Remain a Catholic? – Holy Communion with Alzheimer’s disease?



Editor's note: Father Doyle died Oct. 28, 2022. This is his final column in The Message. May he rest in peace.

Q. How, in good conscience, can I remain a practicing Catholic with all the scandal and hypocrisy exposed within the church? So many of the church's actions seem far removed from the message of Jesus.

The church gathers riches upon the earth, has its own country, bank and government and has a hierarchy. Popes have been bought, cruelty has been inflicted and the church gets involved in politics.

Would it be a mortal sin if I left the church? I believe in Jesus as my savior, and I look forward to receiving the Eucharist. Am I a hypocrite in staying? (Northampton, Pennsylvania)

A. Some of the things you mention about the church trouble me deeply, but others do not. It doesn't concern me that the church "gathers riches" when the goal is to help the poor -- or to preserve sacred items for posterity.

Nor does it bother me that the Vatican is its own nation and therefore needs its own bank and independent government. The church has a hierarchy because that's the way Jesus set it up, with Peter in charge. Nor does it trouble me when the church takes public positions on issues of human rights; that is its moral obligation.

What does concern me, of course, is that there have been a few bad popes in history and that cruelty has at times been inflicted in the name of the church. (I think of the Crusades.)

What centers me in the church and what constitutes for me its biggest gift is the Eucharist -- as you have mentioned. I pray for the church that it may strive after the perfection of Christ, its founder, and I seek the Lord's strength each day, especially in holy Communion.

Q. My mother-in-law is in the first stages of Alzheimer's disease and has not gone to confession in five or six months. She wants to receive the Eucharist, but my sister-in-law will not let her go up to receive. My mother-in-law is a very religious person and loves Our Lord.

In her right mind, she was a God-fearing woman; now, in her unstable mind, she is always talking to the Lord, and Communion is the only thing that she wants to do on Sundays. Can they let her go to Communion? (Mansfield, Texas)

A. Of course your mother-in-law is eligible to receive holy Communion, and she should be allowed to.

From your question, I'm not sure why your sister-in-law is unwilling to let her receive. Is it because she hasn't been to confession in several months? But technically one is obligated to confess before Communion only if someone is in serious sin -- and I doubt very much that's the case.

Or is it that your sister-in-law is worried that she doesn't understand what the Eucharist is and won't fully appreciate it?

On that, I would give your mother-in-law the benefit of the doubt -- especially since, as you say, receiving Communion is the only thing she wants to do on Sundays. It seems to me that she is aware that the Eucharist is a special gift that unites her with the Lord.

Would it help to show your sister-in-law this response -- or perhaps have a priest she knows speak with her?