Following a meeting between Father Geertjan van Rossem, cathedral administrator of the cathedral of St. John in ‘s Hertogenbosch, and two representatives of the COC and the Gaykrant, the parish in Den Bosch released a statement which explained that next Sunday, receiving Communion will be left to the individual consciences of the faithful, regardless of their sexual orientation or practices, or any other condition.
While this is canonically sound, pastorally it isn’t. As I’ve explained in an earlier post, one’s conscience is the first and usually only determiner of whether or not one is in a state of grace and can receive Communion. Only in situations where he knows without doubt that that is not the case, can the priest deny Communion to a person. This is understandable very rare.
However, with the deplorable state of Catholic education and catechesis in this country, many people don’t know this. As I’ve also said before, many consider Communion a right, a symbol, something that everyone does.
The parish’s announcement, while understandable in light of last Sunday’s protests, sends out the wrong message. It basically says that sin or grace don’t matter, that Communion is indeed for everyone, and that it comes without strings attached. Indeed, for many it may also be reason to think that it is not really Christ they receive.
A second problem is that the media (secular and Catholic, heterosexual and homosexual) present this as the Church giving in. The Church does not, even though the parish seems to be. The rules have not changed, so there is ‘giving in’. The parish simply chooses not to follow them. And that is a serious problem.
Like I said, pastorally it is understandable; last Sunday’s Mass was traumatic for many parishioners. The protests were simply scandalous. So I can understand that the parish does not want a repeat of that experience. But the choice does damage the Church a lot. Rather than standing for the faith, it shows that protests work, that outsiders can dictate what the Church should do.
A number of well-read Dutch bloggers have written about it, and called for the diocese to restate the teachings of the Church and to implement them: Communion requires a state of grace for all believers. And this should go hand in hand with proper catechesis, to allow people to actually know the faith they profess.
This situation is a chance for the Church to step out of the shadow, to let her voice be heard and allow people to get to know her instead of what they think they know of her. That requires steadfast priests, bishops and faithful, and it will not be easy by any means. But Christ never claimed it would be. We are ‘a sign that is opposed’.
The bishops’ conference is meeting on 9 March. I sincerely hope for at least some statement about this from them.