Church teaching on Ministers of the Eucharist is clear
News that a prominent Government TD had been told to stand aside as a Minister of the Eucharist by his parish priest over his support for the controversial abortion legislation stole headlines at the weekend.
Fine Gael TD for Dublin Mid West Derek Keating was contacted last week by Fr Peter O’Reilly, Parish Priest of St Mary’s in Lucan, who called on him not to fulfil his duties as a Eucharistic minister given the controversy during the summer around the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.
There has been much debate and even more confusion over whether Fr O’Reilly’s decision to prevent Mr Keating from any further ministering in his church was correct or not, however, Church teaching makes it crystal clear.
In 2004 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued, Redemptionis Sacramentum, an instruction on the proper way to celebrate Mass. The document includes a provision for lay Eucharistic ministers, provided their function is carried out “in accordance with the law, bearing in mind the tradition of the Church”.
The key element here, of course, is the law.
According to Canon Law: “A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.” This means a person involved in an abortion automatically places themselves outside the Church.
Writing in his 1995 encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II, extends procurement to “legislators who have promoted and approved abortion laws”.
The Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh and future leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland Eamon Martin is clearly in agreement with the late Pontiff, stating recently: “If a legislator comes to me and says, ‘Can I be a faithful Catholic and support abortion?’ I would say: ‘No’. Your communion is ruptured if you support abortion. You are excommunicating yourself. Any legislator who clearly and publicly states this should not approach [a priest] looking for Communion.”
The Church teaches that if Mr Keating, a self-proclaimed committed Catholic, has ruptured his communion as a result of his support for the Government’s abortion Bill, then he should not be receiving the Eucharist let alone assisting in administering it.
Despite the law, this latest development has left churchmen divided on where their sympathies lie.
Controversial cleric Fr Tony Flannery tweeted his support for the Fine Gael TD on Monday. “I am disgusted at the treatment of Derek Keating in his parish in Lucan,” he said. Fr Flannery also said he was “amazed that the parish priest would take such an action”.
However, popular Catholic commentator Deacon Nick Donnelly told The Irish Catholic, Fr O’Reilly was following Church teaching in stopping Mr Keating serving the Church as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.
Deacon Donnelly said Fr Peter O’Reilly “did the only thing possible if he was to avoid scandal among the faithful”.
“I really hope that other priests will follow Fr O’Reilly’s example by taking steps to stop the scandal of sacrilege in their parishes by making it clear to pro-abortion Catholic politicians that they have put themselves out of communion with the Church,” he said.
The UK based deacon said other Catholic TDs who had supported the legislation need this “shock to the system” to “realise the seriousness of the sin they have committed”.
Similarly, one well respected canon lawyer who requested to remain unnamed insisted to this paper that Fr O’Reilly was “perfectly correct saying this man was not fit to be Eucharistic minister”.
“I would encourage every priest to do the same thing,” he said.
Whether priests will follow Fr O’Reilly’s lead still remains to be seen. However, Catholic TD’s who supported the abortion Bill will be left in little doubt that there are repercussions for their actions.