Did the Archbishop Exclude Pro-Marriage Equality Catholics from Communion? Only If They Let Him

Arcbishop Allen Vigneron

Did Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron tell Catholics who support marriage equality that they could not receive communion?  Well, he said, they should not, but not that they could not.  Is that distinction important?  Yes,  because it means that the ultimate authority about whether to receive or not rests with individual communicants, not with the archbishop.  And that distinction, as I discuss later, is a critical one which reflects on how Catholics view the importance of their own consciences.

But, first, let’s look at what was actually said and by whom.  The Detroit Free Press, which broke the story, reported Vigneron’s comments about communion as supplement to Detroit canon lawyer Edward Peters’ comments on the matter.  Peters, indeed, did say that Catholics who support abortion rights or marriage equality should not present themselves for communion, but even he did not issue a rule (which, by the way, he has no authority to do).  The Free Press quotes his recent comments on his personal blog:

“In a post on his blog last week, Peters said that Catholic teachings make it clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. And so, ‘Catholics who promote “same-sex marriage” act contrary to’ Catholic law ‘and should not approach for holy Communion,’ he wrote. ‘They also risk having holy Communion withheld from them … being rebuked and/or being sanctioned.’ “

Peters did urge pro-marriage equality Catholics not to receive communion.  He even went further than that:  he threatened that communion may possibly be withheld from them. But Peters did not forbid them from doing so.  He has no power to do so.

Archbishop Vigneron, similarly, did not issue a rule about communion, but made remarks similar to Peters.  Important to note is that he made these comments in response to a question by a reporter, not in the context of a directive that he was issuing. The Free Press reports:

“Asked by the Free Press about Catholics who publicly advocate for gay marriage and receive Communion, Vigneron said Sunday: ‘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.’

“Vigneron said the church wants to help Catholics ‘avoid this personal disaster.’ “

Again, Vigneron did not forbid anyone from receiving communion, though he certainly discouraged certain people from doing so.  He did not direct priests to withhold communion.

Let me be clear:  I am making this distinction because I think it is important to be accurate about what Peters and Vigneron said–especially Vigneron, who holds canonical authority.  But I am not making this distinction to exonerate them in any way.  In fact, I believe that their remarks are very dangerous, not because they supposedly forbid people to receive communion, but because they confuse people by making it seem as if they did forbid them.

Moreover, Vigneron’s reasoning that equates receiving communion with acceptance of church teaching is bad theology.  Communion is about a spiritual reality, not an ecclesiological one.   Disagreeing with church teaching on civil marriage does not sever one from being in communion with the church or with God.

As the Free Press notes, Peters’ and Vigneron’s opinions are in the minority among Catholic leaders:

” ‘Most American bishops do not favor denying either politicians or voters Communion because of their positions on controversial issues,’ said Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. Reese said that Peters’ views are ‘in a minority among American canon lawyers.’ “

The real danger in this case is that Catholics might indeed follow Vigneron’s suggestion and exclude themselves from communion. That would be a terrible tragedy for many reasons, not least of all because these Catholics would be ignoring the authority of their own consciences.  They would be acceding to an external authority instead of listening to the voice of God in their souls.  The ultimate authority of what they should do rests inside themselves.

Since Vigneron did not direct priests to withhold communion, the only people who could enact his suggestion would be potential communion recipients themselves.  If the Catholic Church is to be a truly Vatican II church, Catholics must start trusting their consciences, and not the confusing, ill-thought reflections of a canon lawyer and a bishop.  Catholics need to take responsibility to decide if they are disposed to go to communion.

Vigneron owes Catholics in his diocese an apology for creating such confusion.

For an excellent analysis and commentary on this case, I suggest a blog post by National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters entitled “+Vigneron, Same Sex Marriage & Communion.” My favorite line from it:

 “Peters is one of those canonists who recognizes every commandment except the Great Commandment.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

25 replies
  1. Will
    Will says:

    I’d really like to hear what Peters, Vigneron and other like them would say if indeed all those Catholics who have expressed support for equal marriage were to suddenly withdraw from the Church – or even just step aside for a bit. As polls have shown, they are the majority of US Catholics and support is running at a higher proportion in the US than the population as a whole.

    The power of the individual conscience of the Catholic laity might come as a shock to blinkered clerics and canon lawyers. They might also want to reflect what role the Holy Spirit might be playing in all this.

  2. Hugh Macsherry
    Hugh Macsherry says:

    I do not entirely disagree with the writer’s point. Catholic teaching does and should value conscience. In fact, a person has a moral obligation to follow his or her conscience, but the person also has a moral obligation to be informed. Bishops should be considered, and should be in fact, among the experts who help form our consciences. None of this should be seen to support usong the sacraments as “weapons”

    • Hugh Macsherry
      Hugh Macsherry says:

      Nor should it mean that my conscience will always lead me to Communion.
      I will also say that the writer’s distinction between spiritual and ecclesiological realities does not make sense to me. Catholic ecclesiology and spirituality are thoroughly intertwined. Our tendency to ignore those connections is a major problem for us today.

      • Peter
        Peter says:

        I think you’ve hit on the major problems with the author’s approach. Yes, my conscience is the final arbiter of whether I receive Communion. But the Church is Christ’s Body, including the hierarchy, and what they say does matter, and taking Communion does signify communion with the Church.

    GREG SMITH says:

    Too bad Dr. Peters son is wasting his youth aboard a flawed and sinking ship which ought to be renamed the “National Organization Against Gay Marriage.”

  4. William K Scattergood, Jr. Minneapolis, MN
    William K Scattergood, Jr. Minneapolis, MN says:

    I vote to delete “apostolic” from the Creed and replace it with “pelvocentric”. The Catholic hierarchy have long ago ceased to preach the Gospel and have for centuries now been preachers of Scholasticism. What did Jesus have to say about abortion, masturbation, premarital sex, invitro fertilization, artificial birth control, homosexuality, gay marriage, etc.? Yet the Catholic hierarchy talks publicly and officially about little else. All the Church’s “moral” teachings above are based on St. Thomas Aquinas & Company not Jesus of Nazareth. So then, the Church: one, holy, catholic and pelvocentric.

  5. Richard Baldwin Cook
    Richard Baldwin Cook says:

    Good to know that Detroit and the Detroit Archdiocese, as well, are both in such wonderful shape, not losing population, no financial troubles, so the Arch can devote his off-the-cuff reflections to discouraging Detroit Catholics from entering the bursting-at-the-seams churches. This is real evangelization, with Scriptural warrant – all that is wanted or needed is two or three, gathered together.

  6. Peter
    Peter says:

    Mr. DiBernardo, though I disagree with the way you divorce individual conscience from the Church and from the pastoring efforts of our local shepherd, I greatly appreciate your attention to Dr. Peter’s and +Vigneron’s exact statements and relative authority. As you point out, they are both making an appeal to lay consciences – something even Fr. Reese seems unable to grasp. The role of conscience is something Catholics agree on more than is commonly supposed.

  7. Joseph Gentilini
    Joseph Gentilini says:

    I am a gay Catholic man in a 33 year relationship with my partner. I receive Holy Communion every weekend in my parish who know my partner and myself as gay. The Church in this regard is not witnessing to the values of Christ and is wrong. Christ rejected no one! I follow my conscience. Now, for argument sake, assume the Church is correct on this matter, it is especially important to receive Holy Communion – Christ came for sinners, not the righteous. In both cases, receiving Holy Communion is essential!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] to Moses leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt, that Catholics supporting marriage equality should not receive Communion (though he eventually softened this stance slightly), and banned a Fortunate Families […]

  2. […] made by Vigneron in 2013 in which he suggested that Catholics who support marriage equality should deny themselves Communion. Catholic parents and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton strongly criticized that statement, encouraging […]

  3. […] has not been positive. In the past, he has warned that pro-marriage equality Catholics should not receive Communion (though his auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton thought otherwise) and is on record saying Pope […]

  4. […] who supported same-sex marriage that they should not receive Holy Communion — a position effectively answered by Francis de Bernardo of New Ways […]

  5. […] who supported same-sex marriage that they should not receive Holy Communion — a position effectively answered by Francis de Bernardo of New Ways […]

  6. […] who supported same-sex marriage that they should not receive Holy Communion — a position effectively answered by Francis de Bernardo of New Ways […]

  7. […] who supported same-sex marriage that they should not receive Holy Communion — a position effectively answered by Francis de Bernardo of New Ways […]

  8. […] who supported same-sex marriage that they should not receive Holy Communion — a position effectively answered by Francis de Bernardo of New Ways […]

  9. […]  Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron states that Catholics who support marriage equality should not present themselves for […]

  10. […] stirred up controversy when he said Catholics who support marriage equality should refrain from presenting themselves for Communion, though he did not ban them outright.  His comments prompted outcry from Catholic parents in […]

  11. […] de la Iglesia, al contrario de lo que Detroit Arzobispo Vigneron dijo cuando le dijo a  los católicos dijeron que apoyan la igualdad en el matrimonio se mantenga alejado de la comunión . El Papa está predicando las palabras de bienvenida, al igual que muchos se […]

  12. […] sacramental life of the Church, the opposite of what Detroit Archbishop Vigneron said when he told told Catholics who support marriage equality to stay away from communion. The pope is preaching words of welcome, just as many are asking, “Can LGBT Catholics find a […]

  13. […] 2.0 readers may remember that Peters was involved with Detroit Archbishops Vigneron’s statement that Catholics who support marriage equality should not present themselves for […]

  14. […] they claimed to defend ‘traditional marriage’ and Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s assertion that pro-LGBT Catholics should not receive […]

  15. […] Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s suggestion that Catholics who support marriage equality in  his diocese should not receive communion has […]

  16. […] retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, has told Catholics to ignore Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s recent statementdiscouraging pro-marriage equality Catholics from receiving […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *