Cardinal McElroy has responded to his critics and, inadvertently, proved not only that their criticisms are valid, but much more besides. It isn't that his argument does too little, it's that it does too much - far, far too much....
Why Stop There? Or Anywhere?
His Eminence writes:
For every member of the church, it is conscience to which we have the ultimate responsibility and by which we will be judged. For that reason, while Catholic teaching has an essential role in moral decision-making, it is conscience that has the privileged place. As Pope Francis has stated, the church’s role is to form consciences, not replace them. Categorical exclusions of the divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. persons from the Eucharist do not give due respect to the inner conversations of conscience that people have with their God in discerning moral choice in complex circumstances.
The question here is, why does this apply only to exclusion of such persons and only to the exclusion from Communion?
How does this argument not extend, say, to the exclusion of bigamists from marriage?
Or the exclusion of a trans-man (a woman identifying as a man) from Holy Orders?
Or of a non-Trinitarian theist, or of a polytheist, from Baptism?
The problem with "due respect to the inner conversations of conscience" is that that conversation precedes every abominable act the human heart and mind can conceive. Surely we must be able to draw a line somewhere?
An Incomprehensible Take on "Comprehensive Classifications"
Cardinal McElroy goes on...
In principle, all sexual sins are objective mortal sins within the Catholic moral tradition. This means that all sins that violate the sixth and the ninth commandments are categorically objective mortal sins. There is no such comprehensive classification of mortal sin for any of the other commandments.
This is honestly just embarrassing.
For three paragraphs, he engages in question-begging argumentation using vague phrases like "all sexual sins." To claim the Church has no nuance in this area is absolutely false. A lustful thought, deliberate entertained—a sin of covetousness—is not on the level with conducting an actual extramarital affair, and I'm not aware of anyone who says otherwise.
As to there being "no such comprehensive classification of mortal sins for any of the other commandments," I am fairly certain that the Church has consistently held that the worshiping of idols, for example, is always wrong. I don't think the Church would tolerate someone going home from Mass and burning some incense to Baphomet—regardless of his or her "complex circumstances" or his or her determination in conscience that it's best to hedge one's bets when it comes to appeasing the gods.
Where This Path Leads
McElroy next turns to revealing, more startingly than any of his critics have, the disastrous end to which his path or reasoning leads.
It is automatically an objective mortal sin for a husband and wife to engage in a single act of sexual intercourse utilizing artificial contraception. This means the level of evil present in such an act is objectively sufficient to sever one’s relationship with God.
Hoo boy. Where to begin?
First of all, is His Eminence genuinely unaware of the categories of sufficient knowledge and full free consent of the will alongside grave matter in determining sin? If a party to the marital act is unaware, for example, that his partner has used chemical contraception, then he isn't culpable of engaging in a contraceptive act, even though on an objective level that is what has occurred.
Leaving that side, far more striking here are the sequels. This is where the Cardinal does all his opponents' work for them, in illustrating how disastrous his moral theology is in its logical conclusions.
It is only just and fair to credit his consistency here. For one reasoning as he apparently does, I suppose it is impossible to condemn wife beating, wage defraudment, racism, or the abandonment of one's children in any objective way. After all, those folks, too, might have all manner of "complex circumstances" making it, I guess, really understandable why they might slap their wives around from time to time. And maybe they are fully convinced in conscience that it's good and wholesome to do so. We certainly wouldn't want to bar them from Communion for such deeds, would we?! After all, it is to their consciences that they are ultimately answerable, not to some outside standard imposed by the Church as to the objective evil of wife beating.
Of course, a pastor better formed in his intellect, receiving a client in the confessional before Mass who says he routinely beats his wife and isn't sorry for it, and that will probably give her a couple good smacks on the way home from Church for good measure, will send him sternly away without absolution, and also with a remonstrance to keep his ass in the pew at Communion time until he sees his way—in conscience—to repenting of his sins.
Powerful Medicine, Indeed — But No Panacea
Finally, the Cardinal concludes by giving a beautiful articulation of the need to repent from one's sins... and then rendering it meaningless:
The call to holiness requires both a conceptual and an intuitive approach leading to an understanding of what discipleship in Jesus Christ means. Discipleship means striving to deepen our faith and our relationship to God, to enflesh the beatitudes, to build up the kingdom in God’s grace, to be the good Samaritan. The call to holiness is all encompassing in our lives, embracing our efforts to come closer to God, our sexual lives, our familial lives and our societal lives. It also entails recognizing sin where it lurks in our lives and seeking to root it out. And it means recognizing that each of us in our lives commits profound sins of omission or commission. At such moments we should seek the grace of the sacrament of penance. But such failures should not be the basis for categorical ongoing exclusion from the Eucharist.
This is genuinely fine... right up to the last sentence.
Yes; that last sentence, there lies the rub.
If Cardinal McElroy were honest with himself, he could be more honest with his readers. If he consulted his own conscience, he might see what has gone on here. What he really objects to likely isn’t the drawing of a line anywhere, but the drawing of a particular line particularly where the Church has drawn it. But in his efforts to justify his objection, he’s found himself without adequate resources from the Tradition to do so—and so he does end, in fact, rejecting the drawing of any lines anywhere.
What about the “categorical ongoing exclusion” of the one who, in the words of Saint Paul, “eats and drinks unworthily, without discerning the Body of the Lord,” who thereby “eats and drinks judgment upon himself?" Surely, a persistent and unrepentant heretic who openly rejects the doctrine of the Eucharist—surely such a one ought not to partake in the Eucharist?
Here, truly, is the final tragedy of the Cardinal’s flawed moral and pastoral approach: he thinks it is better, apparently, and more “pastoral,” for the Church not only to allow one to “eat and drink judgment upon himself,” but to celebrate and applaud him for it, and to “accompany” him—even if it be straight to hell.
No. No, thank you. I will stick with the Tradition. The clear and consistent Tradition, that is, not (where the idea entered into his mind, I cannot tell) some innovation of the 17th century.
The Eucharist is indeed “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” I, who am weak, can attest to this very ardently myself. But such strong medicine needs to be taken according to the prescription; one must read the warning label. And here is where we may extend the metaphor. This powerful medicine is part of a treatment regimen, and needs to be taken in such a context. The Truth, the Gospel, is also a curative. As Our Lord himself told us, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
The Truth sets us free to approach the Lord’s table, discerning the Body of the Lord, knowing first our own sinfulness and having repented from it.
Then, and only then, can the medicine do what it is meant to do.
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