Don't Ask Don't Tell Communion Policy!?

Here’s the situation: For a long time those in our parish who take Communion to the elderly in a nursing home have distributed Communion to virtually anyone who wants to receive. They do this with full knowledge that more than a few are not Catholic. And it appears that the pastor is fully aware of this. I don’t doubt it. A new deacon at the parish goes to the nursing home and explains what the Church teaches and believes about the Eucharist and about receiving Communion. There is an outcry and indignation from some of the recipients and also from the lay people who have previously distributed Communion to these people. They demand/insist that they should be allowed to receive even though some identify themselves as Episcopalians, Lutherans or whatever. The deacon decides to take the “pastoral” approach. He suggests that if they really believe what the Church teaches he won’t stop them from receiving and he doesn’t want to know whether or not they are Catholic. A “don’t ask, don’t tell” Communion policy. He acknowledges he is somewhat uncomfortable with this but he feels this is more compassionate and pastoral to the elderly. He realizes he may be rationalizing. He also suggests that an alternative to a difficult situation would be to just leave this ministry to someone else. I briefly discussed this situation with him. What should be done?

Do Episcopalian and Lutheran congregations distribute communion to their elderly Christians in retirement homes?

RCIA classes for retirement homes?

They shouldn’t receive Eucharist if they aren’t in communion with the RCC.

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? My 8 yr old is facing 2 years of faith formation and sacrament preparation classes in order to receive First Communion.
If the non-Catholics do not believe it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, then they shouldn’t receive it. Just because it’s a seemingly nice outreach program doesn’t make it right.

If you’re not Catholic, you cannot receive communion. This Deacon is out of line IMO.

Also, a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy with the Sacred Body of Christ is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Are the real Catholics afraid to say they are Catholics? Why would you give communion to a non-Catholic?

I’ve read in the catechism that in certain grave situations it is acceptable to give Communion to non-Catholics, even Protestants, provided they give “some indication” of true belief. Whether the circumstances here are grave and the belief true is, I admit, a gray area, possibly a VERY DARK gray, ;), but not totally unprecedented.

Its not practical to interrogate each person who wishes to receive communion and its not possible with some in nursing homes.
The parish should make clear to the nursing home that they come to bring the eucharist to Catholic residents. Occasionally a few nonCatholics are going to “sneak through” but that’s just the way it goes.

There is a difference between interrogating all patients and asking for baptism/confirmation certificates and allowing openly non-Catholic people to recieve.

I would tell the Parish Priest; and if no positive result I would write to the Bishop.

The Eucharist should not be administered to non-Catholics; or lapsed Catholics.

Perhaps the Deacons time would be better spent instead of abusing the Eucharist to offer to provide RCIA to the non Catholics at the home; or present some other Ecumenical interactions – the Eucharist should not be used as a “get together” - it is not tea and biscuits.

I would imagine that is more commonly used for people on their deathbed than old people in a nursing home though, just my opinion. I remember that being in the catechism though I don’t remember the exact wording.

At any rate, this Deacon needs to ask a priest, or the Bishop about this. non-Catholics at a nursing home have no right to demand the Eucharist.

Canon Law is pretty clear:

Can. 844 §4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.

The deacon should either not commune Protestants at all or else abide by the prescriptions of the CIC. From the sounds of it, he does neither. Looks like another garden-variety proponent of the “overly-pastoral” approach. :shrug:

Thanks for the quote. :slight_smile: . Either near death, or a grave “necessity.” Pretty clear there.

The Eucharist can not be distributed knowingly as you describe, though in so far as ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ it is generally the policy (at least in my parish) of the Church not to question whether or not someone should be receiving when they approch. It is up to them to ensure they have properly diserned the disposition of their soul, as well as whether they are in communion with the faith (ours) offering the Eucharist, as well as whether their beliefs are in line.

At least for me, unless I knew full well the person wasn’t Catholic (say with some of my Evangelical friends) I would no dare question. For those whom I know should not receive, I would do my best to gently explain they shouldn’t receive, and if they still approched me to recieve then… well awkward… but hopefully they’d be ok [edited] and being moved along with out causing too much fuss.

Fortunetly for me at least this isn’t a problem, my friends are generally spiritually honest enough (and well informed enough) to know whether or not they should receive.

Still a pretty gray area though, someone in a senior’s residence who’s 90, it could be argued, is near death and every minute of life is a gift, and may be the last such gift.

Also senility (i.e. Alzheimer’s or dementia), might really mess up will, disposition, etc. Clearly those folks who are asking for communion from an RC priest, are seeking something, are seeking Jesus.

Perhaps if not for their senility they might seek conversion. But in their senility, RCIA and formal conversion, are not possible. In some ways, senility is a return to infancy, and they may just be approaching God “with the heart of a child”.

I’m not a big fan of “what would Jesus do”, because we can’t pretend to know the heart of God, but this situation does beg the question: “what would Jesus do?”

Would He comfort the elderly, or wrap Himself in strict legalism?

The Deacon has to be careful here. Giving Communion to non-Catholics could cause them grave harm. Not being Catholic, they have not had the sacrament of Confession and if they have committed mortal sins then they are receiving unworthily. Also, the Deacon could be held accountable for this as well when he faces our Lord’s judgment seat one day. If I were the Deacon I would not want to take this risk.

I understand practical issues of how do we know if so and so is Catholic but then again we are talking about the Holy Eucharist, and we must respect the ways of the Lord more than anything.

If the person is not in full possession of his or her faculties, I am sure the above is quite logically wrong. Mortal sin requires grave matter, full knowledge and full consent. That includes the grave sin of receiving unworthily.

I doubt someone in a nursing home, with varying degrees of senility, is capable of forming full consent or has full knowledge. Moreover not being Catholic, it isn’t even possible for them to sin mortally on moral issues that are particular to Catholics only, since they could not possibly have full knowledge. And on sins not specific to Catholics, they wouldn’t understand the concept of mortal vs. non-mortal sin.

Add all that to senility and the possibility that the communicant is sinning mortally by receiving unworthily, is a non-starter.

And for anything other than deathbed emergency it must be a grave necessity in the judgment of the Bishop– i.e. it is not the deacon who makes this decision.

The deacon is going to have to stand before Christ and explain himself in light of 1 Corinthians 11 first and foremost, but certainly also the numerous papal teachings that could guide him here, especially Ecclesia de Eucharistia. He’d better start rehearsing what he will say now if he keeps treating the Body and Blood of Christ so nonchalantly.

He had a real opportunity to educate others, stand up for the faith, and yet still be pastoral by refusing a false ecumenism. He blew it.

In order to administer Communion to non-Catholics, several conditions must be met (and not even the bishop is able to dispense from these conditions–per Redemptionis Sacramentum).

First, it must be a dire situation, like war, famine, persecution, or natural disaster. A nursing home is none of these. The standard is “grave necessity” which is the highest standard in canon law.

It must be physically or morally impossible (not just “inconvenient”) for the Protestant to approach a minister of his own faith for their bread in memory of the Last Supper.

Each person must express belief in the True Presence, and every other Eucharistic doctrine, including the necessity of a validly ordained priesthood (which is almost an impossible standard for non-Catholics to meet, since they would have to at the same time deny their own ministers version of the Last Supper memorial). RS states that not even the bishop can dispense from this requirement.

The non-Catholic must approach the Catholic minister and request this–the Catholic deacon or priest cannot “invite.”

This is just a start–the most obvious requirements.

None of these seem to apply here.

The process might be doing the recipients more harm than good. The Lord’s Supper is serious business… Biblically, it talks about people dying because they were taking it irreverently. Even in the baptist church I’ve heard of people not taking it because they didn’t feel worthy for whatever particular reason, and they aren’t shy about calling it symbolism only. Is there any way to get special permission for a Christian outside the Catholic/Orthodox Church?

I agree that the Deacon needs to be careful here. However, I am not of the opinion that he should not take the risk of giving them communion. Have you considered the risk of denying them communion? What he ought to do is discern whether or not he ought to give communion.

Some, but not a lot of, wiggle room in Church law on this issue.
As I see it a decision on this matter is well above the good deacon’s pay grade.
The matter should be addressed to the diocesan bishop.

Senility and senile mean “old age”. These words have nothing to do with disease’s such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. We sometimes say senile dementia to indicate dementia related to cerebral aging. There’s also pre-senile dementia to refer to a person say in their forty’s with dementia. I don’t think we should always assume that older persons have lost their mental faculties.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit