Analysis:US bishops defy Rome on Communion

ROLAND FLAMINI, Chief International Correspondent

WASHINGTON, July 6 (UPI) -- A leaked Vatican letter to U.S. bishops that says politicians who support abortion should be barred from receiving Holy Communion is incomplete and does not reflect the full extent of exchanges between Rome and the American hierarchy, a spokesperson for Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington said Wednesday.

The text of the letter written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and entitled "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion, General Principles" was revealed this week by a respected Vatican journalist, Sandro Magister of the Italian magazine L'Espresso.


German-born Cardinal Ratzinger is considered one of Pope John Paul II's closest collaborators. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he is the church's chief guardian of theological and doctrinal orthodoxy, and is noted for his rigid conservatism.

Ratzinger's document was dispatched exclusively to the American bishops in connection with the controversy over Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's pro-choice position on abortion. Some U.S. bishops had said that Sen. Kerry -- a practicing Roman Catholic -- should be barred from receiving Holy Communion. A Vatican source said that European bishops, for example, had not received the Ratzinger document.

According to the six-point "General Principles" no Catholic should seek to receive Holy Communion if he or she is guilty of "a grave sin," and abortion is a grave sin. A priest "may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin," Ratzinger wrote. (An interdict, which can only be imposed by a bishop, bars a Catholic from receiving any of the Sacraments, including Holy Communion.)


This ban on communion is not limited to persons performing abortions, but also to people "whose personal cooperation becomes manifest," including "the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws," Ratzinger wrote. "The pastor should meet him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of the sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Holy Eucharist."

When "the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist" the minister giving Communion "must refuse to distribute it," Ratzinger concluded. "This decision properly speaking is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person's subjective guilt, but rather (he) is reacting to the person's public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin."

A footnote adds that any Catholic who votes for a candidate specifically because of his or her pro-choice position on abortion, "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion."

According to Magister, Cardinal Ratzinger's "General Principles" were sent in early June to Cardinal McCarrick, who heads the "domestic policy" commission of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and to conference president Bishop Wilton Gregory.


But at its meeting in Denver from June 14-19 after an intense debate the bishops, faced with a deadlock, decided at least as a temporary measure not to recommend denying Holy Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, leaving it to individual bishops to decide what action to take, if any. The conference also set up a Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians to study the problem further.

Cardinal McCarrick, speaking at the Denver conference, expressed concern that if withholding Holy Communion from politicians became a practice "the sacred nature of the Eucharist might be turned into a partisan political background."

McCarrick's comments, subsequently published on the U.S.

Conference of Catholic Bishops website, went on: "Our task force does not advocate the denial of Communion for Catholic politicians or Catholic voters in these circumstances...We do not want to encourage confrontations at the altar rail with the body of the Lord Jesus in our hands. This would create unimaginable burdens for our priests."

Though the bishops' decision seems to be in direct contradiction to Ratzinger's quite specific conclusion that a politician who continues to embrace pro-choice policies should be barred from the Eucharist, Cardinal MCarrick said in a statement read to United Press international Tuesday that the decision of the Denver conference "reflects both the substance of Cardinal Ratzinger's observations and our own (the U.S. bishops') interim conclusions."


This was because in further discussions between McCarrick and Ratzinger the Vatican cardinal agreed that the ultimate decision was up to individual bishops, McCarrick's spokesperson, Susan Gibbs, said Wednesday. But Cardinal Ratzinger had specifically requested that correspondence on this issue should not be published.

"The difficulty is that there's more correspondence on this than what was leaked between Cardinal McCarrick and Cardinal Ratzinger but we're not allowed to reveal it," Gibbs said. She said she presumed that the "General Principles" had been leaked from the Vatican.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pointed out that the task force was continuing its work. Asked about a completion deadline, the spokesman replied, "In November." But he would not specify a date.

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