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Ratzinger Advises U.S. Bishops on Principles for Denying Communion and Voting

In a recent memorandum, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger laid out the principles under which bishops or other ministers may deny Communion to Catholic politicians who consistently promote legal abortion. At the same time, he said it is not necessarily sinful for Catholics to vote for politicians who support abortion, as long as they are voting for that candidate for other reasons.

Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent the six-point memorandum to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, who heads an episcopal task force on Catholic politicians. It was designed to offer guidance to the U.S. bishops when they discussed the Communion/abortion issue at their meeting near Denver in mid-June. The text of Cardinal Ratzinger’s memorandum was published online on July 3 by the Italian magazine L’Espresso, and a Vatican official said it was authentic.

Cardinal McCarrick said in a statement on 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. “Through this continuing process, the Holy See has constantly emphasized it is up to our bishops’ conference to discuss and determine how best to apply the relevant principles and for individual bishops to make prudent pastoral judgments in our own circumstances,” Cardinal McCarrick said.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s comments touched on an evolving issue that is important to many American Catholics during the 2004 presidential election campaign: The presumptive Democratic candidate, John Kerry, is a Catholic who supports legal abortion. Two U.S. bishops, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis and Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs, recently said that Catholics who knowingly vote for pro-abortion politicians would be committing a grave sin.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s note underlined the principles involved for the Catholic voter. “A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote. “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 in the presence of proportionate reasons,” he said. In other words, if a Catholic thinks a candidate’s positions on other issues outweigh the difference on abortion, a vote for that candidate would not be considered sinful.

In the case of abortion or euthanasia, Cardinal Ratzinger said a Catholic politician manifests “formal cooperation” in those grave sins by “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws.” In that case, the cardinal said, the politician’s pastor should “meet with him, instructing him about the church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.”

Cardinal Ratzinger then cited a principle of church law that is used to justify the denial of Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. “When ‘these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,’ 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,’” he said, quoting from a ruling on divorced and remarried Catholics issued in 2002 by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. His apparent implication was that the same principle applies to Catholic politicians who consistently campaign for and vote for legal abortion or euthanasia: that, like Catholics who have divorced and remarried, the public nature of their situation makes possible an objective judgment on their unworthiness to receive Communion.

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.

Portland Archdiocese Files for Bankruptcy

Facing financial pressure from impending trials on sex abuse claims, the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 6. It is the first Catholic diocese in the United States, and perhaps the world, to seek such legal protection.

Because of the move, described as a last resort, multimillion-dollar suits now pending against the archdiocese will be settled in federal bankruptcy court along with possible future claims. Parish and school activities and ministries will continue, officials said.

“This action offers the best possibility for the archdiocese to resolve fairly all pending claims, to manage a difficult financial situation and to preserve the ability of the archdiocese to fulfill its mission,” said Portland’s Archbishop John G. Vlazny at a press conference. “It will also allow us to continue our good works without fear of an impending large verdict.”

Two abuse trials were set to begin just hours after the announcement, but were halted. The plaintiffs were seeking a total of $155 million. The two suits named the late Maurice Grammond, a former priest of the archdiocese. Almost 50 people have claimed that Grammond molested them. The incidents go back to the 1950’s.

Over the past four years, the archdiocese and its insurers paid $53 million for the more than 100 claims, the highest per capita payments made by any diocese. “We have kind of emptied the pot,” Archbishop Vlazny told reporters, adding that it has been difficult to borrow money.

He also noted the “great financial risk” posed by the trials, saying defense attorneys might try to claim parish assets, school money and trust funds for their clients. “Parish assets are not the archdiocese’s assets,” the archbishop said, citing canon law. Archbishop Vlazny described bankruptcy as the best choice “if I am to be a prudent steward of our resources.” He told reporters the archdiocese has been “abandoned” by insurers and said he hopes the bankruptcy will bring the companies back.

In late June, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., announced his diocese was considering bankruptcy, saying it is the diocese’s only option. There 100 people had alleged abuse by 126 priests. The idea of bankruptcy sparked protests. Critics said it allowed the church to avoid its responsibilities. But like Archbishop Vlazny, Bishop Kicanas described Chapter 11 bankruptcy as the only way to ensure the diocese’s ability to respond to the bulk of legal demands.

Senators Urged to Support Marriage Amendment

Preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman “is not simply a Catholic concern” but one shared by “believers and nonbelievers, Christians and non-Christians alike,” the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a letter to U.S. senators on July 6. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., urged the senators to support the Federal Marriage Amendment and to oppose efforts to prevent a vote through a filibuster. The amendment, which would revise the U.S. Constitution to stipulate that marriage “shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman,” must be approved by two-thirds of each house of Congress, then ratified by the legislatures of three-quarters of the states. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said he would bring the issue to the Senate floor in mid-July.

Vatican Disappointed by Negotiations With Israel

Vatican officials were disappointed with the outcome of recent negotiations with Israel on the implementation of parts of a 1993 treaty, a well-informed church source said. “When the delegation of the Holy See came to the table, the delegation of Israel claimed to have no mandate to negotiate on any of the outstanding matters. This is why [the talks] haven’t advanced,” the source told Catholic News Service. Topics discussed at the meeting on July 5 included the church’s tax status and legal disputes over holy sites, the source said. Last August, Israel withdrew from the negotiations without explanation, said the source. In May, Israel indicated that it was prepared to resume talks. The Fundamental Agreement Between the Holy See and the State of Israel of December 1993 established full diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel. It outlined principles of religious freedom and church-state relations, leaving the more difficult issues—such as the church’s tax status and property holdings—to subsequent joint commissions. Several of these issues have yet to be resolved.

Without Aid, Sudan Faces Catastrophic Loss of Life

International aid agencies are in a “race against nature” to save some one million people in the Darfur region of Sudan, said a Catholic Relief Services official. A lack of adequate security has kept aid from reaching western Sudan, where thousands have been killed and more than a million black Africans have fled a scorched-earth campaign led by Arab militias. The Sudanese government has been under heavy pressure to disarm the militias and allow aid into the region, but the upcoming rainy season could severely hinder aid agencies’ ability to deliver aid, said Dan Griffin, C.R.S.’s representative for the horn of Africa region. Aid agencies were “in a race against nature to keep this from falling into an absolutely catastrophic loss of life,” Griffin said. Griffin noted that the United Nations has predicted that 300,000 people may die in Darfur regardless of how quickly aid can be provided. “That figure can go over one million if we cannot provide an adequate emergency response,” he said.

News Briefs

• An independent investigator who spent four months looking into allegations of sexual misconduct against Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany has cleared him of all allegations. At a press conference on June 24, Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney, repeatedly said there is “no credible evidence,” as she went through the list of allegations that had been made about the bishop.

• Because of the prevalence of sexual abuse of children, public schools must develop prevention programs that include educating employees, volunteers, parents and students on how to spot and report problems, said an educator who prepared a federally mandated study for Congress on the issue. In Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, Charol Shakeshaft, professor of educational policies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., estimates that almost 10 percent of public school students, about 4.5 million children, have been abused by public school employees or adult volunteers.

• The Vatican ended 2003 with another budget deficit, showing a shortfall of about $11.7 million in the coffers of the Holy See and a shortfall of about $10.8 million on the books of Vatican City State. The Holy See’s budget includes Vatican congregations and councils, as well as the Vatican’s 118 embassies and diplomatic offices around the world. The Vatican City State budget includes the care and upkeep of Vatican buildings, as well as the Vatican’s stamp and coin offices and the Vatican museums. The July 7 press release said the Holy See’s budget deficit for 2003—the third consecutive year with a budget shortfall—was due mainly to salaries and normal expenses for the curial offices, their 2,674 employees and the diplomatic missions.

• Islamic extremists are making Christian-Muslim relations in Tanzania “a bit tense,” especially in Zanzibar, said Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam. Most Muslims are very open, but a small number of extremists, backed by Arab petroleum money, “frighten the majority of Muslims” into not speaking against terrorism, Cardinal Pengo told a group of foreign visitors in mid-June.

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17 years 4 months ago
Having read your recounting of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s advice to the U.S. bishops on morality in voting (“Signs of the Times,” 7/19), I find it little wonder that there is a great deal of confusion. But it should be quite apparent to any right thinking person that the murder of 40 million innocents is not comparable to an individual’s marriage-vow problems. The point to be dealt with here clearly is “public scandal.” Any politician who purports to be Catholic and supports the intrinsically evil practice of abortion is giving public scandal, notwithstanding all the specious excuses that have been concocted.

Such a person should not be treated as a Catholic communicant for his own good and, more important, in order to avoid confusing people generally as to Catholic teaching and especially scandalizing the faithful. Christ’s teaching on giving scandal is frighteningly explicit.

The politician’s sin is openly public and should be dealt with by his pastor or bishop in a public manner, not with the hierarchy hiding in their offices for fear of unpopularity or loss of their tax immunity.

Not only does a public condemnation of the individual politician’s position emphasize his moral error in the arena most important to him; it would also serve to inform and emphasize to the public at large the importance of the issue in church teaching. Those who wish to follow Christ must be his witnesses and face martydom as he did in leading the faithful to the truth rather than worrying about public attack or approbation. It is significant and sad that the bishops who have done their duty by speaking out against the public scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians can be readily named because of their small number, which goes a long way to explaining the reasons for the difficulties, confusion and other scandals experienced by the American Catholic Church in the post-Vatican II era.

17 years 4 months ago
The story from CNS in Signs of the Times on 7/19 about the Archdiocese of Portland incorrectly gave 126 as the number of priests of the Diocese of Tucson against whom there are credible allegations of sexual misconduct. The correct number is 28. Allegations against 24 of those priests relate to the period of their service in the diocese.

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