I am a Catholic convert from many different Protestant denominations. Since being received into the Church I have noticed some internal issues that I struggle with. I constantly hear laypeople complaining about ‘abuses’ by priests that I’m sure in some cases aren’t even abuses, while in other cases probably are. I also am aware that the Church form of government is not a democracy where the laypeople ‘vote’, but a Papacy with the head bishop in Rome (the Pope), along with the council of bishops and priests throughout the world as it’s head.
Having said all that, when a layperson does suspect an abuse, where does the line between accountability of a priest begin and the submissive role of the layperson end? Do we really perceive and accept the Church as our teacher?
Example: I have heard of a priest in a local parish who seems to freely give communion to Protestants (probably not consciously during mass, but in visiting homebound, & sick in retirement homes, facilities), and has given permission for extraordinary ministers to do the same, with the only requirement being that the person must be baptized. This seems to go against all that I have heard from apologists and the official ‘rules’ of the Church. Yet, on the other hand, I have also heard that priests have the authority to mete out God’s grace however they see fit. Therefore, who am I to question their authority?
I was once given absolution as a Protestant by a Jesuit when I was dying of Leukemia (obviously I recovered), although I was about 80-90% Catholic at heart at the time. I don’t question the priest’s authority, nor that it was at all improper for him to do so given the circumstance.
So in conclusion, it seems that on some level laypeople have a certain obligation to recognize ‘abuses’ as it were and hold priests accountable, while on another level recognizing with humility the priests authority over them. How do we reconcile this? Where do we draw the line?
to answer your specific question, there is a proper way for lay people to register a complaint about how liturgy is conducted cuf.org/FaithFacts/protocol.asp
since you are new to this forum, and to the faith (Welcome Home!) you will benefit from the resource links above on this forum, from which this is taken.
there is also a right way to register complaints about misconduct in ministry, whether on the part of priests or of any lay person in paid or volunteer positions with the Church. In every diocese you can contact the bishop, or the person he has designated as an ombudsman for these complaints, usually the vicar general. the bishops’ website ussb.org has links to every diocese.
First of all, it is wonderful to see someone who understands that the Catholic Church is not a democracy. Wonderful!
The line has to be drawn by personal conscience. There are times when there is no way except a lay person’s intervention for the Church (Bishops) to know an abuse is occurring. If a priest is using a bunch of ‘time savers’ or ‘its easy this way’ methods - the Bishop isn’t at the parish on a regular basis and it may be that the priest will do things right when he is. So there is no way for the Bishop to know what is going on. But there are times a priest just messes up, so small things that don’t persist shouldn’t be given any mind.
The biggest thing is to ensure UNDERSTANDING. It may be that a priest is within full right and Church teaching in his ‘abuse’. For example, there have been times my priest would use an alternate during Mass I’d never heard. I simply ask about it and he shows me in the rubric where this is an alternate.
There are much more serious and more obvious abuses but these still require ensuring understanding. For example, if a priest is openly for abortion step one would be talk to the priest, ensure you fully understand that he is indeed for abortion. If he is and defends this stance with the knowledge that it is against the teachings of the Church, then it is time for a letter to the Bishop.
So your example of giving Communion to non-Catholics. If I were comfortable talking to him, I would simply ask for a time to talk (this can be done in a letter if talking isn’t available or is uncomfortable - sometimes its better to have things in writing anyway). In this talk I would present the Church’s teaching about who is to receive Communion under what circumstances and in a way that says ‘I don’t understand please explain’ point out that his actions do not seem to be in line with this teaching. If his actions knowingly persist or if while during the discussion he flat says ‘I don’t do what the Church teachs’ or ‘I don’t agree with the Church’s teaching’. Then it is time to inform the Bishop.
The point is - give all priests the benefit of the doubt, they are our authority and Church fathers and often know better. When the time occurs that the Bishop needs to know what is happening, benefit for the priest must still be given. Meaning a letter to the Bishop should be written with all humility with a clear intention that you desire understanding for your teacher and father’s actions. It should not be a ‘father’s misbehaving again’ type letter.
Hope this helps - please ask if you need clarification.
The first step is to discuss the matter with the priest himself. If he doesn’t resolve it to your satisfaction, the next step is the bishop (or his designee, like the Vicar General or the Vicar for Clergy).
Keep in mind that priests themselves do not have absolute power, or even total discretion over the Sacraments. Priests are absolutely bound to follow the canon law and liturgical law of the Church. Priests can only use their discretion within the law itself. To continue with your own example, a priest does not have any discretion in administering Communion to non-Catholics, except what the Church already provides; and some very stringent requirements have to be met here which are almost impossible in contemporary American society–this can only be done in times of war, persecution, natural disaster, or some similar extremes, and there are still other requirements which must be met.
Anyone in a position of authority must exercise that authority legitimately. A priest cannot give permission for a layperson to administer Holy Communion to Protestants based upon his authority as a priest any more than a police officer can give someone permission to rob a bank based upon the authority of his office to uphold the law (it doesn’t even make sense, you see?). The priest himself does not have the ability to give Communion to Protestants, so he certainly cannot extend that ability to someone else who acts as the priest’s substitute. In philosophy, we say “you can’t give what you don’t have.”
The point is that “we” don’t draw the line between what authority a priest has and what he doesn’t have. The Church does this. And it’s done by canon law and liturgical law, and the other “norms” (ie rules) of the Church.
Priests have a sacred responsibility to administer the Sacraments in the way that the Church describes. Catholics have a right to the proper administration of the Sacraments. No priest has any legitimacy in acting against the laws of the Church. No Catholic has any responsibility to “submit” to a priest who acts improperly.
If you think a priest is acting improperly, there’s nothing wrong with asking him to explain himself in a proper, polite setting, and asking in honesty and charity. If the response is in conflict with what you know (or perceive) to be the Church’s laws, then the next step is to approach the bishop–again in honesty and charity.
Thank you for your answers. I should have clarified something. The way I discovered he had given communion to Protestants is from some actual extraordinary ministers of holy communion (2 of them in agreement) who had brought it up like it was a wonderful thing. It immediately raised a red flag to me, so I asked if perhaps they misunderstood. They then presented documentation, that although a bit unclear, could have been interpreted to mean that. I still held my ground and explained to them that I was sure it was a possible abuse.
I then approached the assistant to the pastor (a nun) who teaches RCIA. She then said that they probably misunderstood, but even if the priest himself had done such a thing he certainly would have not done so maliciously or intentionally against the Church. He then confirmed the same; that the EMOHC’s had probably misinterpreted. I just left it alone, because I am not an EMOHC myself and did not want to overstep, not knowing all EMOHC procedures, etc.
On another note, I KNOW of a Protestant whose parents were received in, who sometimes visits during mass and receives communion. I once pointed out to her that it was inappropriate for her to receive unless she were in full communion. I then pointed her toward the beginning of the missal that more graciously explains it. She still continues to receive. I suspect the priest and/or EMHOC is unaware of her status, but she is friendly and I hate to make waves. At the same time, I recognize the responsibility I have to address the issue with the priest or assistant and plan to do so in the future.
Otherwise, thank you all for your wonderful answers and links. I will study more. But again, I am unaware of how much latitude priests have in meting out grace. I’m sure the links will clarify things. Again, thank you all. I am still growing in my Catholic faith.
The only 2 places I found in Canon Law were the following:
Can. 912. Any baptized person not prohibited by law [Emphasis mine] can and must be admitted to holy communion.
Can. 933. For a just cause and with the express permission of the local ordinary, a priest is permitted to celebrate the Eucharist in the place of worship of some Church or ecclesial community which does not have full communion with the Catholic Churchso long as there is no scandal. [Again, emphasis mine]
Canon 912 does not seem to distinguish between Non-Catholic Christians and Catholics unless one fully understands the ‘not prohibited by law’ disclaimer. I’m not sure what all that would include/exclude.
Concerning Canon 933, I’m not sure how there would be no scandal if by ‘celebrating the Eucharist’ it means non-Catholic Christians would be allowed to receive…or…it might mean that a non-Catholic Christian may INACTIVELY participate by either observing while Catholics are receiving, or coming forward to receive a blessing.
I have studied the Catechism concerning the issue of disunity and the need for ecumenism and unity. However, I have not found anything concerning either a ban of reception for Protestants during communion or permission for them to receive, either way.
Is there something I am missing? I FEEL that it is wrong for a non-Catholic Christian to receive if for no other reason than the excerpt in the front of every missal, and I’m sure I have not dug in deep enough yet, but I am not sure where to look. Can anyone help me?
the best thing to do would be to talk to the priest himself in private of course and if he doesnt listen to you which he may not then the proper thing to do the would be to make a call to the Bishop of your diocese and dont worry they will ask for your name but when they notify the priest concerning your complaint they will not let him know that it was you who made the call they will just need it to follow up and call you back with what resulted