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By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jul 03, 2004

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Suppose you were an eighth-grade English teacher. You've assigned your students the task of summarizing a letter by a famous author. Here's the full text of the author's letter. And here's your student's summary:

In recent days, I have once again been in contact with Cardinal Ratzinger both by letter and telephone calls. He has offered some observations for our work which he specifically asked not be published, but which I wish to share with you. The first is a recognition that it is up to us as bishops in the United States to discern and act on our responsibilities as teachers, pastors and leaders in our nation. He expresses his respect for the role of our conference and the bishops in the United States in carrying out these responsibilities.

Having said this, Cardinal Ratzinger speaks about WHAT constitutes “manifest grave sin” and “obstinate persistence” in public life, stating that consistently campaigning for and voting for permissive laws on abortion and euthanasia could meet these criteria.

Cardinal Ratzinger outlines HOW a bishop might deal with these matters, including a series of precautionary measures involving a process of meeting, instruction and warning. This process involves meeting with the person and providing instruction on Catholic moral teaching. Cardinal Ratzinger suggests informing such persons that if they reject Catholic moral teaching in their public actions, they should not present themselves for Holy Communion until their situation has ended. Using the precedent of our teaching and practice in the case of a person in an invalid marriage, the Cardinal recognizes that there are circumstances in which Holy Communion may be denied. He also indicates that in these cases a warning must be provided before the Eucharist can be denied.

I would emphasize that Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders WHETHER to pursue this path. The Holy See has repeatedly expressed its confidence in our roles as bishops and pastors. The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent. It is not surprising that difficult and differing circumstances on these matters can lead to different practices. Every bishop is acting in accord with his own understanding of his duties and the law.

It is important to note that Cardinal Ratzinger makes a clear distinction between public officials and voters, explaining that a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil only if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion. However, when a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted if there are proportionate reasons.

Therefore, based on the traditional practice of the Church and our consultation with members of our conference, other episcopal conferences, distinguished canonists and theologians, our Task Force does not advocate the denial of Communion for Catholic politicians or Catholic voters in these circumstances.

What grade would you give your student?

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