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Top Vatican official cautions US bishops on denial of Communion

May 10, 2021

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has urged the US bishops to be cautious about any national policy regarding the reception of Communion by prominent Catholics who promote abortion and euthanasia.

But the CDF prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, made a distinction between a national policy—which would require near unanimity among the American bishops—and policies set by individual diocesan bishops.

Citing Apostolos Suos, the 1998 apostolic letter in which Pope John Paul II defined the authority of bishops’ conferences, Cardinal Ladaria noted that an episcopal conference can only issue doctrinal statements if the members of that conference are unanimous in supporting it. However, he also observed that the conference does not limit an individual bishop’s authority to set policies within his own diocese.

Prominent American prelates have issued conflicting statement in recent weeks about whether pro-choice politicians may receive Communion. The question has troubled the US bishops’ conference for more than a decade.

The American bishops are scheduled to discuss the contentious issue in June, and possibly vote on a statement about the reception of Communion by prominent politicians who oppose Church teachings on the dignity of human life.

In a May 7 letter to Archbishop José Gomez, the president of the US bishops’ conference, Cardinal Ladaria called for caution because of the “possibly contentious nature” of the discussion. He observed that a call for a national policy could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States.”

Cardinal Ladaria said that a nationwide policy on the reception of Communion should be approved only after an “extensive and serene dialogue,” and only if the American bishops could reach strong consensus on the issue.

The cardinal also recommended that the American bishops should consult with bishops in other countries before issuing any doctrinal statement.

Cardinal Ladaria also suggested that it would be wrong for the US episcopal conference to approve a policy that would suggest “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability” are abortion and euthanasia.

However no American bishop has ever suggested that abortion and euthanasia are the only moral issues to be included in an appraisal of politicians. Rather, the US bishops’ conference has stated that the right to life is the “pre-eminent” public issue of our time. Also, while political issues such as racism and nuclear war obviously involve serious moral issues, no prominent Catholic politicians endorse racism and nuclear war.


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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - May. 12, 2021 12:21 PM ET USA

    @ggaul2040: The magnitude of evil expressed in every single abortion is enormously greater than that of the Social Justice sins you mention. To see this, I invite you to consider which of the following you would least like to personally undergo: (1) being roughed up by border agents; (2) being paid a less-than-fair wage; or (3) being cut to pieces while alive and without anesthesia.

  • Posted by: FrHughM - May. 12, 2021 9:23 AM ET USA

    Unity or Truth?

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - May. 11, 2021 11:43 PM ET USA

    Today the church announced the formation of a group to excommunicate mafia members, but the church can't agree to even withhold the Eucharist from politicians who facilitate the death of millions of babies. We need to excommunicate most of the cardinals and bishops of the church.

  • Posted by: ggaul2040 - May. 11, 2021 7:04 PM ET USA

    While Catholic politicians may not "endorse" racism, it is a distinct possibility that some may have it in their hearts. Since the real issue appears to be President Biden, the bishops should be balancing the BROADER issues of right to life. While it is disappointing that the President is contradicting his faith by being accepting of abortion, he is also to be commended for his stances for social justice, fighting abuse of immigrants, striving for fair wages, etc.

  • Posted by: christosvoskresye5324 - May. 11, 2021 11:06 AM ET USA

    @fatheratchley -- I read it as cautioning that national conferences/synods/whatever have no special authority; if they did, we would risk becoming like the Eastern Orthodox, where Moscow and Constantinople have broken off communion with each other. Given what's happening in Germany, this warning is already late.

  • Posted by: fatheratchley - May. 10, 2021 10:56 PM ET USA

    This "advice" boggles the mind. A Catholic cardinal is counseling our Conference of bishops to adopt a policy only if everyone agrees to the truth? Am I reading into his suggestion here?

  • Posted by: romy1277408 - May. 10, 2021 10:47 PM ET USA

    Flak from the Vatican because the US bishops are over the target. Let’s see if they fold.