Canadian priest repents of canine communion

28 July 2010

by Ed Beavan

AN ANGLICAN church in Canada has caused an outcry after a dog was given holy communion. The Revd Marguerite Rea gave a consecrated wafer to an Alsatian-cross breed named Trapper, at St Peter’s, Toronto, last month.

It was the first time the dog and his owner, Donald Keith, had attended a service there. The Bishop of York Scarborough, the Rt Revd Patrick Yu, who oversees St Peter’s, emphasised that it was against the policy of the Anglican Church of Canada. “I can see why people would be offended. It is a strange and shocking thing, and I have never heard of it happening before.”

He said he believed Ms Rea was overcome by “a misguided gesture of welcoming”. He has received assurances from her that it will never happen again. The matter was now closed, he said, as “we are, after all, in the forgiveness-and-repair business.”

On Sunday, Ms Rea apologised for her action, which had been a “simple act of reaching out”.

The Revd Professor Andrew Linzey, Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and the author of Animal Rites, said it did not make sense theologically to give communion to animals, as humans needed moral regeneration in a way that animals did not, as “animals can’t sin, and are therefore morally blameless. Humans, on the other hand, need sacramental grace so they might, inter alia, stop being so cruel and selfish to God’s other creatures.”

He said that the practice of blessing animals had a long tradition in the Church, and was found in the Rituale Romanum of the 16th century. “I see nothing wrong with companion animals coming up to the altar for a blessing.”

A spokesman for the Church of England said that he had never heard of an animal’s receiving communion in the C of E, and that it was against canon law. Canon Law B 15A states that “baptised persons” may be admitted to holy communion: it does not mention animals.

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