Case #1 Father Kneib denies Communion to the mother of the deceased
Carol Parker and Josie Martin have been same-sex partners for twenty years. They had served as lector, cantor, and choir singer for twelve years at Columban Catholic Church in Chillicothe, Missouri. Then Carol’s mother died.
Their recently ordained parish priest, Father Benjamin Kneib [pic shown at his recent ordination], decided that, in conscience, he could not give the lesbian couple Communion at the funeral mass. Both of them were devastated: “It was a shock to hear him say that,” Parker said to the News-Press. “I never expected that, especially at my mother’s funeral.”[iii] Many of those in the parish who know and respect the couple refused to accept communion themselves in solidarity with the grieving couple.
Parker and Martin expressed their sadness that [Fr.] Kneib would choose to compound their grief by preventing them from participating fully in the funeral. “It was very important to me, my last opportunity to worship here at the church with her [my departed mother].” [iv]
Upon noticing how many of those attending the funeral had declined to take Communion, Fr. Kneib later apologized to Parker for taking action “at the time of her mother’s funeral.” But the bond of trust had been broken:
The couple has found a new church to attend, one hour away. Parker said to Fox [News], “My faith is strong enough that I wasn’t going to let this deter me to go to church.” “We’re all God’s children, and we have every right to receive Communion,” Parker told the News-Press. “Even the pope has said, ‘Who am I to judge?’”[v]
This is the sad legacy of Ratzinger Doctrine that has infected Fr. Kneib. He takes Holy Communion and uses it as a way to bless the righteous and as a way to rebuke “sinners.” And who are the “sinners” according to current Catholic practice? Those women who procure an abortion and those who assist her. Those who use any form of artificial birth control or make it possible for other to use birth control. Those who divorce and remarry (while their initial spouse is still alive) in a civil union. And, most recently, active homosexuals and anyone who supports same-sex civil marriages. It is these later persons that my book is most concerned with.
In the long history of the Catholic Church, “excommunication” was used in cases of grave sins that severely harmed individuals and harmed the community. Three sins in the first five centuries merited excommunication: idolatry, murder, and adultery.
Excommunication meant expulsion from the community and no contact with its assemblies. No excommunication was definitive, however. In fact, those who were repentant after having committed one the three unpardonable sins were admitted to the “order of penitents” which gave them the tools to rectify the causes and the effects of their grievous failing. After a suitable time of “purification,” penitents who were readmitted were again allowed to take part in all of the church assemblies, most especially, the Sunday Eucharist.
As time developed, various other practices limited the use of excommunication. Most especially, the emergence of private confession of sins to a priest in the fifth century and the penitential practices associated with Lent (the forty days prior to Easter) were of decisive importance. Now, a grave sinner could be tolerated within the community as long as they did not receive Holy Communion during the Eucharist. After confessing their sin to a priest, they were give a “penance” that may have lasted for years. Once they completed their penance, they were given absolution by their priest and allowed to receive Holy Communion again. Excommunications still did take place, but they were reserved for special cases where the nature of the crime was very pronounced and very public, e.g., the killing of a priest.
This helps to understand how and why the contemporary Church has used the denial of the right to take Holy Communion as a penetential discipline for someone committing a serious sin. In the past, each person examined their own conscience prior to going to the altar to receive Holy Communion. If one detected an unconfessed grave sin, then one did not approach the altar without going to confession first. In my youth, I was trained to go to Confession every Saturday afternoon so that I could receive Communion on the day following. Those who did not approach the altar were not assumed to be grave sinners. Far from it. If one did not abstain from eating and drinking from Saturday midnight onward, one was not permitted to approach the altar.
Did Fr. Kneib deny communion for a just cause?
On an online discussion board, some of those affected by Fr. Kneib’s actions had a chance to express their views. Here is one such letter posted by
We are all sinners, even Fr. Kneib. But how does he know the condition of anyone’s soul? He certainly hasn’t been listening to Pope Francis. . . . And those of us who believe we know who is or isn’t worthy to receive communion not only cut off others from an opportunity for grace and renewal with Jesus and his people, but also, and more importantly, deny themselves of the same opportunity to partake in the sharing of grace and christan love. Fr Kneib has much to learn.
After a lot of give and take, Martin takes issue with Bill. He writes as follows:
It may be hard to hear for some people, but Fr. Kneib did the right thing asking the woman who was in a sexually-active lesbian relationship from refraining from communion. . . . In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul warns (all of us!) about approaching the Eucharist unworthily. Fr. Kneib’s actions were in the woman’s best interests and out of love for her. Let us pray for her.
There is some merit here. Martin gives voice to those Catholics who have been instructed [and innocently misled] by their bishops into believing that lesbian sex is always abjectively immoral. But, for just a brief moment, let’s leave this matter of morality aside and examine the whole tenor of Martin’s letter:
To begin with, it puzzles me how either Fr. Kneib or Martin know that these two women are in “a sexually-active lesbian relationship.” Do they spy into their bedroom at night? Or do they simply assume this because they themselves are obsessed with disturbing thoughts of sex every time anyone uses the word “lesbian”? But I notice that both women are in their late 60s. Is it not more probable that they are living as “sisters” and as “friends” without any active sex life? And, even if they are in “a sexually-active lesbian relationship,” how can either Fr. Kneib or Martin know whether the pair might have confessed their sins to another priest so that they would be free to receive Holy Communion at the funeral Mass?
It also puzzles me that Martin so easily comes to the conclusion that Fr. Kneib’s actions were done “in the woman’s best interests and out of love for her.” Has Martin revealed his hand here and presumed that “Father knows best”? Is this the ugly head of arrogant paternalism showing itself and presuming (without any clear evidence) that men always KNOW what’s in the best interests of a woman?
It also puzzles me that Martin affirms (again without any evidence) that Fr. Kneib acted “out of love.” So much evil has been done to women by men supposedly acting “out of love.” How does Martin really know Fr. Kneib’s motives? Maybe Fr. Kneib is just being a meddlesome busy-body. Does Martin himself feel uncomfortable with the thought that lesbians enjoy unsavory sex on Saturday night and then come to church on Sunday morning and desecrate the “body of Christ” with impure hands? If so, isn’t Martin exposing his own “dirty thoughts”? Isn’t he entirely ignorant of what truly are the “best interests” of Carol Parker? Is he not likewise entirely ignorant of the motives prompting Fr. Kneib and, as a result, his assertion that Fr. Kneib acted “out of love” is no more or less than his own “pious fantasy.”
It also puzzles me that Martin wants to believe (needs to believe) that priests are appointed by God as “morality police” who drive “known sinners” away from Holy Communion? And what of the “embezzlers,” the “wife beaters,” and “those fathers who terrorize their underage daughters into having sex on Saturday night”? Does Martin want Fr. Kneib to expose these “sinners” as well and to drive them away from Holy Communion? Martin’s letter is unclear on this point.
It puzzles me as to what prompts Martin to defend Fr. Kneib? Does Martin expect Fr. Kneib to do for him what he cannot himself do, namely, to drive a wedge between this sinning lesbian couple and their spiritual family? Paul’s letter clearly says, “Everyone ought to examine themselves” (1 Cor 22:28) before taking Holy Communion. Martin completely overlooks this aspect of Paul’s text. He wrongly assumes that Paul’s text authorizes Fr. Kneib to examine and to determine who is worthy to receive. But this is precluded by Paul: “Everyone ought to examine themselves” (1 Cor 11:28).
Finally, Martin’s final appeal, “Let us pray for her,” makes me cringe. Martin is playing with fire here. We do well when we pray that God would bless those we love and bless our enemies (Matt 5:44) as well. But, in this context, I greatly fear that Martin might be offering his readers a piece of self-serving pious nonsense whereby he assumes that God somehow needs our prayers in order to either cure Carol Parker of her lesbian inclinations or to stop her from “loving” her partner. It never occurs to Martin that God loves Carol just as he made her and that the problem might be that Martin along with the Catholic bishops cannot see the “wonderful work” that God has already done is creating Carol just as she is.
In the “Hail Mary,” Catholics ask the mother of Jesus “to pray for us sinners.” We are the sinners. We are praying for ourselves! Jesus, Mary’s son, was also aware of the arrogance involved in praying for those “others” whom we regard as “sinners.” Recall how Jesus told the story of how “two men went up to the temple to pray” (Luke 18:10). Jesus let’s us hear in detail the prayers of both of these men. At the end, Jesus sternly warns us (his listeners) against those who exalt themselves in their prayers and who humiliate those who are not like us. With this, I give Jesus the final word.