The archbishop of Detroit, Allen Vigneron, suggested on Sunday that Roman Catholics who support same-sex marriage should not receive Holy Communion, a traditional church practice that symbolizes the Last Supper.
Vigneron told the Free Press that such Catholics who receive Communion "logically bring shame for a double-dealing that is not unlike perjury."
The issue of same-sex marriage has deeply divided America, and the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering two major gay marriage cases that have the potential to decide the future of the practice on a federal and state level.
The Roman Catholic Church has strictly opposed same-sex marriage, defending the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. The church has struggled with how to minister to gay people, however, with Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, insisting that they must find ways to maintain their traditional teachings without attacking gay people.
"We gotta be, we gotta do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. And I admit, we haven't been too good at that. We try our darndest to make sure we're not an anti-anybody," said the cardinal, who is the most senior Catholic cleric in America.
Edward Peters, who teaches Catholic canon law at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, commented on his blog that since Catholic teaching opposes gay marriage, "Catholics who promote 'same-sex marriage' act contrary to Catholic law and should not approach for holy Communion. They also risk having holy Communion withheld from them ... being rebuked and/or being sanctioned."
Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, argued against such a position, offering that "most American bishops do not favor denying either politicians or voters Communion because of their positions on controversial issues." Reese also argued that Peters' comments are "in a minority among American canon lawyers."
Peters continued the debate on his blog, insisting that his views on Communion were not held by a minority but were indeed based on Cannon law.
In his argument, Vigneron stated, "For a Catholic to receive Holy Communion and still deny the revelation Christ entrusted to the church is to try to say two contradictory things at once: 'I believe the church offers the saving truth of Jesus, and I reject what the church teaches.'"
In an email on Monday to CNN, a spokesman for the archdiocese of Detroit tried to clarify the comments by providing some context for the discussion:
"The archbishop's focal point here is not 'gay marriage;' it is a Catholic's reception of Holy Communion," said spokesman Joe Kohn.
"If a Catholic publicly opposes the church on a serious matter of the church's teaching, any serious matter – for example, whether it be a rejection of the divinity of Christ, racist beliefs, support for abortion or support for redefining marriage – that would contradict the public affirmation they would make of the church's beliefs by receiving Communion."