What if all Catholics routinely displayed the integrity of Barbara Johnson? As Mary Hunt noted yesterday, when attempting to celebrate Mass at her mother’s funeral service, Johnson, who is openly gay, was denied the Eucharist on account of her cohabitation with her partner. How did the priest know about her intimate life? Because she told him so.
What’s remarkable about Barbara Johnson’s experience is not that she was denied a sacrament because of her romantic inclinations, but that she made an effort to make those inclinations—clearly regarded as immoral by the Church—known to the clergyman officiating that day. She took a risk by being honest.
The denial of the sacrament takes place every day, in churches all across the globe at the discretion of priests following Canon 915, which forbids communion to those who persist in manifest grave sin. But what would happen to this Canon and, more important, to the Church’s entire moral theology, if all Catholics, like Johnson, began openly informing priests of their true private lives?
The vocal opposition of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops to President Obama’s health care plan has brought tremendous attention to Catholic teaching on sexual morality. Humanae vitae puts forth a perspective on human sexuality that sexual activity simply cannot be detached from procreative purposes, declaring that “each and every marital act must retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life.”
Sex is only permitted to married heterosexual couples who do not use artificial contraception. You are having heterosexual sex out of wedlock? You are married, but not in the Church? You are gay? You are married in the Church but practice contraception? According to the Catholic Church, if you fall into any of these scenarios, then you may well be denied the body of Christ.
With the spotlight now shining brightly on Humanae vitae, all Catholics have a sincere duty to know and to understand their Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Before attending another Mass, each Catholic should ask him or herself, “do I fit within the Church’s razor-thin prescription on sexual morality? If not, what should I do about it?” Barbara Johnson is an exemplary Catholic. She spoke up; and her denial of the body of Christ has provoked outrage.
To those 98% of Catholic women who have practiced contraception, I urge you to act in a similar fashion. Tell your confessor that you use contraception and that you plan to persist in doing so. Every gay man or woman who has ever acted on their attractions, speak up! Cohabiting couples, fornicators, masturbators, let it be known that you come to the table! Be honest with your clergy. Only through risking such confrontations can one hope for true communion.