Detroit Archbishop: Gay Marriage Supporters Shouldn't Take Communion

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Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 9 2013 3:50 PM

Detroit Archbishop: Gay Marriage Supporters Shouldn't Take Communion

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Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley gives Holy Communion during a mass at Santa Maria Della Vittoria in Rome.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As the Supreme Court considers two cases on gay marriage rights, the American Catholic church has been trying find their line in the sand on the issue. If you're in or near Detroit, that line is pretty unforgiving: archbishop Allen Vigneron and other area Catholic leaders have said that gay marriage supporters aren't welcome to take holy Communion.

Specifically, here's what Vigneron told the Detroit Free Press (emphasis ours):

"For a Catholic to receive holy Communion and still deny the revelation Christ entrusted to the church is to try to say two contradictory things at once: 'I believe the church offers the saving truth of Jesus, and I reject what the church teaches.' In effect, they would contradict themselves. This sort of behavior would result in publicly renouncing one's integrity and logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury."
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Vigneron oversees the 1.3 million American Catholics in the southeastern region of Michigan.

For Catholics, holy Communion is a sacrament taken at least once a year (on Easter) and before death. You're supposed to be free of mortal sin while taking Communion — Catholics will go to Confession first if they're not. So denying a Catholic Communion is a pretty big deal. According to the Free Press piece, Detroit church leaders are advocating a minority position among American Catholic leadership by favoring the denial of Communion to Catholics who have publicly supported same-sex marriage. But it's not the first time area leaders have done so. In the past, for instance, Catholic canon law teacher (and Vatican legal advisor) Edward Peters at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit has advocated for the denial of Communion to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both Catholics, for their liberal political views.

The Catholic reaction to Vingeron's statement has been mixed. Here's Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter, who points out that from a Catholic standpoint, the fight against gay marriage is at best a misfire on priorities:

First – and how many times do I have to point this out – the principal threat to our Catholic teaching about traditional marriage is not gay marriage. The principal threat is divorce. Gay men and women constitute maybe five percent of the population. Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce. Yes, the Church teaches that marriage can only be constituted by one man and one woman, but the Church also teaches that marriage is forever. I have not heard the bishop say that those who vote for candidates who support liberal divorce laws should abstain from communion. I have not heard anyone suggest that a Catholic judge or a Catholic lawyer who helps people procure divorces should abstain from communion.

A pair of March 2013 polls, one from Quinnipiac and another from Pew, found that about half of Catholics in the U.S. support the legalization of same-sex marriage, even though a significantly larger number of American Catholics — about 70 percent, according to Pew — believe gay marriage is against church teaching. Meanwhile, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan has argued in recent weeks that the church has "got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people."

Read more at the Detroit Free Press.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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