Newark’s Communion Denial Policy Hasn’t Caught On With Pastors and People

In October, Bondings 2.0 criticized Newark’s Archbishop John Myers for issuing a pastoral directive to his priests instructing them to refuse communion to, among others, people in legal same-gender marriages or those who publicly supported such marriages.

Archbishop John Myers

Now, a follow-up story in The National Catholic Reporter noted that this drastic policy has basically been ignored by the lay people and pastors of New Jersey’s archdiocese.

For one thing, it seems that the policy is somewhat impractical to enforce, since lay people are the ones who choose to go to communion, not the other way around.  The NCR story quoted Fr. Warren Hall, an openly gay pastor in the archdiocese, who said:

” “Most people aren’t aware he sent it out. . . .

” ‘I don’t think the average person in the pew has been affected by it,’ said Hall, who thought the timing of Myers’ letter, coming soon before the papal visit to the United States and the Synod of Bishops on the family, worked against the goal of reaching out to alienated Catholics who might be giving the church a second look.”

Another pastor, Msgr. William Reilly, who pastors a mostly Spanish-speaking parish said the most parishioners were not even aware of Myers’ directive.  He explained his own approach:

“When it comes to who can receive Communion, and who can’t, his parishioners generally are respectful of church regulations, said Reilly. ‘I don’t delve into people’s consciences,’ the pastor said.”

Meanwhile, when challenged with how the communion policy squared with Pope Francis’ more merciful approach to those who may not be in line with all church doctrine, the archdiocesan spokesperson, James Goodness, clarified Myers’ intention, saying the directive was not intended to be punitive:

” ‘The statement was a set of principles that priests should be looking at and keeping in mind as they walk with people in varying circumstances,’ said Goodness. He added the statement came in response to pastors asking the archbishop for guidance ‘to find out how we can walk with people within the confines of church teaching.’ “

Once again we see the power of the “sense of the faithful” regarding church instruction, even when the instruction is not a doctrinal statement, but a policy one.  Many, many Catholics follow Pope Francis’ understanding that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

Denying access to communion is a bad enough policy.  To write an instruction, like Myers did, encouraging such denial is even worse. It looks like the practice of the people, as well as the example of Pope Francis, have caused the archdiocese to re-think this policy.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



14 thoughts on “Newark’s Communion Denial Policy Hasn’t Caught On With Pastors and People

  1. John Hilgeman December 4, 2015 / 1:37 am

    “instructing them not to refuse communion to…” I think you meant “instructing them to refuse communion to….”

  2. Brian Kneeland December 4, 2015 / 3:31 am

    If the people don’t know about it and the pastors won’t enforce it – the policy is null and void. Gladly – the conscience overrides even this archbishop’s very poor enforcement statements! I hope it is re-evaluated and withdrawn!

  3. Will December 4, 2015 / 4:23 am

    Has Myers received any sanction for his unpleasant instruction? Is there any way to challenge this sort of behaviour by prelates? For example will Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez (Dominican Repub.) be challenged for his recent comments to the gay US Ambassador, telling him to go home and focus on housework like a ‘wife’ because he’s married to a man? He had already called the Ambassador a ‘faggot’. When does such misogyny and homophobia qualify as unsuitable for a church leader and result in some sort of censure?

    • Friends December 4, 2015 / 10:03 pm

      If anything, Myers and Rodriguez do all of us a great favor — by proving definitively that NOTHING a purported prelate says is binding in any way upon all of us baptized members of the Catholic Church. Do we really believe that Jesus would endorse the hateful and contemptuous antics of pontificating prelates like Myers and Rodriguez? In response, I point to Jesus Himself, writing on the ground, with His finger, the personal transgressions of the very same Scribes and Pharisees who had accused a woman “taken in adultery”. Jesus charged them: “Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone”. The Gospel tells us that they all dropped their stones and skulked away in silence. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

  4. Larry December 4, 2015 / 3:05 pm

    Myers “instruction” is odious enough but then when he is challenged, he does not dialogue or even respond himself but has his spokesperson Goodness [what an ironic name] reply saying that this is not what it seems and only came about because priests wanted him to comment. So not only is Myers unpastoral but he is also a coward. I hope he contemplates his shortcomings while enjoying his retirement hot tub.

  5. saddingo December 5, 2015 / 12:57 am

    So much for that “who am I to judge” thing the Pope said… Apparently he’s the only guy in the RCC hierarchy who feels that way.

    • Brian Kneeland December 5, 2015 / 8:39 am

      His “who am I to judge?” was about the question “what if there is a gay priest. He has made no other really positive LGBT statements – but surely could have in the US and in Africa (where many countries have criminalized sexuality). However, his use of terms like mercy and pastoral adaptation gives some hope – but he needs to openly say that it includes LGBT issues!

  6. Marie (@GaryMillrat) January 2, 2016 / 5:26 pm

    This is abusive and not in accord with Canon Law. Refusal to administer Holy Eucharist is to be done only under extraordinary circumstances. he can not know the conscience of those coming to receive Christ- as aa priest he is to be nonjudgmental and allow for God’s grace. Sadly Pope Francis can do little- i suspect that this bishop has been advised by Rome of his error.

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