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Cautionary notes: what Cardinal Ladaria did NOT say

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 11, 2021

The letter that Cardinal Luis Ladaria sent to Archbishop Gomez, apparently asking the US bishops to think carefully about any policy barring pro-abortion politicians from Communion, has not yet been made public. Prudent readers should bear in mind that yesterday’s headline stories contained only fragments of the Vatican prefect’s letter. Nevertheless it is important to note what the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not say.

Cardinal Ladaria did not say that it would be wrong for a diocesan bishop to bar a pro-abortion Catholic from receiving Communion. He said that the US bishops’ conference should be cautious about any bid “to formulate a national policy on worthiness for Communion.” [emphasis added] But he also reminded the American hierarchy that each bishop has the authority to set policies within his own diocese. In fact he emphasized that if any national policy is established, it must “respect the rights of individual ordinaries in their dioceses…”

The cardinal did say that the US bishops’ conference should affirm—as the CDF had recommended in 2004—that “those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life.” It would be a useful step if the USCCB made such a forthright declaration—without immediately weakening it with qualifying phrases about other, less pressing political issues that could be taken into consideration. Cardinal Ladaria said that a statement from the episcopal conference should not convey the impression “that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters…” But no one—certainly no bishop—makes any such claim.

The cardinal warned that an effort to formulate a national policy could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.” No doubt that is true. This debate has been simmering for a full generation, and the lines of division within the American hierarchy are ever more evident. Cardinal Ladaria observes, in fact, that as far back as 2004 “it was clear that there was a lack of agreement regarding the issue of Communion among the bishops.” A full-scale debate about a national policy would very likely deepen those divisions.

On the other hand, if the American bishops’ conference cannot reach some agreement, and individual bishops take different actions on their own initiative, that too could exacerbate the existing tensions. In other words, at this point some discord might be unavoidable. The American bishops are divided on this issue, and have been divided for years. They can continue to submerge their disagreements with compromise statements and qualifying clauses and more calls for dialogue and discernment, or they can take a clear stand. They can temporize, or they can decide to take action, because this is literally a matter of life and death.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Cory - May. 16, 2021 12:30 AM ET USA

    Some spine needs to be grown or maybe some spine replacement surgery because that is what seems to be lacking.

  • Posted by: ggaul2040 - May. 11, 2021 7:17 PM ET USA

    Whatever position the collective or individual bishops ultimately take, it needs a broad perspective. Politicians who claim" to be pro-life but have racist tendencies, denigrate immigrants out of hand, have divorced and remarried multiple times, suborn lies, belittle others publicly, and the like are to be rebuked just as readily as those who lean pro-choice. Let's call out those on both sides of the political aisle consistently.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - May. 11, 2021 5:45 PM ET USA

    Fathers Gerald Murray and Thomas Weinandy have as much as said that resolution to this issue is as plain as the nose on your face. The bishops who will continue to condone sacrilege are playing with fire, for their souls and those of all Catholics who fall into grave sin because they feel that they can unilaterally rewrite moral dogma. The American bishops are giving the German bishops a good run for their money to the everlasting shame of the universal Catholic Church. Who will right this ship?