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.
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