30 July 2004
When 'conservatives' dissent from Church teaching
An Open Letter to Sean Hannity
By Arthur M. Hippler

Dear Mr. Hannity:

I was listening to your show the other day, as I occasionally do on my drive home from work. You were talking to a woman from Baton Rogue, La., and explaining to her your opposition to withholding Holy Communion from Catholic politicians who support legal abortion. If Communion could be withheld from liberals, you explained, there would be pressure to withhold from conservatives such as yourself. You did not give a specific example, but I assumed you were making reference to William Hughes’ article in The Baltimore Chronicle: "Should Sean Hannity Be Denied Communion," which criticized you for your stand on the Iraq War. I was then startled to hear you tell the caller that "you had no problem with contraception," and that you should be allowed to receive Communion even though you do not accept this Church teaching.

 I suppose I should not swerve off the road when I hear a Catholic "conservative" reject the teaching of the Church on artificial birth control — William F. Buckley provided the model for this form of dissent decades ago. And yet, it is always a little surprising to me when I encounter it. A "conservative" position, that is, a position that tries to defend the principles of traditional Christianity within our society, becomes inconsistent when it rejects the clear teachings of the Church, not only on the nature of marriage and the conjugal union, but also on the dignity of the Eucharist, and the importance of protecting the Eucharist from sacrilege.

To give one example: On your radio show and your show on the Fox network, you have defended traditional marriage against the novelty of "same-sex marriage." And yet, how can this position be coherent if you allow the separation of sexuality and procreation? Once these are separated, marriage can no longer be defined in terms of the complementary relationship of man and woman for the sake of engendering children and providing them nurture and education. This is not a distinctively "Catholic" observation — Methodist minister Donald Sensing made this point persuasively in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial ("Save Marriage? It’s Too Late"). You cannot defend traditional marriage coherently without rejecting artificial birth control.

Similarly, your respect for the Catholic Church is meaningless if you reject her responsibility to protect the worthy reception of her sacraments. You explained that Holy Communion is a means for people to grow spiritually and become more enlightened by God. From this, you concluded that it is unreasonable to bar believers from the Eucharist. The spiritual growth and enlightenment, however, can only happen if the receiver is properly disposed.

As The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes clear, "Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion" (n. 1385). The graces of the Eucharist do not work in a soul that is in a state of mortal sin. As the Catechism teaches: "The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins — that is proper to the Sacrament of Reconciliation" (n. 1395). Your understanding of the reception of Holy Communion neglects the necessity of sacramental Confession.

Hopefully, those who are in a state of mortal sin voluntarily abstain from receiving Holy Communion. Nonetheless, under certain extraordinary circumstances, Church law (known as "canon law") stipulates that the minister has the responsibility of barring certain people from the Eucharist, and that among them are those "who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin" (canon 915). One must note here not just the phrase "grave sin," but also the phrase "manifest," that is, public, obvious, known to all. When Catholic politicians actively support abortion rights despite the admonition of their pastors, they are obstinately persisting in grave sin. Having the privilege of working under Bishop Raymond Burke in the Diocese of La Crosse (who is now the archbishop of St. Louis), I have witnessed some of this obstinacy at close range.

It is unlikely that you would be barred from receiving Holy Communion for publicly rejecting the Church teaching on birth control. But, as a fellow Catholic, I urge you to read the encyclical letter of Paul VI Humanae Vitae, and consider its arguments seriously. I would also ask you to read Family Planning and Modern Problems by Stanislas Lestapis, SJ, which provides a deeper explanation of the principles in Humanae Vitae.

I would finally ask you to consider whether someone such as yourself who publicly disagrees with a binding Church teaching should be receiving Holy Communion. As St. Paul makes clear in his First Letter to the Corinthians: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord" (11:27-29). Your comments on birth control give scandal to the faithful, and are bound to lead unstable believers astray. This is a grave matter indeed.

For my part, I cannot justify continuing to listen to your show. But I will certainly keep you in my prayers, and wish an abundance of blessings for you and your family.

In the Peace of Christ,
Arthur M. Hippler, Ph.D.
Office of Justice and Peace
Diocese of La Crosse
La Crosse, Wis.

This editorial originally appeared in the July 29, 2004 edition of The Wanderer. It is reprinted here with permission.

Email editor: editor@cruxnews.com

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