June 09, 2008

There is a Difference Between Leadership and Judgement

From the Washington Post:

Word spread like wildfire in Catholic circles: Douglas Kmiec, a staunch Republican, firm foe of abortion and veteran of the Reagan Justice Department, had been denied Communion.

His sin? Kmiec, a Catholic who can cite papal pronouncements with the facility of a theological scholar, shocked old friends and adversaries alike earlier this year by endorsing Barack Obama for president. For at least one priest, Kmiec's support for a pro-choice politician made him a willing participant in a grave moral evil.

Kmiec was denied Communion in April at a Mass for a group of Catholic business people he later addressed at dinner. The episode has not received wide attention outside the Catholic world, but it is the opening shot in an argument that could have a large impact on this year's presidential campaign: Is it legitimate for bishops and priests to deny Communion to those supporting candidates who favor abortion rights?

So now we have a person denied a sacrament from their faith because of their political views. I've been taught that a person should be a member in good standing of the church from which they receive communion (debatable, in my opinion, but still somewhat reasonable) and have their hearts right with God, not carrying unconfessed sin (which I strongly agree with).

With the latter, however, it is a decision an individual makes about the status of his relationship with God, not a litmus test about what politician he is supporting. Taking this a step further, wouldn't churches then be able to deny communion to those who support same-sex marriage?

How can a leader of a church determine who is worthy of receiving a sacrament? How can he look into someone's heart and determine where that person stands with the Lord? Of course, the answer is that only God can do that, which is why the rights of judgement are reserved for Him and Him alone. That's why someone ignorant litmus test like supporting the "wrong" politician is used to exercise authority that God did not give man in the first place.

When religous leaders move beyond leadership into judgement, are they doing God's work or have they moved over to the other side?


  1. Just to be clear, Kmiec is one of the most vehement, almost rabid, opponents of gay marriage in the legal academic community.

    So there is surely some well-deserved irony in his being accused of "not being Catholic enough."

    I will shed not one tear for his situation. Live-Sword/Die-Sword, etc.

  2. Interesting .. I find Andrew Sullivan's post on this irony as well.
    "Barack Obama is not going to perform an abortion on anyone as president. But president Bush has directly and personally authorized the execution of prisoners in such a blanket and unreflective way as to make Catholic support for him highly problematic. He mocked one execution victim, something that would, one imagines, render him anathema to any conscientious Catholic voter.

    But more important: this is a president who has directly authorized the torture of prisoners. He has not allowed others to torture; he has personally authorized torture himself. He is a torturer. What does Benedict XVI say about this?"

    "There is no way that someone can say that a politician allowing abortion in a free society is on the same moral plane as directly authorizing, monitoring and covering up the torture of prisoners. No way. And any Catholic who voted for Bush in 2004, after the full evidence of his complicity in the torture of prisoners was well known should examine his or her conscience before examining anyone else's."