of abortion, not to the private individual who struggles with these matters in his or her conscience, as Gumbleton seems to have in mind.
Congressman Pelosi is an excellent example of a public figure who advocates for positions seriously in conflict with Church teaching. Were the Church to forbid her communion, that would not be a punitive act, though she and others may perceive it that way. Archbishop Vigneron forbade communion to no one. What he requested was that Catholics who behave as Pelosi does, not present themselves for communion. He is calling Pelosi and others to take their faith seriously and to form their consciences in accord with Church teaching. Undoubtedly Vigneron would agree that no one can know the state of Pelosi’s conscience. Only God can. But it is Vigneron’s responsibility to ensure that the Catholic faithful are not mislead by the actions of prominent Catholics and thus he is correct to instruct them about the wrongness of Pelosi’s positions and how her objective actions are ones that compromise her eligibility to receive Communion. Moreover, if in fact, she is culpable for not having formed her conscience correctly, reception of the Eucharist brings her no benefit and some harm, for unworthy reception of the Eucharist is in itself a serious sin.
The eighty-year old couple mentioned by Bishop Gumbleton who have a gay son is another case entirely. Ties of affection such as theirs can easily cloud one’s judgment. If they are struggling to accept Church teaching (as Gumbleton suggests) they may not be subjectively guilty for their failure to accept Church teaching. Nonetheless, even for them Vigneron’s remarks should be helpful. Any Catholic who struggles to accept Church teaching on such clear issues as the impossibility of same sex marriages or of the immorality of abortion, should be striving prayerfully to accept that teaching. Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church on matters of faith and morals. Catholics should experience great interior turmoil when their views conflict with Church teaching. They need to pray about their eligibility to receive Communion and keep asking God to enlighten their intellects so that they can accept Church teaching. The fact that the couple wept because they worry about their eligibility to receive Communion indicates a great love for the Eucharist and, one hopes, for the Church as well. If they were to understand the Church’s teaching fully, they would experience much peace about how much God loves them and their son, and they could receive the Eucharist without hesitation.
My own Catholic father did not accept the Church’s teaching on the need to go to confession. Since he knew this conflicted with Church teaching, he did not receive the Eucharist for many decades although he faithfully attended Sunday liturgy and occasionally daily mass as well. For those long years, I prayed for him and counseled him about the Church’s teaching and finally he returned to confession and Communion. The fact that he abided by Church teaching in respect to eligibility for receiving Communion was extremely impressive to me. I believe he received powerful graces from that fidelity. Had he received Communion without going to confession, I don’t know how efficacious the graces of the Eucharist would have been or whether he would ever have reconciled himself to confession – and been able to enjoy the powerful graces of that sacrament.
I will pray for Bishop Gumbleton that he help the eighty-year old parents understand the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and the Church’s teaching on worthy reception of the Eucharist. And I pray that they will be able to return to Communion, joyfully praising the Lord, the Church, and Archbishop Vigneron.