VOL 123 NO. 20
One Bread, One Body
By Catholic News Service
Catholic bishops in Colorado Springs, Colo., Omaha, Neb., Orlando, Fla., and Washington were the latest prelates to issue statements about whether certain politicians should be barred from receiving Communion.
Common to all of the statements were instructions about the church’s teaching on the sanctity of life and how it applies to Catholic politicians whose public actions are in conflict with church teaching. Several talked about church guidance in making political decisions. Beyond that, they offered a wide range of conclusions about how those teachings should be applied. One prelate said he does not think the Eucharist should be used as a public sanction, while another said even those who vote for politicians who support legal abortion or same-sex marriage may not receive the Eucharist until they go to confession. The archbishops of Omaha and Washington tackled the topic in columns in their archdiocesan newspapers. The coadjutor of Orlando wrote an op-ed piece for the Orlando Sentinel daily newspaper. Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs issued a pastoral letter to the people of his diocese.
In his letter dated May 1, Bishop Sheridan said Catholic politicians who support abortion, fetal stem-cell research or euthanasia “place themselves outside full communion with the church and so jeopardize their salvation. Any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for abortion, illicit stem-cell research or euthanasia suffer the same fateful consequences.” Neither such politicians nor “the people who would vote for them” may receive Communion “until they have recanted their positions and been reconciled with God and the church in the sacrament of penance,” he said. The same applies to politicians who support same-sex marriage and any Catholic who votes for such candidates, Bishop Sheridan wrote.
He said the assertion that faith and politics are to be kept separate in American society is a distortion of the doctrine of the separation of church and state. “In no way does (that doctrine) even suggest that the well-formed consciences of religious people should not be brought to bear on their political choices,” wrote Bishop Sheridan. “Often we hear people claim that they are making decisions in accord with conscience even when those decisions defy the natural law and the revealed teachings of Jesus Christ,” he said. “This is because of a widespread misunderstanding of the very meaning of conscience.” Bishop Sheridan said conscience is not a “personal preference or even a vague sense or feeling that something is right or wrong, often based on information drawn from sources that have nothing to do with the law of God.” The “right judgment of conscience” has nothing to do with feelings, he said. “It has only to do with objective truth” or judgments formulated “in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator,” he said, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Omaha Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss also wrote about the role of conscience in his column in the May 7 edition of The Catholic Voice.
He specifically addressed the distinction Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., makes between his personal life as a Catholic and his public role as a politician. Kerry is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president and a supporter of legal abortion and fetal stem-cell research. Archbishop Curtiss said Kerry’s claim that he accepts church teaching about the sacredness of human life is contradicted by his argument that in a pluralistic society public policy should support the right of women to decide to have abortions. “Somehow the Catholic conscience about supporting the rights of pre-born infants to life does not register in his public persona,” he wrote. “It is fundamentally dishonest to claim one’s conscience is opposed to abortion and then support abortion as public policy.” He said that Kerry “by publicly supporting immoral acts … has to be acting against his conscience if it is formed by Catholic teaching. We cannot act against our conscience and then declare that we are faithful to the church which helped form our conscience.” Archbishop Curtiss said he has reminded Nebraska politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties that they have an obligation to work against their party’s policies that support abortion or otherwise “promote anti-life agendas.” Those who publicly disagree with church teachings about the sacredness of life may not serve in any ministry or office in the archdiocese.
Beyond that, he said, he will make a point of meeting personally with Catholic politicians in his archdiocese whose public actions are not in line with the church’s teachings on human life. Individual pastors should do the same, Archbishop Curtiss said. “It may be that I or one of our pastors will have to inform a certain person that such continuing public dissent will be incompatible with continuing to receive the Eucharist,” he wrote. “This will remain a private matter between that person and me or one of our pastors.” He said he would not make a public statement about refusing Communion to certain Catholics in his archdiocese or those coming into the state from other places.
Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick responded in a column in his paper, the Catholic Standard, to criticism of his statements that he is unwilling to presume that someone approaching the altar for Communion is not in a state of grace. Advertisements in newspapers including The Washington Times placed by the American Life League attacked Cardinal McCarrick for saying he is not comfortable denying the Eucharist to people. Cardinal McCarrick heads a task force of the U.S. bishops that is considering how bishops might respond to Catholic politicians who publicly disagree with church teachings. In his May 13 column, Cardinal McCarrick said while he appreciates the zeal of those who are critical of him neither he nor “many of the highest authorities in the church” agree with them. “As a priest and bishop I do not favor a confrontation at the altar rail with the sacred body of the Lord Jesus in my hand,” he wrote. “There are apparently those who would welcome such a conflict, for good reasons, I am sure, or for political ones. But I would not.” He went on to say all Catholics should better understand their own responsibility when it comes to receiving the Eucharist. He suggested that perhaps the change in church rules from the strict fasts required prior to the Second Vatican Council led some people to incorrectly conclude “that the rule about being in a state of grace was relaxed as well.” Cardinal McCarrick said the statement about worthy reception of the Eucharist that appears in missalettes explains that it is up to individual Catholics to judge whether they may properly receive Communion.
“It places the decision to approach the altar on the informed conscience of the individual Catholic — informed by the truth of our teachings,” he said. “Therefore, each one of us must not presume to approach Holy Communion if we are not, in our informed conscience, already with the Lord and in communion with the teachings of his church.” In Orlando, Coadjutor Bishop Thomas G. Wenski wrote in an opinion piece in the Orlando Sentinel that “a practicing Catholic cannot invoke ‘conscience’ to defy or disregard what the church definitely holds as true.” In the May 11 column, he said bishops have no special competencies in the worlds of business or politics, and also no regulatory or legal powers in those fields. “But precisely as teachers of the Catholic faith we do have competence to tell businessmen or politicians or anyone else, for that matter, what is required to be a Catholic. It is totally within our competence to say that one cannot be complicit in the injustice of denying the right to life of an unborn child or an invalid elder and still consider oneself a good Catholic,” he said. Bishop Wenski, who is also on the bishops’ task force working on guidelines on relations with politicians, said “pro-abortion politicians who insist on calling themselves Catholics without seeing the contradiction between what they say they believe and their anti-life stance have to do a lot more ‘practicing.’ They need to get it right before they approach the eucharistic table.” Earlier, Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., had said politicians who disagree with church teachings on fundamental right-to-life issues should refrain from receiving Communion. Gov. James McGreevey responded by saying he would no longer receive Communion at public Masses. Other bishops in recent months have also said politicians who publicly oppose church teaching should voluntarily stop receiving the Eucharist, but few have specifically said they would turn those Catholics away.
One, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis, told reporters in January that if Kerry came to him for Communion he would give him only a blessing. The newly installed bishop of Camden, N.J., Bishop Joseph A. Galante, said he would do the same if McGreevey came to him for Communion at his installation Mass. McGreevey did not attend the ceremony.
Bishops of New York State and the Diocese Grapple with the Issue
By Kristen Fox / SUN staff writer
Constituting approximately 20 percent to 30 percent of the national vote, Catholics are a sizable and influential voting demographic. Undeniably there exists tremendous political clout among Catholics, but only if they not only choose to exert it but also use it in accordance with their religious beliefs.
New York State Bishops last year created the Catholic Advocacy Network (CAN) in hopes of encouraging more Catholics to get involved in the political process. One of the purposes of the network is to get more Catholics involved in promoting policies and legislation that are reflective of Catholic values.
CAN is also trying to bridge the disconnect between the religious beliefs of Catholics and their ballots. In a recent interview with America magazine, John Zogby, president of Zogby International, a national polling firm that has surveyed American Catholics, confirmed that most Catholics do not vote in according to their religious beliefs. “Catholics appear to be pro-life, but they do not necessarily vote that way,” Zogby said. “When all is said and done, they go to the polls as something else: veterans, union members, residents of the northeast, young, old. Being Catholic is not the major identifier.” This trend, although surprising, is not unexpected. It is reflective of the recent debate over politics and religion. Approximately six months before election day, the question of how the church should handle relationships with politicians whose public actions conflict with Catholic teaching is an issue of much discussion and debate. Numerous church voices have been commenting on whether or not Catholic politicians who are pro-choice should be denied Holy Eucharist because of their public position on abortion.
One example, among many, is Sen. John Kerry. Some members of the Catholic Church have called for clergy to deny the senator Holy Eucharist based on his public position on abortion, which contradicts church teaching. Before the spotlight was on Sen. Kerry, bishops across the country, including Bishop James Moynihan and Bishop Thomas Costello, were compelled to release their own statements affirming the dignity of human life and calling on Catholics to uphold church teaching when discerning their positions on political views and candidates. The statement released on Nov. 20, 2003, encourages Catholics to “consider the dignity of the human person when discerning their position on issues and political candidates.” The bishops also sent a letter to diocesan Catholic legislators to acquaint them with the Holy See’s “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life.” The Note is written particularly for bishops, politicians and all church members to promote the message that Catholics “directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life.”
The Vatican document also states that “the church recognizes that while democracy is the best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political choices, it succeeds only to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person.” At the present time, church law on denying sacraments leaves the discretion and interpretation to individual bishops. New York State bishops do not have a standard policy regarding the reception of Holy Eucharist for candidates, said Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference. “The Eucharist is a central expression of our [Catholic] faith and the bishops are concerned that it not be politicized,” Poust said. “However, they also appreciate that the dignity of all human life and the fundamental right to life are primary tenants of our faith.” Poust noted that when politicians vote to increase access to abortion, they are cooperating in a serious moral evil. And while some Catholics may call on bishops to refuse Holy Eucharist to politicians whose beliefs are not in accordance with church teachings, this step is a last resort for bishops.
“A bishop, as a pastor of souls, may feel obligated to remind the public official of this fact [they are cooperating in a serious moral evil], whether publicly or privately,” Poust explained. “In cases when an official misrepresents the teaching of the church by, for instance, stating that his or her pro-abortion positions are not incompatible with the Catholic faith, a bishop may feel it necessary to issue a public correction to avoid confusion among the faithful.” “That being said, denial of the Eucharist would be a last resort and a step that I don’t think any bishop relishes taking,” he added.
[The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been working on a universal policy concerning Catholic politicians and their stances on issues important to the church. A report is expected to be ready by the mid-November.]
November 20, 2003
To Clergy, Religious, Laity of the Diocese of Syracuse,
At the heart of Catholic teaching is the belief that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. This teaching affirms the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death and concludes that people are more important than things. Consequently:
• Catholics are encouraged to consider the dignity of the human person when discerning their position on issues and political candidates.
• We sent a letter to diocesan Catholic legislators to acquaint them with the Holy See’s Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. The Note is written particularly for Bishops, politicians, and all Church members to promote the message that Catholics “…directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life.”
To make it very clear that our position on life does make a difference in the Church, we promulgate the following policy for parishes and other Church agencies and organizations. This protocol is meant to provide guidance and to avoid circumstances of confusion and possible embarrassment.
Most Reverend James M. Moynihan , Bishop of Syracuse
Most Reverend Thomas J. Costello, Auxiliary Bishop of Syracuse