the Record and Asking Some Questions
Thomas A. Droleskey
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”
, 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
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
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
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