Detroit Archbishop tries to save souls; Mainstream media not happy.


Since when do outlets like Slate, Huffington Post, CNN, Esquire, and USA Today care about who receives Holy Communion? They rarely, if ever, concern themselves with the inner-workings of Jewish or Muslim worship services. Well, since Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said Catholics who support redefining marriage should not receive Holy Communion, a number of secular news outlets have seen to it to let their readers know just how unpopular some Catholics think his decision is.

Here’s what Archbishop Vigneron said that’s got everybody up in arms:

For a Catholic to receive holy Communion and still deny the revelation Christ entrusted to the church is to try to say two contradictory things at once: ‘I believe the church offers the saving truth of Jesus, and I reject what the church teaches.’ In effect, they would contradict themselves. This sort of behavior would result in publicly renouncing one’s integrity and logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury.

Detroit Archbishop

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Some Catholics respond to a situation like this by arguing Holy Communion should not be used as a political weapon. If a politician who promotes principles antithetical to Church teaching presents themselves for Communion, they should not be denied, because ultimately it is God who will decide if that politicians’ actions are right or wrong. Not the priest.

This argument is wrong on a number of fronts. Archbishop Vigneron oversees the Archdiocese of Detroit, home to 1.3 million Catholics. That’s 1.3 million souls he is responsible for getting into heaven. It’s a responsibility I would not want to have at this point in my life. As the Book of James reminds us, “not many of you should become teachers… for you will be judged more strictly.”

As such, Archbishop Vigneron is responsible for doing everything he can to make sure those 1.3 million Catholics are not in danger of losing their souls to eternal damnation. He will be judged more strictly for his actions than the rest of us. Therefore, he is responsible for making sure, among other things, that the deposit of faith is upheld. He is also responsible for making sure those 1.3 million Catholics are able to go to confession on a regular basis, that they are able to attend Mass as frequently as possible, and that they are in a state of grace while attending Mass so they can worthily receive Holy Communion, lest they further compound their sins and offend God even more.

Outlets like Esquire and the Huffington Post are trying to turn this into a political issue by arguing Catholics can support redefining marriage if their conscience tells them, and that this is nothing more than a conservative Archbishop trying to punish liberal Catholics.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Ed Peters – a professor of Canon Law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and legal adviser to the Vatican – has pointed out on his blog over the past several weeks, Canon Law 915 explicitly states “Those…who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

There is no wiggle room here. That is what the Church teaches. It is not a conservative issue. It is not a liberal issue. It is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Period.

Be that as it may, the Detroit Free Press made Peters seem like he was but one of a handful of supporters of Archbishop Vigneron’s statement. The Free Press quotes Fr. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University as saying “Most American bishops do not favor denying either politicians or voters Communion because of their positions on controversial issues.” Fr. Reese added that only about “30 or so bishops have said that pro-choice or pro-gay-marriage Catholics should not present themselves for Communion.”

Dr Ed Peters

Dr. Edward Peters

Again, by citing Fr. Reese, the Free Press is attempting to undermine Archbishop Vigneron and Peters’ arguments. But as Peters points out on his blog, Fr. Reese’s statement is misleading: “Reese is commenting on how bishops act whereas I am commenting on how canon law expects bishops and others to act. Reese’s claim about bishops’ (in)action, even if true, would not make my views (actually, the 1983 Code’s views, resting on settled Church teaching) wrong, it would simply mark them as ignored.”

Interestingly enough, CNN also makes it seem like Peters – who Esquire calls a “nuisance” and claims is merely relying on his own opinions and not Canon Law – is on the wrong side of history. At the end of the CNN article, readers are conveniently reminded that “a majority of Catholics, according to polling, disagree with [Peters’] view of Communion.” To which I would respond, thank God we don’t decide what is right and wrong in the Catholic Church based on polling data.

In an effort to make Peters and Archbishop Vigneron appear even more off base, Slate interviewed the reliably left-leaning Michael Sean Winters. “The principal threat to our Catholic teaching about traditional marriage is not gay marriage,” Winters argued. “The principal threat [to our Catholic teaching about traditional marriage]is divorce. “

He’s got a point about divorce, but he’s blinded by ideology if he thinks redefining marriage won’t be disastrous for the Catholic Church.

At the end of the day, Peters simply pointed out what the Church teaches about Holy Communion. And Archbishop Vigneron is simply echoing that teaching by reminding us that, as a Catholic, you cannot say “two contradictory things at once.” One being that you believe in Jesus Christ, and two being that you believe homosexual unions are part of His plan

The Church is in the business of saving souls. It alone, and not the media, should decide who is worthy to receive Holy Communion. It is not a political issue to deny Holy Communion to someone who does not uphold Church teaching in their daily lives. It is about the eternal destination of that person’s soul. I couldn’t think a better expression of love than concerning yourself with where someone will spend eternity. As atheist Penn Jillette once asked, how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them how to attain it?

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Stephen Kokx is a freelance writer and adjunct professor of political science living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has previously worked for the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for Peace and Justice. His writing on religion, politics and Catholic social teaching has appeared in a number of outlets, including Crisis Magazine, The American Thinker and his hometown paper The Grand Rapids Press. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, and is a graduate of Aquinas College and Loyola University Chicago. Follow Stephen on twitter @StephenKokx

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