Here is an update on the incident from a Catholic who knows the priest, Fr. Marcel. The important new information is as follows:
“The woman in question brought her lesbian partner into the vesting sacristy just before the funeral Mass and made sure to introduce her partner to Fr. Marcel, introducing her as her ‘lover’. He told her then that she should not present herself for Communion.”
Fr. Marcel “did not publicly denounce her but rather said in a whisper that he could not give her Holy Communion. He did feel sick at the end of Mass and made sure to have a replacement priest accompany the body and family to the cemetery.”
The priest behaved in an entirely appropriate manner, consistent with Canon Law and the eternal moral law. Even if Canon Law did not exist, any priest would be justified and obligated to deny Communion to someone who reveals that they are in a state of obstinate grave sin. When Canon Law speaks on a particular issue, this does not imply that the eternal moral law has nothing to say on the same subject. And the Eternal Moral Law outranks canon law.
Edited to add: It turns out that this woman is not Catholic, or any type of Christian; she is a Buddhist (not that there’s anything wrong with that). She has no right to receive Communion at all.
But all this discussion about one particular incident ignores a much broader problem — that a very large percentage of church-going Catholics are ineligible to receive Communion. Their grave sins might not be manifest, so those distributing Communion could not know to deny them Communion, but as a matter of conscience, they should not be receiving. This includes Catholics who are using contraception, or who obstinately reject the Church’s teaching on: contraception, abortion, gay marriage, and various sexual sins. A large percentage of Catholics today are in a state of material heresy, many perhaps are in a state of formal heresy.
The sin of formal heresy automatically excommunicates by the very nature of the sin. There is a Canon in Canon Law that automatically excommunicates anyone who commits apostasy, formal heresy, or formal schism.
Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”
But even if that Canon did not exist, each of those three sins automatically excommunicates by the nature of the offense. Apostasy automatically excommunicates because the person knowingly chooses to depart from the Christian Faith; the person cuts himself off from the Church by a knowing and deliberate choice. The same is true for formal heresy and formal schism. The person is willfully choosing to separate himself from communion with the Pope and the body of Bishops and all who are in communion with them.
Automatic excommunication is inherent to these three types of sin only (apostasy, heresy, schism). Every other unrepentant grave sin is sufficient to make the sinner unworthy to receive Communion, even if the person is not automatically excommunicated. For most grave sins, a Canon in Church Law or a judgment of proper Church authority is needed to excommunicate someone (latae or ferendae). But apostasy, heresy, and schism require no judgment and no Canon. The very nature of these types of sins includes a choice of the individual to reject the Church, thereby breaking communion with the same. They are automatically excommunicated under the eternal moral law.
Formal heresy is the obstinate rejection or obstinate doubt of any infallible teaching of the Magisterium, including those taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. The term ‘obstinate’ implies a willful act, in rejecting what one knows to be the Church’s definitive teaching, and a continual refusal to repent from the same.
The term ‘doubt’ has a particular theological meaning here. A passing doubt about any teaching is not heresy, of any kind. Instead, this type of doubt is a deliberate and knowing refusal to believe, even without a positive assertion that the teaching is wrong or that an alternate view should be held.
Formal heresy is very widespread in the Church today. Perhaps a majority of persons who are receiving Communion on a regular basis should not be receiving. The most commonly-rejected infallible teachings of the Magisterium:
1. The use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.
2. Direct abortion is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, even in cases of rape, incest, birth defect, or danger to the life of the mother.
3. Artificial procreation (e.g. IVF) is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.
4. All non-marital sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.
5. All non-unitive or non-procreative sexual acts are intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, including homosexual acts, and all unnatural sexual acts.
6. Each and every sexual act in a marriage must be unitive and procreative.
7. Masturbation is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.
8. Gay marriage (same-sex marriage) is not a true type of marriage.
9. The homosexual orientation is inherently disordered; homosexual persons are called to chastity.
10. The Magisterium has the ability and authority from God to teach with authority, even infallibly, and to require adherence to magisterial teachings.
In addition, anyone who persists in committing objective mortal sin and is unrepentant should not be receiving Communion. Even if a person is not in a state of formal heresy for rejecting Church teaching against contraception, the sin of using contraception (or of formal cooperation in that same sin) is a mortal sin. Anyone in a state of grave sin, including formal heresy and any other grave unrepentant sin, should not be receiving holy Communion.
See also this article: Automatic Excommunication for the Use of Abortifacient Contraception. And here is my reply to those who claim that obstinate rejection of an infallible teaching is not sufficient to constitute heresy: Contra Cardinal Ratzinger on Levels of Assent.
Jesus ate and drank with sinners to correct them, not to approve of their sins. The Lord abhors every grave sin and every obstinate refusal to believe the truths of Divine Revelation.