One rule for men (priests) and another for women (nuns) and yet another for Prime Ministers (Rudd)?

Well. This takes the biscuit. What on earth is one to make of this story reproduced in Cathnews today:

Dilemma over communion for Rudd
Published: December 16, 2009

The chaplain and sisters at the Blessed Mary MacKillop’s Chapel in Sydney were caught unawares by the Prime Minister’s visit on Sunday and had to quickly decide on whether to refuse him Holy Communion, The Australian reports.

While the Prime Minister was raised and baptised as a Catholic, he now attends Anglican services with his wife Therese, once quipping: “It’s a unity ticket but I never resigned from Rome,” the report said.

Ultimately the chaplain present, Father Graeme Malone, did not give the Prime Minister communion. Instead, one of the nuns provided him with Holy Communion.

“Technically, the priest is not able to give communion regardless of whether he is the Prime Minister or a pauper in the street. I think the nun did the right thing, however. We wouldn’t want to embarrass the Prime Minister,” a member of the congregation reportedly said.

The Sisters of St Joseph said today they had “no comment” on the incident and would not discuss the Prime Minister’s private faith.

The Prime Minister’s office declined to comment on whether he had accepted Holy Communion. However, those present at the service confirmed to The Australian that he had.

So let’s get this straight: it was the wrong thing for Father to do, but it was the right thing for Sister to do? How is that? What sort of logic runs behind that idea? I mean, if “technically, the priest is not able to give communion regardless of whether he is the Prime Minister or a pauper in the street”, how can it be “technically” right for a extraordinary minister of the Eucharist to do this? Any clues?

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18 Responses to One rule for men (priests) and another for women (nuns) and yet another for Prime Ministers (Rudd)?

  1. I can’t see any logical explanation for it, except that ‘on the spot’ it served to guard the priest’s conscience and/or sense of propriety, since he probably thought he was preserving himself from breaking any canon law by allowing the nun to ditribute to the PM.
    If that was the case it seems a bit of a ‘Jesuitical’ solution though, as the priest is surely the ‘steward of the mysteries of God’ at the Mass and therefore bears responsibility for who receives communion, regardless of who distributes the elements? Still, one musn’t judge harshly, it was a difficult position in which to be put.

    I’m a bit disappointed the PM put him in this position, actually. In ‘The Australian’ I seem to recall the PM saying that he no longer communed in the RCC because of his frequent attendance and communion in the Anglican Church.

  2. Peregrinus says:

    This is obviously wrong, but as the comment is attributed to “a member of the congregation” I don’t think we need treat it as scandalous. It’s someone’s personal opinion, not made with any claim to authority.

    There’s no distinction at all between the responsibilities of a an ordinary minister (the priest) and an extraordinary minister in this regard.

    Should [i]either[/i] of them have given Mr Rudd communion? Well, canonically Mr Rudd should not have sought communion if, as appears to be the case, he considers himself to be an Anglican. But, for all we know, he thinks of himself as a Catholic who often goes to Anglican services. And “should Mr Rudd take communion?” and “should the minister refuse him communion?” are not actually the same question. The emphasis in the communion liturgy is emphatically not on identifying those who shouldn’t take communion and withholding it from them if they seek it. Everyone who presents is presumed to be presenting properly, and if there is any doubt it is resolved in favour of the communicant, since people generally have a right to the sacraments. Nor is Mr Rudd’s situation comparable to that of a Catholic who is disbarred from communion for “manifest grave sin”.

    I think most Eucharistic ministers, if approached by someone they believed to be an Anglican, would give communion, and I think most bishops would approve. Any Christian with a proper Eucharistic faith can, in certain cirucumstances, take communion in a Catholic liturgy, and the sanctuary step in the middle of the liturgy is not the proper place to open an investigation into whether those circumstances exist. But the added factor in Mr Rudd’s case is that he is publicly known to be an Anglican, and there is the possibility of scandal if he is seen to be given communion. However there is the possibility of even greater scandal if he is seen to seek it and to be refused.

    • Schütz says:

      Well… lets be a bit more accurate about those circumstances, Perry.

      There are various places where this is addressed (one of them being paragraph 1401 of the Catechism, another is paragraphs 130 and 131 of the Directory on Ecumenism (1993), and yet another is JPII’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia).

      Generally the following applies:

      1) If a baptised person
      2) who holds the Catholic faith with regard to the sacrament and is properly disposed
      3) and who does not have access to a minister of their own church
      4) spontaneously requests the sacrament of Eucharist/Penance/Anointing


      5) they maybe given the requested sacrament


      6) they are in grave spiritual need (eg. imminent death).

      My guess is this really didn’t apply to the Prime Minister.

      And, by the way, a Catholic who intentionally fails to attend a Catholic mass on any given Sunday and does so regularly is a Catholic who is (objectively speaking) in “manifest grave sin” (not withstanding the inner heart which has reasons only God can judge).

  3. That’s an intriguing perspective, Pilgrim.
    Can you back it up with any official documentation?
    I’m really interested, not just ‘calling your bluff’.

  4. Ttony says:

    “they are in grave spiritual need (eg. immanent death)”

    Can immanent death produce the same sort of grave spiritual need as imminent death? is it not too late?

    More seriously, are the religious beliefs and practices of the PM sufficiently widely known that there is not a charitable explanation, such as that somebody a bit flustered on coming face to face with a VVIP remembered hearing that the PM was Catholic (or whatever)?

    • Schütz says:

      Sorry, Tony. I always manage to spell “imminent” wrong. I’ve fixed it up!

      And I’m not attacking Sister for giving communion to the Prime Minister – I would be a bit flustered in that situation. Really, Kevin should not have presented himself. He was being a little bit cheeky. Like a previous Premier of Victoria who tried the same thing once.

  5. Peregrinus says:


    Well, there’s a bit more to it than you say. For instance, the bishop can give permission for a non-Catholic with a proper Eucharistic faith to take communion, even though there is no danger of death.

    But my point was not that Mr Rudd was canonically entitled to take communion; I doubt that he was. My point is that the question of whether he should take communion is not the same as the question of whether the minister should refuse him communion.

    Mark, is that the point that you describe as “interesting”? I’m afraid I can’t refer you to any document; my thoughts here are informed by what I’ve heard from those who have been through the formation course for instituted acolytes in my diocese, and also from conversations with my pastor. But it makes sense to me. The reality is that it is very, very easy for someone who is not canonically entitled to take communion to take communion in a Catholic church. This has always been so, and this has never greatly bothered the church. The distribution of communion is not the place to address this issue; doing so in any meaningful way would involve making all kinds of changes which would be wholly inappropriate, given the principal significance of the eucharist and our reception of it.

    I don’t want to suggest that the that the question of who should receive is seen as trivial; it certainly isn’t. But iit’s seen as one that is not best addressed at the sanctuary steps. I think Mr Rudd could properly have been refused communion, but I also think very strongly that the eucharist minister should not be focussed on the question of “which of these people should I refuse communion to?”; that’s just not a proper frame of mind for those engaged in this hugely significant liturgy.

    • Schütz says:

      For instance, the bishop can give permission for a non-Catholic with a proper Eucharistic faith to take communion, even though there is no danger of death.

      I said “eg.”, and used the “eg.” given in the texts. A bishop could do as you say, but 1) he would have to be convinced that there was a grave spiritual need, and 2) he could not give an open and continuing permission to a non-Catholic to commune at Catholic eucharists.

      • Peregrinus says:

        There’s always a grave spiritual need for the eucharist, David. The reality is that this gives bishops a fairly broad scope to admit Christians with a eucharistic faith to take commuion, and I think many of them exercise it widely.

        • Schütz says:

          I disagree entirely. When the Church speaks of a “grave spiritual need” for the eucharist, they are not talking about whether or not I should receive communion at Tuesday lunchtime mass. I always have need of the Sacrament – I do not always have a “grave” need of it. Generally speaking, the adjective “grave” is given to matters of life and death in the canons.

  6. Sharon says:

    Pere, when the matter of a non-Catholic receiving Holy Communion [a man’s non Catholic wife] came up on another board some years ago you posted that Abps Hickey and Hart and, I think, Cardinal Pell had delegated to parish priests the ability to give permission to non Catholics to receive Holy Communion. Is this still the case?

    • Peregrinus says:

      I don’t recall posting that, Sharon, and I’m not aware that it’s the case. You may be misremembering, or remembering something that someone else posted.

      For what it’s worth:

      1. I don’t know what goes on in Sydney and Melbourne. As regards Perth, I only know what my own experience has been.

      2. When this issue first arose for me and my wife, on my parish priest’s recommendation I wrote to the bishop asking for (and readily getting) permission for her and her (Anglican) family to receive communion on a particular family occasion.

      3. The occasion recurs, and on each occasion since then my parish priest has taken the view that he knows what the bishop’s view on this matter is, that nothing has changed in the meantime and that it is not necessary to seek a fresh permission each year. I cannot say whether there is an express or implicit understanding between parish priests and the bishop that they can “re-apply” the bishop’s judgments in this way, but I rather suspect that there is. The pastors assist the bishop, and I imagine he is generally happy to trust them to know when there are changed, unusual or difficult circumstances that might need his consideration.

      4. If another similar case arose in a different family, I don’t know whether the parish priest would encourage them to write to the bishop, or whether he would take the view that he knew the bishop’s general practice from previous cases, he could see no difference between this case and the earlier cases that the bishop had personally dealt with, and that there was no need to get people to write to the bishop.

      5. Although I don’t know, I suspect in fact that he would ask them to write to the bishop – not so much because the bishop would demand it, but because he would want the people concerned to understand the significance of their receiving communion in a Catholic church. And, perhaps, he would not want them to feel that they were taking communion in an underhand or irregular fashion.

      6. There must be cases where there genuinely isn’t time to involve the bishop – a family funeral, for example. I don’t know, in those cases, whether a pastor would refuse to give communion on the basis that it’s all very regrettable, but we haven’t been able to ask the bishop, or whether he would see his role, ministering in assistance to the bishop, as implementing the decision which he knows the bishop would take, if the bishop could be asked. I suspect the latter, and I suspect that that is what most bishops would expect pastors to do.

  7. Schütz says:


    My difficulty wit your exegesis of the canons regarding this matter is that you assume that that the mere desire to receive the sacrament is “grave spiritual need”, when in fact the canons themselves give us some idea of what is intended when the say “eg. in cases of imminent death.”

    • Peregrinus says:

      Canon 844 covers the point. It talks of “danger of death . . . or . . . some other grave necessity” (as well, of course, as the other factors you mention, e.g. Catholic faith, proper disposition. But take those as a given for the purposes of the discussion).
      Note that it doesn’t say “some equally grave necessity” or “some similar grave necessity”; just “some other grave necessity”. The question which has to be asked, therefore, is not “are the circumstances here as grave as imminent death?”, but rather “are the circumstances here so grave as to warrant giving communion to a non-catholic?” And the canon, recognising that this is not necessarily a simple question, calls this a matter of “judgment”, and says explicitly that it is for the bishop to make the judgment (or the national conference, but I don’t think the Australian conference has done this). The same rules apply to sacramental reconciliation and the anointing of the sick, incidentally.
      I don’t think my experience is unusual. I think many bishops take the view that circumstances falling well short of imminent death can still create a grave need to take the sacrament at in a Catholic liturgy. And canon 844 makes it plain that that is a proper judgment for them to make.
      And, to go back for a moment to the topic of complaining, if someone doesn’t like what the bishop is doing in this regard, there is little point in complaining to Rome. This is not a matter on which the Congregation for Bishops, or the CDW, or the CDF, or even the Pope, can overrule the bishop, at least not without getting Canon 844 amended first. They might suggest considerations which the bishop might care to bear in mind when considering the matter, and no doubt if they do he will attach proper weight to those considerations, but Canon 844 requires him to act on his own judgment, not on theirs.
      I’m not aware of any bishop judging that the mere desire to take the sacrament creates of itself a spiritual need so grave as to warrant a non-Catholic taking it in a Catholic church, and thus they can do so whenever they like. If somebody wants to take the sacrament routinely in a Catholic church , if he wants to make the Catholic parish his normative Eucharistic community then, actually, he wants to be a Catholic. The proper response, I think, is not to tell him “no”, but to introduce him to the RCIA process, and in that context to discuss why it’s not appropriate for him to take communion just yet.
      No, I think there does need to be some additional factor, other than the simple desire to take the sacrament¸ and the word “grave” points to that need. For example, my (non-Catholic) wife might want, at a mass for our wedding anniversary, to take communion with me, to point to and make real the Eucharistic dimension of our marriage and our family life. Since that Eucharistic dimension is extremely important, the bishop might consider that that would be sufficiently “grave” to warrant his giving permission, even though it’s clearly not analogous to imminent death. (I don’t know whether he would think that; I haven’t asked him. But it illustrates that there can be more than one kind of gravity.)

  8. Christine says:

    This is an issue that seems to be handled on a very individual basis in the U.S. When my Lutheran nephew married his Catholic wife (why they had a full wedding Mass I’ll never know) the priest intentionally did not give my nephew Communion.

    When my Catholic sister-in-law died one of her best friends, a lapsed Catholic who no longer attends Mass and now considers herself a Pentecostal brought up the gifts, marched up to Communion and when I approached her afterwards (I was still Catholic then) she glibly remarked “The Body and Blood of Christ are for everyone,” even though she knew better.

    Can’t blame the priest for this one, I’m sure he had no idea of her background but it’s something that should be cleared before the funeral.

    It was a lot easier when the church still had altar rails and only the priest distributed Communion. At least he wouldn’t run the danger of some liberal Sister employed as a pastoral associate giving out Communion to known dissenters over the priest’s intent.


  9. Sharon says:

    I don’t recall posting that, Sharon, and I’m not aware that it’s the case. You may be misremembering, or remembering something that someone else posted.

    No Pere, I remember quite clearly because your posts stand out. Someone posted that their wife, a non Catholic, had been given permission to receive Holy Communion. I posted with what I thought were the canons which settled the matter and you posted as I have said above which silenced me then although now I would have emailed the bishops to confirm whether it was the case or not.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Hi Sharon

      I wouldn’t have posted exactly what you say, because I know from my own experience that my parish priest didn’t have the authority to give my wife communion; he had me write to the bishop to get it. And I’ve quoted canon 844 above, which makes it clear that the admission of non-Catholics to communion is a matter for the judgment of the bishop.

      Having said that, canon 844 doesn’t require an individual consideration by the bishop of every case and every occasion. The bishop can make a general judgment, either in relation to a particular non-Catholic and the circumstances in which they can receive communion, or in relation to a class of non-Catholics and the occasions on which they can receive, and then leave the implementation of that judgment up to his priests. If he does that, then it’s only cases not covered by such a general judgment that need to be drawn to his attention.

      There clearly is something of that kind in operation in my own diocese, because my wife having received permission on one occasion has not been required to seek it when that occasion recurs. And, if you think about it, it makes sense; what would be the point in asking the bishop to confirm every year that he hasn’t changed his mind? If there’s a good relationship between a bishop and his priests, then there will be space within which the bishop can trust his priests to know what he would expect them to do and to do it.

      But, I stress, I’ve no direct knowledge about how these things work in Sydney or Melbourne. They are both fairly populous dioceses with large numbers of non-Catholics in them, and common sense would suggest that this issue arises fairly often, that the bishop would try to be consistent in his judgments, that this would lead to the formation of a “general judgment” covering at least some of the typically-arising cases, and that it would make little sense – and be a poor use of the bishop’s time – to require him to consider every case individually, when his pastors know what decision he will make and when he knows they know. So, in short, I expect that there are formal or informal understandings about the judgments the bishop has already made, and about the cases that need to be referred to him for special consideration. But I don’t know that there are and, perhaps more importantly, I don’t know what judgments the bishop in either diocese has made in terms of when it is, and when it is not, appropriate for a non-Catholic to take communion.

      In no case, though, is the bishop authorising the priest to make a judgment about which non-Catholics should be admitted to communion, and when. At most he is authorising them to recognise the cases which fall within the judgment(s) made by the bishop, and to apply his judgments in those cases without advance reference to him.

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