The fact that such a suggestion should be controversial is itself a mark of where we have got to and where we are heading.
The fact that the Bishops' Conference, apparently, decided that it was necessary to distance themselves from his remarks is even more disturbing.
And the fact that Greg Pope, who has a record of voting against Catholic teaching when an MP, was the one chosen to publicise their distancing, demonstrates an incredible... what's the word?... insensitivity?... arrogance?... idiocy?... for once, my usual grasp of the richness and nuance of the English language is eluding me. I just can't find words for that.
My friend the Part Time Pilgrim, who is a wise and charitable soul, as far as I can tell (we have never met) points out that Canon Law requires protracted, obstinate and manifest grave sin for someone to be formally forbidden from receiving communion, and questions whether those criteria are met in the case of an MP who has once voted for 'same sex marriage.' (UPDATE: Part Time Pilgrim has blogged on this here: well worth reading.)
However, I think that +Egan was not imposing a canonical penalty; rather he was teaching an established truth. Here is what he is quoted (here) as saying: “When people are not in communion with the Catholic Church on such a central thing as the value of life of the unborn child and also in terms of the teachings of the church on marriage and family life – they are voting in favour of same-sex marriage – then they shouldn’t be receiving Holy Communion.”
That does not read like the imposition of a canonical penalty, but rather a call to conversion. Indeed, he goes on that reminding people of this is: 'always an act of mercy... with the hope and prayer that that person can be wooed back into full communion with the Church.'
As I have had occasion to remark recently, on a different, though in some ways related, matter, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear on this:
§1355 In the communion, preceded by the Lord's prayer and the breaking of the bread, the faithful receive "the bread of heaven" and "the cup of salvation," the body and blood of Christ who offered himself "for the life of the world":Likewise:
Because this bread and wine have been made Eucharist ("eucharisted," according to an ancient expression), "we call this food Eucharist, and no one may take part in it unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught." (St. Justin, Apol. 1, 66,1-2: PG 6, 428)
§1385 To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." (1 Cor 11:27-29.) Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.Thus Bishop Egan, as I read it, was reminding people of these formal teachings. He was not saying that he would refuse communion as a canonical penalty, but reminding MPs who have publicly repudiated the teaching, and therefore the teaching authority, of the Church, that they should not present themselves for communion.
Nor was he (and nor am I) judging that such people are necessarily in a state of mortal sin: we cannot know the state of their soul. However what we can know is that they do not believe what the Church teaches is true. Indeed, in order to vote for SSM in good conscience, they must have consciences that are formed in a way quite antithetical to Catholic belief and teaching.
The other consideration here is that of public scandal.
By their refusal to back Bishop Egan's stance, the hierarchy in this country (and Wales) are losing a teaching moment. They could be teaching their flock something important (viz the truth). Instead, they risk teaching them, implicitly, a lie. That lie is that it doesn't matter if you believe and act in ways contrary to the teaching of the Church: you are still fine to receive the Blessed Sacrament.
That is a serious issue, as St Paul made very clear.
But alas, when acting collectively, our bishops seem to prefer fudge to clarity. Yet clarity and charity are closely related, given the bishops' office as teachers of truth. Frankly, I think it shameful that they have not taken this teaching opportunity, and predict that it will prove a weapon in the hands of those who seek to water down the Faith.
One can already see the way the straws are blowing in the wind, when one looks at what various MPs are saying about this (here):
First Conor Burns:
“I think it is a great pity, indeed a tragedy, that this bishop appears not to have noticed that we have a new gentle shepherd preaching a Christ-like message of inclusivity, love tolerance and forgiveness. I look to the guidance of the Holy Father Pope Francis.”
(No, Mr Burns; I am so sorry your feelings have been upset, but it is not the arrival of this bishop that means you are no longer a practising Catholic... As for the Holy Father, I think you have been misled by the media.)
Next, Siobhain McDonagh
“There are some old-fashioned diehards in the Church, just as there are in the wider community. But most Catholics I know would be horrified if anyone was barred from communion simply for voting to support other Catholics who are gay, or Catholic women who want the right to choose.”
(Ms McDonagh, supporting people who want the right to choose abortion is completely incompatible with the practice of the Catholic Faith).
Can anyone explain to me why people proclaiming such views should be receiving Holy Communion in a Catholic Church; especially in light of the quotations from the Catechism, cited above?
Let us pray for all our bishops, particularly the courageous Bishop Egan.
St John Fisher: pray for us.