The denial of Holy Communion to a same-sex couple who obtained a marriage license is in line with broader Church teaching on public grave sin and the Eucharist, explained a prominent canon lawyer. The provision that supports this pastor’s action is Canon 915, which “directs ministers of holy Communion to withhold the sacrament from those who ‘obstinately persist in manifest grave sin’,” Dr. Edward Peters told CNA. The case in question involves Fr. Samuel Spiering of St. Leo the Great parish in Lewistown, Montana, where a same-sex couple who volunteered at the parish had obtained a marriage license 15 months prior in Seattle. Local newspapers had reported the details of the story, and CNA confirmed those details with the vicar general of the diocese. After he arrived at the parish, Fr. Spiering met with the couple face-to-face to discuss their marriage license. When he confirmed that they had obtained the license, Fr. Spiering told them that they could not receive Holy Communion or continue to volunteer in the parish ministries. Many in the town were upset and some left the parish. Fr. Jay Peterson, the Vicar General of the diocese, acknowledged that the couple was “extremely popular and deeply engaged” at the parish and in the town. The diocese’s Bishop Michael William Warfel then held a meeting to discuss the matter, and around 300 attended. Fr. Peterson said the audience “was quite divided” with half supporting Fr. Spiering’s decision and the other half upset over the move. “We uphold Catholic Church teaching on Matrimony,” Fr. Peterson told CNA, adding that Bishop Warfel is defending traditional marriage because “as a bishop, he’s bound by his office to speak the truth.” Dr. Peters explained how the couple’s behavior met the conditions for Fr. Spiering to deny them Holy Communion under Canon 915. Under Catholic teaching, there are many types of mortal sin that would prevent someone from being in the state of grace necessary to receive Holy Communion. These include the sexual sins of fornication, adultery, homosexual actions, use of artificial contraception, and civil remarriage after a divorce without an annulment. However, Peters emphasized that the law only deals with “gravely wrong public behavior” and not cases where a priest must “read souls.” Obtaining a same-sex marriage license is both gravely wrong and public, he said. “The public conduct in this case is two members of the same sex attempting what some states recognize as marriage,” Peters explained. “The Church teaches with infallible certainty that marriage can exist only between a man and a woman. To act in this way against this core Catholic teaching is to fulfill the conditions laid out in canon 915, forcing the minister’s hand.” But Canon 915 doesn’t apply only to cases of same-sex “marriage,” Peters insisted. Rather, it applies to a broader array of “gravely wrong public behavior,” like Catholic politicians supporting pro-abortion legislation and “Catholics who remarry civilly after divorcing” without an annulment. In light of the situation going public, Bishop Warfel defended Church teaching on marriage in an article published in the September-October issue of The Harvest, the official Catholic newspaper for eastern Montana. “Why does the Church insist upon upholding its teaching on marriage as between one man and one woman? First of all, Church teaching is never based on trends in society, but on truth,” the bishop wrote. This truth is based not only upon Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition,” he added, but upon Natural Law. “Marriage entails not only a unitive dimension between the partners but also a procreative dimension,” the bishop wrote. “It is about more than the emotional attachment that two persons may have for each other.” Thus, marriage is also about the good of the children — who cannot come about through a same-sex union. “While this certainly is not always what is found in society, a stable, loving relationship between a father and a mother is the best pattern for providing a stable and healthy society,” Bishop Warfel continued. “Pope Francis spoke strongly against same-sex marriage when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He referred to it as an ‘anthropological regression’,” the bishop added. “Standing firm that marriage can take place solely between a man and a woman makes an irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society.”
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