Kmiec, To His Left and Right

I haven’t posted or commented on the situation of the Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec and his experience with being refused Communion. It certainly has split the conservatives within Catholicism.

My readers know my position on the use of the liturgy and sacraments as a tool of persuasion. I appreciate bishops and pastors making good attempts to persuade Catholics who operate in the public eye. I prefer that such persuasion itself never come to the public eye. I just have no interest in making a habit or hobby of monitoring the sins or accused sins of others. And really, neither should any of the rest of us.

Let me call your attention to a very interesting thread at Crooks and Liars, a liberal blog that focuses on politics. The commentariat there is crude and vicious at times. A strangely familiar sensation, I tell you. But it gives some insight as to what happens in the camp on the other side of the culture wars where religion is concerned.

It should show the ineffectivity of using the Eucharist as a beating stick. As a tool for self-embarrassment, it seems to do the job just fine.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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28 Responses to Kmiec, To His Left and Right

  1. My understanding of the point of Canon 915 is not to use the Eucharist as a means of persuasion, a “beating stick”, or a weapon, but rather to avoid the scandal to the faithful of admitting infamous grave sinners to communion, and to avoid abuse of the Sacrament. Even is no one is persuaded not to support abortion, avoiding both scandal and outrage to the Real Presence seems to me to be cause enough to take this action.

    My view is that it is Kmiec, Sebelius, Kennedy, Pelosi, Durbin and others who are using communion as a weapon, by publicly receiving while also publicly declaring their support of abortion rights, and the most pro-abortion of candidates, in order to drive home message that support of abortion is fully consistent with Catholic teaching, and that no ecclesial penalty should or will accrue to vocal public abortion supporters.

    This weapons strikes at the innocents, nearly 3,000 per day in the U.S., who are killed by abortion, the faithful who are scandalized, the Real Presence of Christ Whose sacrifice is thus mocked, and the honor of the Church which is held up to ridicule. To say nothing of the damage to the souls of those abortion supporters who are allowed to believe that it’s OK to unworthily receive.

  2. Todd says:

    I read you, Paul.

    Kmiec, a well-known and staunch defender of life, would disagree, probably.

    What is more likely to be happening here is a phenomenon of ultra-orthodoxy. It’s not enough to be Pro-Life, but one also has to toe the line with the right lingo and actions. Kmiec’s “defection” pains others. Rather than confront the facts of his argument, the conversation–even the listening–is bypassed and he’s condemned as vigorously as anyone.

    But tell me, how many of those 3,000 were saved by the energy expended to disallow his Communion, then discuss it?

  3. Gavin says:

    As a tool for self-embarrassment, [withholding Holy Communion] seems to do the job just fine.

    how many of those 3,000 were saved by the energy expended to disallow his Communion, then discuss it?

    I agree completely. Another question: what exactly did Kmiec do wrong? The general election hasn’t come yet, so he can’t have VOTED FOR Obama. And even still, that only constitutes sin if one votes BECAUSE OF the candidate’s support of abortion. I think Kmiec ought to have his head examined, but I say that more as an American than from a religious standpoint.

    I’ve long suspected that refusing communion is usually just a way for pro-lifers* to humiliate their political adversaries. I remember, as a Kerry-supporting Catholic in ’04, being hounded by protestant republicans, “but Kerry got excommunicated! His own church doesn’t even like him!” And now they’re turning their ire on professors, just to flex their muscle. If only they’d put that much work into supporting LIFE rather than politics as usual.

    *I realize that there are many priests and bishops who exercise the no-communion rule out of a genuine care for the soul of the offender. And I applaud that. However, the internet commentariat bashing everyone from Kerry to Weurl don’t seem to care which place the pro-aborts wind up so long as they’re duly humiliated.

  4. Liam says:


    Kmiec has not endorsed abortion rights. Read very carefully. He has not.

    He has endorsed a candidate. There is a HUGE difference – it’s completely different category.

    That’s why the denial of communion to him was so egregious – it confused categories.

  5. So he’s endorsed the most pro-abortion candidate in history, but since he means well, it’s OK?

    What if someone were to (as someone has) murder an abortion doctor — not because he wanted to murder, but in order to prevent the deaths of innocents? If he means well, that’s OK?

    I seem to remember something that was said to be paved with good intentions, and I also have a vague recollection of being told by someone or other to judge a thing by its fruits.

    In effect, support for Obama is support for abortion, as much as Prof. Kmiec or anyone else might wish otherwise.

    Gavin asks “what exactly did Kmiec do wrong?” I answer: when a man of Kmiec’s stature and reputations goes public with pronouncements such as his statement that Obama is “a Catholic natural,” it serves to give great scandal to the faithful, and it increases the likelihood that abortion will continue unabated, and even increase, throughout the foreseeable future. If Kmiec is successful in his effort to persuade Catholics to help elect Sen. Obama, then he will be at least partially responsible for the consequences of that election, intended or otherwise.

    And it’s not as if the consequences of an Obama presidency, as regards abortion policy, contraception, or euthanasia, are particularly difficult to foresee.

  6. Michael says:

    it serves to give great scandal to the faithful

    Only if the faithful are idiots.

  7. Only if the faithful are idiots.

    Got it, Michael. There’s no such thing as scandal. Understood.

    It’s just simply OK to support abortion and still be in communion with the Church. That teaching can mean whatever we want it to mean, just like all the others.

  8. Jim McK says:

    The real question is ‘how many of those 3,000 could be saved by outlawing abortion?’

    That calls for a prudential judgment which should be guided by those who know about the effects of “outlawing” something — lawyers and politicians more than bishops.

  9. Jimmy Mac says:

    Reality check: there are no, nor will there probably ever be, an anti-abortion candidate who is actually true to his word! If you think McBush will take up the cudgel against Roe v Wade you need to stop smoking what you are smoking. The Congress will not force the issue. The Supreme Court won’t deal with the issue. It is a moot point until and if the electorate decides by a significant amount of voters to do something.

    The Catholic Church has been singularly ineffective in persuading not only the country but its own adherents of the wrongness of abortion. Why should the electorate or POTUS enforce what the church(es) can’t persuade?

    If voting for Obama incurs excommunication, count me as proudly excommunicated.

  10. Liam says:


    Obama is hardly the *most pro-abortion candidate in history*. He’s had many predecessors.

    Kmiec did not endorse Obama out of agreement with his position on abortion. That is what is required for you to treat him as you do. He endorsed him for other reasons, and gave his arguments about the proportionate weighing of those reasons. You disagree – you are not alone. But the minister of communion doesn’t get to deny him communion on that basis alone nor on the basis of scandal on that basis alone.

    Again, in this context, the denial of communion was egregious. There’s been considerable conservative Catholic opinion to that effect as well – in fact, I would say it represents a consensus (consensus does not mean unanimity).

  11. Jimmy Mac: I understand you; abortion can’t be abolished, therefore abortion doesn’t matter as a political issue. That makes abortion OK and Catholic teaching on the topic irrelevant, since most people aren’t persuaded.

    Liam: I understand you; Obama isn’t the worst ever, that makes him OK. Kmiec means well, that makes him OK.

    And just to review, there is no such thing as scandal.

    And you guys are Catholic in the sense of…?

  12. Liam says:


    You can’t read, it seems. I didn’t say Obama is OK. I said that endorsing Obama *in spite of* his position on abortion (rather than *because of it*) is not in and of itself forbidden by the CHurch. Read what the Church actually teaches.

    But you are eager to excommunicate.

    Unlike the Church.

  13. Liam says:

    NOw, in case you are interested in what *I* personally think here (in addition to what the Church thinks), though you’ve not betrayed any interest in it:

    I think a strong Catholic case can be made for not voting for either major party presidential nominee.

    I also think a reasoned Catholic case can be made to permit a Catholic to vote for either candidate in spite of certain positions he holds that contradict Church teaching. When a Catholic does so in a very public forum where he or she is speaking as a Catholic, he or she should endeavor to be clear what is objectionable. (For example, I find Obama’s positions on abortion and ESCR very objectionable; I object to McCain’s utilitarian approach to jus ad bello that conflicts with Church teaching. Et cet.) Kmiec has done this in a reasonable way. He does not have to do so in a way that is persuasive to every Catholic, on in a reasonable way. He may also weigh not only issues absolutely but in terms of the relative power of the office the candidate seeks to effect deeply positive change on the moral issue in question (an economist might analogize this to a “discount factor”).

    When Catholics vote for candidates in spite of objectionable positions, I find it helpful for them to avoid scandal by not being involved in fundraising among Catholics or in Catholic institutions for that candidate. I found John Kerry’s trading on his Catholic identity in Catholic institutions, for example, deeply objectionable.

    And I would say John Kerry was more pro-abortion than Obama. John Kerry made abortion rights and ESCR his single most important policy positions – because supporting those were the only two preconditions he placed on McCain’s putative veep spot with him. Now, Bush was also objectionable from a Catholic perspective (torture is no a Catholic value), so I voted for neither candidate in 2004.

    Excommunicate me if you will – but you have no vote in that regard.

  14. But you are eager to excommunicate.

    I am eager to outlaw abortion, just as other evils such as slavery, murder, robbery, piracy, counterfeiting, carjacking, and mail fraud have been outlawed. Unlike Prof. Kmiec.

  15. Liam says:

    You don’t know that about Prof Kmiec. You only know he disagrees with you about a political endorsement.

    And you are still eager to excommunicate.

    In fact you appear willing to employ utilitarianism in pursuit of your goal. Which is rather unCatholic too….

  16. You don’t know that about Prof Kmiec. You only know he disagrees with you about a political endorsement.

    And you are still eager to excommunicate.

    You don’t know that about me. You only I disagree with you about Prof. Kmiec’s motives.

    Pot, meet kettle.

  17. Liam says:

    Actually, what I wrote corresponds to what you have written. Your attempt at tit-for-tat fails. And, even assuming arguendo it did, it still fails to respond as a logical matter. QED.

  18. Indeed it does not. I defended the action of withholding communion from Prof. Kmiec, at least in principle. I have not called for anyone’s excommunication here.

  19. Liam says:

    That is sacramental excommunication, dearie. It’s just not juridical excommunication.

  20. Liam, I suspect you of making up that term, “sacramental excommunication” — sweetiecakes.

    Certainly neither searches on Google nor the USCCB website found any matches for the phrase.

    Rather, I did find, searching on Canon 915, this article, from which I quote:

    Canon 915 is a ‘sacramental law’ that talks about the Eucharist and how not to suffer scandal; it is not a penal law. There are four parts to canon 915 that must be satisfied: 1) The sin must be obstinate; 2) the person in question must persist in the sin; 3) the person in question must be a ‘manifest’ (that is ‘public’) sinner; and, 4) it must be a grave sin. When all requirements are met, the Bishop, bound by canon 915 to protect the integrity of the Eucharist, must give the public notification to his priests and deacons not to allow sacrilegious Communions, and to not cause scandal to the people. The Bishop here is not putting ‘sanction’ on the persons in question; they have, in fact, fallen under the canon 915 sacramental prohibition themselves.

    My argument is that by publicly asserting that support for pro-abortion politicians without a proportionate reason is consistent with Catholic teaching, as Prof. Kmiec persists in doing, he has excluded himself from communion with the faithful.

    I’d like to make something else clear. Senator Obama is my senator. I disagree with him on just about every issue, foreign policy, domestic policy, fiscal policy, and I have strong reasons to believe that he lacks integrity and character and is dishonest.

    He has also promised that his first priority as President will be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, expressed regret that he didn’t object to the unanimous consent of the bill that allowed Terri Schiavo’s parents to seek redress in the Federal Courts, argued in favor of partial birth abortion, and led the fight in Illinois against the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. Too, he has promised to appoint justices to the Supreme Court that will vote to uphold Roe. He has also referred to babies as punishment and promised to support gay marriage. These are agressively pro-abortion positions.

    If I agreed with all his other policies, and thought well of him personally, if I trusted him, I still could not vote for him for any office because of his anti-life votes and positions.

    There is simply no proportionate reason to support Obama. There is nothing in his positions to balance the continued deaths of 1.5 million innocents per year.

    By contrast, if Senator Obama were opposed to abortion, dedicated to bringing an end to it, devoted to bringing about a true culture of life, determined to protect and strengthen the traditional family, I would feel obligated to support him, even with all the other policy disagreements I have with him.

    Sen. McCain is not perfect on the life issues. As I’ve repeatedly written on my blog, he really doesn’t get it. But he has promised to appoint justices to the court that would be likely to overturn Roe, and his voting record in the Senate is strongly anti-abortion.

    Too, there is no policy of McCain’s that is similarly outrageous to human dignity as to cost 1.5 million innocent deaths per year.

    These are not matters of opinion, but easily verified facts.

    In such a case, Catholic teaching is clear. The only Catholics supporting Obama are those who have deliberately chosen to deny the facts, reject Catholic teaching, and pretend that an agressive pro-abortion agenda is not an integral part of the candidate they are embracing. You can’t just support only the part of the candidate you like. Your vote is indivisible. In supporting Obama, you are supporting all of Obama’s positions. You are declaring that even Obama’s pro-abortion record and promises are palatable to you.

    Maybe you can sleep with that on your conscience. I couldn’t.

  21. Liam says:

    To quote a very conservative Catholic canonist, the redoubtable Ed Peters, whose opinion on this issue was widely shared among much of the conservative Catholic commentariat online:

    “…to deny Kmiec holy Communion for his actions to date? No way. In the face of Canons 18, 213, 843, and 912, Canon 915 indeed authorizes withholding Communion from those who (a) obstinately, (b) persevere in (c) manifest (d’) grave (d”) sin. But about the only thing Kmiec is (so far) is manifest.

    I have been urging for years that greater respect for Our Lord in the Eucharist be shown by, among other ways, withholding holy Communion from certain figures who fail to meet the requirements set out in canon law. I suppose it’s inevitable that, with steps finally being taken toward the enforcement of Canon 915, some hotheads are going to misapply the law. But that’s not the law’s fault; that’s bad catechesis, something over which even priests can stumble.

    In short, by my read, Prof. Kmiec is owed an apology.”

  22. Now, I cannot contradict this. Ed Peters is indeed a widely respected and conservative canonist, and he thinks Kmiec shouldn’t be denied communion.

    I’m just a regular guy, one of the faithful, and I’m scandalized, and I disagree. But everyone knows I can’t be the one who’s right.

    Peters locuta esta, causa finita est.

  23. Jimmy Mac says:

    Paul: your naivete is amazing. Do you really think that “outlawing” abortion will reduce abortions? What it will do is force women into unhealthy and untenable situations reminiscent of pre-Roe V Wade days.

    Persuasion is not accomplished by coercion. One would think that Catholics would have learned this after so many centuries of failed and sinful coercion.

  24. Jimmy, by that logic, we could reduce convenience store robberies by legalizing them, and reduce gun ownership by de-regulating it.

    Besides which, the famous “pre-Roe V Wade days” were a sham. All those stories about hundreds of thousands of women killed in back-alley abortions were lies. This has been well-documented.

    But don’t let me dissuade you; you just enjoy your pro-abortion fairy tales. I’m sure they help you sleep at night.

  25. Michael says:

    Got it, Michael. There’s no such thing as scandal. Understood.

    Paul, you are in disagreement with the Church, as is the priest who denied Kmiec communion. Accept it or not, but you are the one who sins here, and you are the one incapable of understanding what’s going on. Scandal is caused here only to idiots. You are clearly an idiot.

  26. Scandal is caused here only to idiots. You are clearly an idiot.

    Scandal caused to idiots is not sin. Got it.

  27. A word from the administrator: let’s take the temperature of this conversation down a few notches. Name-calling is unnecessary. Take some time to compose vigorous rejoinders, but keep it to the issues, not to the persons themselves.

  28. Thanks for that; I was planning to ask about calling people idiots next.

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