Catholic World News News Feature
US bishops rejected task force statement on Communion (analysis) June 29, 2004
In adopting an interim statement on the responsibilities of Catholic politicians, the US bishops' conference rejected a proposal from their task force on the same topic, according to an analysis by the Culture of Life Foundation.
The following is the full text of the analysis by the Culture of Life Foundation, reproduced here with permission.
The body of American Catholic bishops responded to the question of whether Catholic pro-abortion politicians ought to be denied Communion in a statement released June 18. The statement, titled Catholics in Political Life , was passed almost unanimously by the full body of bishops. In it there are harsh words for pro-abortion leaders, but the final decision of whether or not to deny Communion to wayward politicians is left up to individual bishops.
Interim recommendations made prior to the vote by a 7-member task force also condemned dissenting politicians but strongly urged that Communion not be denied to them and said that to do so would be imprudent. This approach was not adopted by the full body of bishops.
American bishops met in Denver from June 14-19 in what was originally intended to be a retreat. But the public rebuke of pro-abortion Catholics by a growing number of bishops, combined with an upcoming presidential election featuring a pro-abortion Catholic candidate, led the bishops to address the Communion question.
The task force was established last year to explore and report on the question of what the response should be to dissenting Catholic politicians. Its interim recommendations were made to the bishops in Denver and delivered by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Cardinal McCarrick said the task force "does not advocate the denial of Communion" for pro-abortion Catholic politicians. While acknowledging that circumstances exist in which Communion could be denied, Cardinal McCarrick said doing so would not be "pastorally wise and prudent," and could "turn the Eucharist into a perceived source of political combat."
After receiving the interim report, however, the full body of bishops adopted a statement with significant differences. In Catholics in Political Life , the body of bishops makes it clear that decisions regarding Communion are up to each individual bishop. The body of bishops, however, did not agree with the strong recommendation of the task force that bishops refrain from denying Communion. The bishops' statement notes the words of St. Paul who wrote in I Corinthians that those who receive the Eucharist unworthily are "guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord." It closes by quoting St. Paul, "Respect for the Holy Eucharist, in particular, demands that it be received worthily…"
Curiously, the task force interim report to the Bishops in Denver was posted on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website well after the full body of bishops released its statement.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, leader of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made his views known to the task force in a letter which has not yet been disclosed. According to Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Ratzinger asked specifically that his intervention not be published. Cardinal McCarrick, however, did summarize Cardinal Ratzinger's views. On one hand, Ratzinger said whatever path is chosen remains up to the bishops. On the other hand, according to Cardinal McCarrick, Ratzinger said that a politician who consistently supports "permissive laws on abortion and euthanasia" could be in "manifest grave sin" and thus guilty of "obstinate persistence." Under those circumstances, "Holy Communion may be denied." The expected final report of the task force, coming in November, will have little practical effect as the body of bishops has already spoken on the issue in its just released statement.