At a funeral in Amite, La., the other day, an openly gay man living in a same-sex marriage was denied communion at his mother’s funeral. From the Baton Rouge Advocate‘s report:

Tim Ardillo said he was standing next to his mother’s coffin leading his young son to receive a blessing when the priest presiding over the funeral Mass denied him communion.

The longtime Catholic said the priest told him it was because he married outside the church, but Ardillo doesn’t think that’s the whole story.

He believes he was denied the sacrament because, as is stated in his mother’s obituary, he is married to a man.

The priest in question, the Rev. Mark Beard, of St. Helena Catholic Church in Amite, did not return multiple calls seeking comment in the week following the July 10 funeral.

Ardillo said the church passed out a quotation from 1 Corinthians at Mass the next Sunday, which states, in a portion highlighted in red ink, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks in judgment of himself.”

Ardillo said he has since received an apology from the Diocese of Baton Rouge, which directly oversees the Amite church, and a personal apology from New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, though Aymond’s office declined to comment on the matter for this story.

Ardillo told the newspaper that he has been away from the church for a long time, and that he had looked forward to receiving the Eucharist at his mother’s funeral so he could be in touch with her through the sacrament. More:

He said he still believes in the Catholic faith but isn’t sure of his “place” in the church.

Toward the end of his mother’s life, the two would pray together; she signed the cross on her leg when she couldn’t lift her hands higher. They prayed the rosary together the last time they saw each other, Ardillo said.

He had thought the funeral would serve as a reintroduction into the Catholic community, but not anymore.

“I can’t,” he said. “I don’t have it in me.”

I don’t want to quote the entire story (read the whole thing), but you should read this part concerning the priest who heads the Canon Law Society of America:

As a practical matter, Keeler noted that a priest or Eucharistic minister can’t possibly know the marital standing of everybody in line. He also raised more philosophical concerns.

“This is not a weapon. Communion is not a reward for good behavior,” he said. “It’s the food for weary souls.”

He used an example of a priest who has read in the newspaper that a parishioner has embezzled millions of dollars. The woman may have atoned for her transgression, and even she should receive the sacrament if she puts out her hand, Keeler said.

“How am I to know that she is not in a state of grace?” he asked.

The priest, however, would almost certainly have known from the deceased woman’s obituary that her son was married to a man. Is it reasonable to assume that Ardillo had repented of his same-sex marriage in the time between the publication of the obituary and the funeral?

I don’t know the Catholic priest in question, and can’t know what was in his mind. But it is part of the sacred calling of priests to guard the Eucharist. In my Orthodox parish, our priest is very serious about not receiving the Eucharist unworthily. He has us all going to confession regularly. I have never seen him deny anyone communion, but I don’t doubt that if he thought any of us was in a serious state of unconfessed sin, that he would not let us receive — and that this would be for our own good. Because our priest and our church takes communion so seriously, we in the laity learn to do so as well. We have been warned that if any of us are traveling and go to the liturgy in a Russian Orthodox parish, we should not be surprised if we present ourselves for communion and the priest withholds it from us, unless we have spoken to him ahead of time and assured him that we have had a recent confession. The priest would not be doing this to punish us, but rather to protect us, and the Eucharist.

By his own admission, Tim Ardillo is not a practicing Catholic, and hasn’t been for years. He did not seek communion because he wanted to commune with Jesus Christ, but because he saw it as a means of feeling connected to his late mother. He seems to believe that the Eucharist is an entitlement. Perhaps Father Beard didn’t know any of that, but he certainly knew that Ardillo was living in what the Catholic Church considers to be a state of very serious sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that those Catholics who are not in a state of grace may not receive communion. That priest, Father Mark Beard, would have compromised his conscience giving communion to someone he had strong reason to believe was not in a state of grace. According to Scripture, Father Beard would have been complicit in Ardillo’s sin, and could not have claimed ignorance.

Had Father Beard given Ardillo communion, and a conservative Catholic complained about it, I could accept the priest explaining that he did so as a gesture of mercy to an unrepentant sinner at his mother’s funeral. But it is hard for me to see that Father Beard did the wrong thing here, by obeying the Catholic Church’s own teaching about the Eucharist. His bishop, and the Archbishop of New Orleans, have publicly thrown him under the bus, however. The rationale that the canon lawyer quoted in the story gives means that there are practically no circumstances under which a priest can deny anyone the Eucharist.

I feel very sorry for Father Beard, and for the priests of those two dioceses, who will not be able to count on their bishops backing them up if they choose to obey the Church’s teaching.