Home Articles Golden Oldies Speaking Schedule About Christ or Chaos Links Donations Contact Us
July 4, 2004

Correcting the Record and Asking Some Questions

by Thomas A. Droleskey

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, has certainly muddied the waters a lot in the past two decades of his tenure as the Holy Father’s chief lieutenant in charge of doctrine. His Eminence has called the Second Vatican Council a “counter-Syllabus of Errors.” He has said that Jews wait expectantly for the Messiah, stating that there is no need to “target” them for conversion to the true Faith. He has been a player in the de-construction of Our Lady’s Fatima message, especially by attempting to explain away the plain statement of the Mother of God, that “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”

However, it is now apparent that, contrary to what I reported in the July issue of Catholic Family News, Cardinal Ratzinger did not side with the likes of Roger Cardinal Mahony in the ongoing battle within the American hierarchy over the denial of Holy Communion to Catholic pro-abortion politicians and the Catholics who vote for them. Although I qualified my report (“Cardinal Ratzinger appears to have cut the legs out from under the several American bishops who had enough apostolic courage to lay down the law to pro-abortion Catholic politicians”) considerably, the news stories upon which I based my analysis were erroneous and contained incomplete information. I apologize to His Eminence--and to those who read my article--for the conclusions based on the erroneous reports and incomplete information.

One of the sources of the erroneous reporting on what Cardinal Ratzinger actually wrote to the American bishops was none other than Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., who has been on record stating that he opposes using “the Eucharist as a weapon.” The Catholic World News report that broke the story on July 3, 2004, of an Italian newspaper’s release of the Ratzinger letter, noted: “Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who heads a committee of US bishops studying possible responses to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, told reporters that the Ratzinger letter left the issue in the hands of the American hierarchy.” As can be seen below, McCarrick’s statement, which I must admit that I had accepted at face value (shame on me), is contradicted quite clearly by the text of Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter.

Here is His Eminence’s complete statement, which was evidently sent to the American bishops as they were deliberating the matter of what to do with Catholics in public life who support abortion and dissent from other matters contained in the Deposit of Faith:

1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” nos. 81, 83).

2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74).

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

4. Apart from an individuals’s judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with 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 sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

6. When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

This statement is far different from what some American bishops said that Cardinal Ratzinger had told them during their ad limina apostolorum visits in early June. The Associated Press reported the following on June 4, 2004:

A top Vatican cardinal told visiting U.S. bishops they should be cautious about denying Communion to Roman Catholic politicians who support policies at odds with church teaching, according to a news report.

Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup, N.M., said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spoke of proceeding cautiously on the issue, Catholic News Service reported. Ratzinger said he would like Vatican officials to meet soon with a U.S. bishops' panel reviewing how church leaders should interact with Catholics in public life.

With Cardinal Ratzinger’s full statement now in the public domain, several comments need to be made before asking some questions that remain unanswered.

His Eminence’s statement makes an important and long-needed distinction between the moral issues involved in the Church’s opposition to abortion and euthanasia, founded as such opposition is in the Divine positive law and the natural law, and prudential judgments that are made on matters of war and peace and the imposition of the death penalty. Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement is the first Vatican document in recent years to state the actual Catholic teaching on the fact that the support for the imposition of the death penalty, for example, does not excommunicate one from the Catholic Church, thereby sticking it to the likes of Cardinal Mahony and Albany, New York, Bishop Howard Hubbard, men who have clung to the shopworn cliches contained in the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s “Consistent Ethic of Life,” otherwise known as the “seamless garment.”

Nevertheless, there are questions that remain unanswered in light of Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement:

1) Who has authority over conducting the period of “instructing” a pro-abortion Catholic politician who has remained obstinate in his or her support for the destruction of innocent human life in the womb? The official’s local pastor? The official’s local ordinary? How long is this period of “instruction” supposed to last?

2) Does the pastor of each Catholic Church in which a pro-abortion Catholic official presents himself for the reception of Holy Communion have to engage the individual in a period of “instruction.” For example, does a candidate running for the Presidency of the United States of America have to be approached by each pastor of each parish in which he attends Holy Mass during his campaign? Or is this excluded as impractical, as implied in Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter?

3) Are pastors mandated to “instruct” their pro-abortion Catholic parishioners who serve in public life or who seek public office about Church teaching? What happens if a pastor refuses to instruct a pro-abortion public official who is a member of his parish?

4) Are former public officials, such as New York Governor Mario Cuomo and White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, included as individuals to receive this “instruction?”

5) Does the mandate to exclude pro-abortion public officials from the reception of Holy Communion extend to those Catholics who support some abortions (such as in the cases of rape, incest, and instances where it is alleged that a mother’s life is endangered) while claiming to be opposed to abortion-on-demand?

6) Does the mandate to exclude pro-abortion public officials from the reception of Holy Communion extend to those Catholics who support and/or who vote to fund “family planning programs” that include chemical abortifacients both in their own country and abroad? In other words, what does it mean to be “pro-life”?

7) Do Catholic voters who support contraception (as well as abortion, either abortion-on-demand or abortion in the aforementioned “exceptions”) and/or who vote for candidates who fund contraception deny themselves the privilege of receiving Holy Communion?

8) Has not Cardinal Ratzinger undermined the weight of his document on Catholic voters by stating that they could vote for a pro-abortion politician if they claim they are doing so because of factors and issues unrelated to the candidate’s support for abortion? That is, has not His Eminence undermined St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke and Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan by stating that only Catholics who cast a vote to support abortion and euthanasia by backing a pro-abortion candidate are prohibited from receiving Holy Communion? It does appear that His Eminence is saying that a vote cast in spite of a candidate’s support for abortion is permissible, something that simply maintains the status quo ante.

9) As the American bishops have issued their own statement, essentially agreeing to disagree with each other by leaving the ultimate decision on this matter to each diocesan ordinary, does Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement have the force of law? Is his statement merely a position paper of his own that has no binding effect on the American bishops? Has the statement been released to make it clear that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected His Eminence’s intervention on this subject and to give support, however attenuated, to Archbishop Burke and to Bishop Sheridan?

10) Will Cardinal McCarrick apologize for misleading reporters and thus the Catholic faithful about the tenor of Cardinal Ratzinger's letter?

As one can see, the statement issued by Cardinal Ratzinger does not end the matter, although it does clarify his own position, which was indeed the subject of confusing press reports a month ago. It also brings to light, quite wonderfully, the extent to which some in the American hierarchy continued to misrepresent facts to suit their own purposes. All of this needless confusion could be resolved, however, if the one who has authority over us all, His Holiness Pope John Paul II, simply put an end to this farce and excommunicated all pro-abortion politicians.

Once again, I apologize for my own reporting of this matter based on the erroneous and incomplete news stories, to say nothing of Cardinal McCarrick's affirmation of same. One can only hope and pray that the Vicar of Christ himself will choose to end this confusion and govern the flock entrusted to his pastoral care. The confusion attending this issue is simply typical of that what which has characterized the entire postconciliar era.


© Copyright 2004, Christ or Chaos, Inc. All rights reserved.