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Bishop Weigand’s “Bait & Switch”

FORGET CANON 915?

By James Buckley | July/August 2003
Fr. James Buckley is the Spiritual Director of Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, a seminary run by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

In December of last year Msgr. Eugene Kavanagh, the founder of St. Patrick’s Home for Children, precluded pro-abortion Governor Gray Davis of California from visiting the Home. In a message to the Governor’s staff, Msgr. Kavanagh said: “We cannot allow a person who doesn’t promote the sanctity of human life to appear that he was all for helping children when he is killing the unborn — the most defenseless of all.”

In his response Governor Davis, a Catholic who regularly receives Communion at Sunday Mass, was unyielding in his support of abortion: “I am unapologetically pro-choice and I’m not changing my position.”

Then on January 22 Bishop William Weigand, the Ordinary of the Sacramento Diocese and consequently of Governor Davis, spoke these words before a congregation of 2,000 in his cathedral: “In stating publicly that many Catholics believe as he does, and insisting that women should retain the right to decide to kill their own children by aborting them, under the guise of making their own decisions about their bodies, Governor Davis needs to recall that we do not own our bodies. We are proprietors. We are stewards — stewards of a sacred trust. We all must decide how to care for our bodies. But abortion entails another body, that of the infant. The prohibition of God and of the law of nature is abundantly clear: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ As your bishop, I have to say clearly that anyone — politician or otherwise — who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk, and is not in good standing with the Church. Such a person should have the integrity to acknowledge this and choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until he has a change of heart.”

The Bishop’s words were as welcome to the ears of fervent Catholics and other prolife Americans as rain on thirsty ground. If, however, those supporters expected that Bishop Weigand would follow up his admonition by denying Communion to Governor Davis, they were sorely disappointed. This was made abundantly clear in an interview with the Bishop published in the National Catholic Register (Feb. 23-Mar. 1). When asked if he planned to take any further action, Bishop Weigand replied: “No. Some people thought I was considering formally forbidding the [Governor] from receiving communion. I did not intimate that I had any such thing in mind or that we would refuse communion to someone that approaches” (italics added).

What makes this position troublesome, however, is canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law. This canon, according to the translation approved by the Canon Law Society of America, reads: “Those who…obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

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