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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

New information on the Catholic Bishops' communion vote. Turns out Cardinal Ratzinger may not have been advocating such caution from the bishops after all.  Or perhaps that's what some American conservatives would like you to think.

A link from the Sun Myung-Moon owned Washington Time Times, (via onReligion) argues that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington left out some of Ratzinger's instructions to the bishops.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent his letter in early June to Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the context of dealing with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic whose positions on several issues, including abortion, contradict church teachings.

But its full text, which was published Saturday in the Italian newspaper L'Expresso, [sic] contains much stronger language than Cardinal McCarrick used last month at a meeting of the country's Catholic bishops near Denver.

Cardinal McCarrick's nuanced speech during the meeting from June 14 to 19 paraphrased the Ratzinger letter to say that the Vatican had left the issue of Communion in the hands of the U.S. bishops.

As the chairman of a task force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, it was his job to convey what Vatican officials had told him during meetings in Rome.

"I would emphasize that Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders WHETHER to pursue this path" of denying Communion, Cardinal McCarrick told the bishops in his speech, the text of which is posted at the U.S. bishops' Web site, on

"The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent," the cardinal said.


However, the Ratzinger letter says that denial of Communion is obligatory "regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia."

Cardinal Ratzinger also says a priest should warn "the person in question" of the consequences, including the denial of Communion.

If "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," Cardinal Ratzinger wrote.

The letter's last paragraph also takes on Catholics who vote for candidates because of their pro-choice stance.

"If he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia," that Catholic too "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion," it reads.

That statement supports Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan, who on May 1 sent out a letter to his diocese saying Catholics who vote for candidates who support abortion, stem-cell research or euthanasia also should not take Communion.

But Catholics who vote for that politician on other grounds should not be penalized, the Ratzinger letter adds.

"Ratzinger's letter was stronger and firmer than we were led to believe," said Michael Novak, a Catholic theologian and author of many books on the church, who is in Italy this week. "It's pretty dynamite stuff."

The quote from Michael Novak ought to be a dead giveaway.  And in fact, the story is likely to be typical Washington Times spin.  Catholic News Service has a different take on the story.  For one thing, Cardinal McCarrick claims that Ratzinger's memo is not the whole story, and CNS seems to back him up:

The text of Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum was published online July 3 by the Italian magazine L'Espresso, and a Vatican official said it was authentic. But it apparently was accompanied by a cover letter that has not been published.

Cardinal McCarrick said in a statement July 6 that L'Espresso's story was the result of an "incomplete and partial leak" that did not reflect Cardinal Ratzinger's full advice to the U.S. bishops.

The cardinal said he would not release Cardinal Ratzinger's "written materials" because the cardinal asked him not to.

CNS also reports that Vatican insiders don't seem to feel betrayed by the American bishops' vote:

After discussing the issue in Colorado, U.S. bishops overwhelmingly passed a statement that sharply criticized Catholic politicians who support legal abortion. The bishops also said denying Communion to those politicians is a complex question involving "prudential judgment" in each case.

The report in L'Espresso and some other media have characterized that as a rejection of Cardinal Ratzinger's advice. But Vatican sources said the Vatican was generally pleased with the U.S. bishops' statement, and that Cardinal Ratzinger was not trying to dictate a policy to the bishops.

"It is right to leave a margin for prudential judgment in these cases," said one Vatican source.

"Cardinal Ratzinger's point was not that bishops have to use (denial of Communion) in every circumstance, but that there are principles that would allow for this to happen," the source said.

In other words, bishops are allowed to set rules for the reception of communion in their own diocese, which has always been their prerogative in Catholic theology.  Or as McCarrick put it in his speech to the bishops, quoted in another CNS story:

In his report to the bishops, Cardinal McCarrick said, "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," he added. "Every bishop is acting in accord with his own understanding of his duties and the law."

I have to admit, as an outsider to the Catholic church, I'm not sure what to make of this.  Did McCarrick misrepresent Ratzinger's instructions?  Did Ratzinger sell McCarrick out?  Is L'Espresso just another Berlusconi rag that allows itself to be used for cheap political points?  You tell me.

[Update]:Cardinal Ratzinger has confirmed that the Bishops were in basic agreement with his instructions in their vote. This leads me to believe that this story was--and always has been--more about a Conservative Catholic attempt to dominate the American church.

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