The internet has certainly democratized publishing: Anyone with an opinion can find an outlet, if not with a formal blog entry then by posting a comment to someone else’s entry. The readers of America do this all the time and I look forward to comments from some of the regular readers, especially those who disagree with me. This democratization of opinion-publishing is a great vehicle for increased participation in the political process and an unalloyed blessing.
But, what about the cranks? This morning I encountered a comment about myself in reply to an article about Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The writer’s indictment of me was typical of some other replies, voicing concern that I was insufficiently pro-life and a cafeteria Catholic. I plead guilty on the second charge but not on the first. But, then I got to this: "Nancy Pelosi is pro-abortion. Thus, Nancy Pelosi is a public, grave sinner. Thus, Canon 915 requires ALL ministers of Communion to refuse Communion to Nancy Pelosi. Archbishop Niederauer has a GRAVE OBLIGATION to obey Canon 915. But Archbishop Niederauer REFUSES to obey Canon 915. Therefore, Archbishop Niederauer is a public, grave sinner. Thus, Canon 915 requires Archbishop Niederauer NOT TO CELEBRATE MASS—because at every Mass, the priest gives himself Communion. The same holds true for EVERY bishop in the U.S. who STILL REFUSES to OBEY CANON 915. That is, all but about one dozen bishops in the United States."
Of course, as I began reading this, I assumed it was a parody, maybe a riff from Stephen Colbert showing the downward spiral of certain trains of paranoid speculation, as Colbert does so brilliantly. But, no, the posting was in earnest. And, the danger of cranks in the Church is that they can gain entry and access in ways that it is difficult to detect so it is critical that the rest of us speak out as clearly as possible and as often as possible in support of our bishops who have maintained their sense of pastoral solicitude in the face of so much political pressure from certain conservative lay people.
Specifically, there are two points about which we must be clear. First, those who say that abortion is the only issue upon which votes should be cast (or Communion denied) are correct when they say that we can attain a degree of moral clarity on the evil of abortion but that such moral clarity is not as available on issues involving universal health insurance or how to end the Iraq War. What they miss is that a voter can recognize that pro-life candidate A is not going to achieve anything on the abortion issue, that neither party has a realistic strategy for ending abortion, and so a voter can consider other moral issues not more important but more relevant. Analyzing the political consequence of my vote is not a doctrinal issue and it is part of forming my conscience.
The second point upon which we must be clear is that the "No Communion" policy is a radical innovation that should be resisted. First, it requires applying the canons in ways that are novel and dubious. Canon law is a pastoral instrument and recognizes that it should be applied with gentleness not vengeance. It also recognizes the role of the pastor, not the blogger, in discerning what is required for the spiritual health of his flock. By this I do not mean to suggest that pastoral decisions are free from criticism but, rather, that canon law recognizes that a pastoral perspective, not a legalistic one, still less a political one, is essential to the application of all canons. Political opinion makers want controversy but pastors want to save souls.
Those of us who do not support a blanket denial of communion to a class of politicians are not slackers. I am delighted that the Holy Father chose the occasion of his meeting with Speaker Pelosi to reaffirm the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life. I am also glad he looked at photos of her grandchildren: I suspect the encounter was not the "lecture" certain conservative commentators would have us believe. I think it may prove a mistake that the Press Office released a statement about the bacimano: From now on, every time the Pope receives a politician with whom a prelate has a problem, there will be pressure for a similar public statement. I hope Speaker Pelosi will look to her conscience as I hope every Catholic will. More than anything I hope that this "I thank thee, Lord, that I am not like other men" judgmentalism that has manifested itself against Mrs. Pelosi will cease. It is profoundly uncharitable and, just so, unchristian. "Judge ye not that ye be not judged," warned the Master, though I wonder if he meant to include bloggers.