A bishop’s failure to enforce canon law does not excuse faithful from following it

Canon lawyer Edward Peters reflects on Cardinal Cupich's refusal to withhold Communion from persons in same-sex marriages, calls it "a failure to bishop"

Archbishop Blase J. Cupich addresses the media during a news conference Sept. 20 at the Quigley Center in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World).

It needs no long blog post from a canon lawyer to explain how wrong would be a failure by a bishop to protect his faithful against scandal (CCC 22842287) and/or to defend the Eucharist against potential sacrilege (CCC 2120) but, make no mistake, in reiterating that “it is not [his] policy” to withhold holy Communion from persons in ‘same-sex marriages’, that is what Cdl. Cupich’s refusal to act as ‘the guardian of the entire liturgical life in the church entrusted to him’ (c. 835 § 1) and “to exercise vigilance so that abuses do not creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially regarding … the celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, [and] the worship of God” (c. 392 § 2) in this matter, does.

Cupich’s failure ‘to bishop’ in this regard, of course, effectively abandons his pastors and other ministers of holy Communion to face alone the anger of some Catholics in ‘same-sex marriages’ who (like persons in merely civil marriages following divorce) must nevertheless be refused holy Communion by pastors correctly recognizing that, no matter what their archbishop doesn’t say, they are still required by canon law not to admit to holy Communion those who ‘obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin’ (c. 915).

Canon 915, as has been explained many, many times, rests on ancient, indeed Biblical, foundations, nothing in modern canon law or recent magisterial literature annuls it, and it unquestionably applies in regard to Catholics who have attempted a ‘same-sex marriage’. But it might still be useful to explicitate briefly the application of Canon 915 in some same-sex pastoral situations.

1. A homosexual inclination or orientation does not, in anyone’s opinion, disqualify a person from being admitted to holy Communion.

2. Cohabitation by homosexuals does not, in my opinion, disqualify them from being admitted to holy Communion because one does not assume that persons of the same sex are engaged in sexual activity (and in this respect, yes, homosexual cohabitation differs from heterosexual, or has differed, according to about 5,000 years of recorded human behavior).

3. Attempted civil marriage between persons of the same sex (just like those following divorce between heterosexuals) disqualifies, in the common and constant opinion of learned persons (which I share), such Catholics from being admitted to holy Communion because the sign-values that marriage (c. 1055) enjoys in the Church and civil society—itself a public sign proclaimed, by the way, irrespective of whatever private sexual activity might or might not be occurring between the persons involved—are contradicted by persons purporting to be in a ‘marriage’ that cannot be a marriage.

From Ed Peter’s canon law blog, “In The Light of the Law“.


  1. Your Fellow Catholic says:

    If the Church says it’s not a marriage, then the Church should stop treating it as though it were a marriage.

    The converse is also true: if the Church treats it as though it is a marriage, then it is saying that it is indeed a marriage.

    • YFC, when you say “Church”, about whom are you referring? I suppose the reference is to prelates like Cardinal Cupich and those who promoted/promote him and his “pastoral” style. I’m not sure giving communion to such couples implies that Cupich validates their married status, but you make a good point. It seems to the average Joe that he does just that, and it makes Joe wonder just what disqualifies, if anything, one from receiving the Eucharist. This vagueness and ambiguity does seem to make a mess of things– shall we wait and see what the God of surprises has next? Anyway, YFC, I find myself liking your post very much.

      • Your Fellow Catholic says:

        Dan the word “Church” has been explicated by councils & catechisms in a manner impossible to contain within our 750 character limit. Cupich by himself is definitely NOT what I meant by Church. The Church says that same sex couples who engage in a civil marriage are not married at all. Therefore there is no change between a couple that is civilly married and a couple that is merely co-habitating. Why does the Church pretend that a thing doesn’t exist, yet on the other hand punishes its people for engaging in something that it says doesn’t exist? It’s one of those non-sensical issues that makes people both gay & straight give up on the Church.

        • I agree with you Dan, but here’s my take, If Jesus/God is the ONLY person who can pass judgement on a person, then WHY are ALL other Catholics think they can? This is also a sin. I pray they all think about that. When I lived in California, I was part of the RCIA process and Maria, our Religious Ed Director did the most fantastic job of sharing what the Catholic Church was about. We started off with, I believe 9 people for our first RCIA Group. Just before we were asked to leave the church, we had a group of 40. The largest in our Diocese. Why we were asked to leave, you’d have to ask the so called Priest, Bill Kraft that. There were a lot of us, we also had other duties in the church but we were not allowed in those positions…

    • Ann Malley says:

      It’s public scandal, YFC, and should be treated as such. That’s why Cupich Sails is viewed as one twisted individual. Would that he’d just be honest with himself and others.

  2. Beryl Maris says:

    Let’s see.
    1. Judas Iscariot goes to the chief priests and plots the betrayal of Jesus, and is payed 30 pieces of silver (Matt 26:14)
    2. While all the Twelve are reclined at table with Jesus at the Last Supper Jesus acknowledges that he knows that one of the Twelve would betray Him. Judas, responding to Jesus’ statement, makes it patently clear that he is present (Matt 26:20-25).
    3. Jesus, immediately after this, takes bread and wine and consecrates them, and apparently distributes it to the disciples present, including Judas Iscariot (Matt 26:26-30).
    White wash this however you will…it would appear that Jesus knowingly gave communion to a man actively and successfully plotting his betrayal, leading to His crucifixion. So what are…

    • Pilgrim in training says:

      He still had time to change his mind. He had not yet given Him the kiss of Judas.

    • Very good point Beryl but I think I might have figured out why Jesus allowed Judus to receive the Eucharist. It came to me during Adoration today. Thank you for challenging me on my faith.
      I realized that Judus hadn’t really acted on his betrayal yet when he received Holy Communion. Yes, Jesus was God and knew he would betray him but He allowed his free will to either reject sin or not. That’s what’s so great about our Loving God. People in same-gender unions have already acted on their sin by rejecting God’s forgiveness and healing. If they choose not to act on their sin then they are free to receive the Eucharist as long as they have go to confession. That’s my view anyway.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Cardinal Cupich has NOT said that people in same sex marriage could receive communion.

    • Ann Malley says:

      He has NOT taught what the Church teaches clearly either–and that’s the point. And when the salt loses it’s savor, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

  4. Really? “Cardinal Cupich has NOT said that people in same sex marriage could receive communion.”

    Chicago Cardinal Cupich: ‘Not Our Policy’ to Deny Communion to People in Same-Sex Marriages

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