Tough Topics

Aug. 5-18, 2004
Tough Topics
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Father Joseph Champlin Discusses War and Refusing Communion

During the 4th of July weekend, Father Joseph Champlin, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, shared with the congregation the church’s views on two controversial topics –– War and Communion. He discussed war in general and the Iraq conflict in particular as well as giving or refusing Holy Communion to political leaders who hold positions contrary to church teachings. In ten minutes, Father Champlin attempted to give the official church position on theses topics.

Father Champlin quoted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, documents prepared by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), words from Pope John Paul II’s visit with President George Bush and other sources during his ten-minute homily. “Because of Independence Day weekend, the new government in Iraq and the controversy in the U.S. over giving and refusing communion, we will look at what the official church says about war and communion,” said Father Champlin. The most contemporary collection of official church teachings is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

On war, the Catechism states, “Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war. All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.” (2307-2308) “We recently had a chaplain here who served in a hospital in Germany where soldiers in Iraq were treated” said Father Champlin. “Some were without legs, arms or sight. There were Iraqi citizens who had been killed or injured indirectly as collateral victims of the war and Iraqi people killed or maimed by insurgent terrorist attacks,” he said.

On defense, “The church says governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense once all peace efforts have failed,” quoted Father Champlin from the Catechism, 2266. “If all peace efforts have failed, government has the right and obligation to defend its citizens. There is an even split in our country over the war in Iraq,” explained Father Champlin. “However, President Bush often states that his task is to defend America and that he and his advisors worry that the next terrorist attack will not be the Twin Towers or the Pentagon, but an entire city with more than a million casualties,” he said. On service personnel the Church says, “Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace.” (Catechism 2239)

On non-combatants, Father Champlin quoted from the Catechism 2313. “Non-combatants, wounded soldiers and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.” Pope John Paul II spoke about Iraq and terrorism with President Bush at the Vatican on June 4. Here is what the Holy Father had to say.

• “The threat of international terrorism remains a source of constant concern. It has seriously affected normal and peaceful relations between states and peoples since the tragic date of September 11, 2001, which I have not hesitated to call ‘a dark day in the history of humanity.’”

• “In the past few weeks other deplorable events have come to light which have troubled the civic and religious conscience of all and made more difficult a serene and resolute commitment to shared human values. In the absence of such a commitment neither war nor terrorism will ever be overcome.”

• “It is the evident desire of everyone that this situation now be normalized as quickly as possible with the active participation of the international community, and in particular the United Nations, in order to ensure a speedy return of Iraq’s sovereignty in conditions of security for all its people. The recent appointment of a head of state in Iraq and the formation of an interim Iraqi government are an encouraging step toward the attainment of this goal.”

“A recent newspaper headline proclaimed: ‘Pope blasts Bush on Prison Abuse,’’ read Father Champlin. “His visit coincided with the beheadings, which have turned all of our stomachs just as the prison abuses have caused most Americans to feel shame. The Holy Father’s words were more general and could include both the prison abuses and the terrorist beheadings. One needs to be careful while reading the newspaper headings,” explained Father Champlin. “You can judge from the quote what Pope John Paul II meant.”

The next part of Father Champlin’s homily dealt with giving and refusing communion to those who support the pro-choice position on abortion. “The bishops are very clear in seeing abortion as evil and those who support abortion are persons cooperating in evil,” said Father Champlin. “However, the USCCB has left it to the bishop of each diocese to make his own judgement about political leaders who support legislation concerning abortion,” Father Champlin said. Father Champlin explained that there are some bishops, led by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, who see the actions of political leaders as a grave scandal and therefore, would not permit them to receive communion. Other bishops took a different view. “Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, cardinal archbishop of Washington, said he was not comfortable holding the Body and Blood of Christ in his hand and confronting someone at communion,” explained Father Champlin.

Citing the second reading of the weekend’s Mass, St. Paul speaking to the Galatians about the cross of Christ and the marks of Jesus on his body (Galatians 6:14-18), Father Champlin said that Cardinal McCarrick experienced this when some strong anti-abortion persons placed a full-page ad in a Washington newspaper criticizing him for his position. Cardinal McCarrick subsequently responded saying he understood that some people were upset by that criticism. “The disagreement that I have with the folks who are annoyed at me is that I disagree that in this instance we should use denial of the Eucharist as a public sanction,” said Cardinal McCarrick. “As a priest and bishop, I do not favor a confrontation at the altar rail with the Sacred Body of the Lord Jesus Christ in my hand. There are apparently those who would welcome such a conflict, for good reasons, I am sure, or for political ones, but I would not,” he said. The cardinal said that he respected those persons but disagrees with them.

Father Champlin continued his homily by saying that Cardinal Francis George of Chicago also said he would not refuse communion to people. He added that after the American bishops met and talked about the issue, Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles issued a statement. Cardinal Mahoney said, “The archdiocese will continue to follow church teaching, which places the duty of each Catholic to examine their consciences as to their worthiness to receive Holy Communion. That is not the role of the person distributing the Body and Blood of Christ.” “Our own bishop, before this became such a heated controversy, indicated that he would not refuse communion to someone,” said Father Champlin. “At our Cathedral, it has been our policy and continues to be our policy never to refuse or embarrass someone at communion. If there is some kind of difficulty, we would visit with the person involved later and in private,” he said.

At the conclusion of the homily, Father Champlin told the congregation that these are controversial issues and asked that they go home and have prayerful, peaceful, informed discussions about them. “Over the next few days, perhaps you would want to reflect and discuss these issues of war and communion,” he said.

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