Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic World News News Feature

US bishops rejected Ratzinger's advice July 03, 2004

In a letter to US bishops, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger threw his full support behind the few bishops who have said they will deny the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion, according to an Italian press report. The US bishops voted overwhelmingly to take a less rigorous stance.

The Italian weekly L'Espresso has reported that Cardinal Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the American bishops they should speak privately with prominent Catholics who defy Church teachings on key issues involving the sanctity of life, alert them to the gravity of their offenses, and warn them that they should not receive Communion. The Vatican's chief doctrinal official wrote: "When these precautionary measures have not had their effect...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."

L'Espresso has published the full text of Cardinal Ratzinger's letter, which had not previously been available to the public. 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.

At their Denver meeting, the US bishops adopted a policy statement re-affirming the Church's condemnation of legal abortion, but stopping short of any call for withholding the Eucharist from prominent abortion supporters. The bishops reportedly turned down a milder form of the resolution, backed by Cardinal McCarrick, which would have said that it was imprudent to deny the Eucharist to Catholic politicians. In conversations with the press, Cardinal McCarrick had hinted that the Ratzinger letter gave support to that position.

Sandro Magister, the veteran Vatican reporter who is the author of the Espresso report, writes that Cardinal Ratzinger was clear in his letter, which was sent to Cardinal Ratzinger and to Bishop Wilton Gregory, the president of the US bishops' conference. But as Magister put it, in the headline of his article, the text of the Ratzinger letter shows: "What he wanted, but didn't get."