Communion and the Church’s mess


Catholic Herald, 9 May 2019

There was an odd story from Holy Week about the new man in the Chilean capital, Santiago. Bishop Celestino Aós, the apostolic administrator who succeeds not one but two cardinals who are under examination by prosecutors for covering up sexual abuse.

It’s an odd story, because it is not about that complex situation, but about the most routine thing a priest might do: distributing Holy Communion. Apparently, at the Chrism Mass in Santiago, Bishop Aós refused to give the Sacred Host to two communicants who knelt. In fact it is more than apparent – a video recording was made of it.

What to make of that? Bishops sometimes do ignorant or rude things. And sometimes an ignorant thing is just an ignorant thing, as it may have been in this case. Perhaps Bishop Aós did not know that the relevant rubrics are absolutely explicit that communicants cannot be refused Holy Communion for kneeling. And sometimes a rude thing is just a rude thing, as basic courtesy would avoid publicly embarrassing people anywhere, let alone during Mass.

And then sometimes ignorance and rudeness is exacerbated by being foolish, like being ignorant and rude when a video camera – at close quarters, mind you – is recording your first Chrism Mass in perhaps the world’s most wounded diocese.

But I don’t know anything about Bishop Aós, except that he deserves admiration for, at age 74, accepting one of the worst assignments in the entire Church. So let us assume that this ignorant and rude and foolish thing is quite contrary to his usual character and deportment. The whole matter can be left at that, and nothing more, aside from Bishop Aós having to send a discreet apology to Pope Francis, who spent over a year looking for someone – anyone – to reliably handle the stinking mess that is Santiago, and likely expected that Bishop Aós might get through the Chrism Mass without incident.

So leave aside entirely what this episode may or may not tell us about a man relatively unknown. The refusal of Holy Communion, though, does tell us a great deal about how the Church got into such a mess on sexual abuse. The incident took place less than a week after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI released his essay on the sexual abuse crisis. And he identified canon law and the Eucharist as two reasons why the Church responded so poorly to predatory priestly behaviour.

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