With the Patrick Kennedy Communion flap and the recent action of the Bishops of Spain having opened up the issue of denying communion to pro-abortion politicians, it is worthwhile to review the position of the Vatican on the matter.
Since the controversy came to a head in 2004, the stance from the Vatican on the matter has been clear and consistent. For the Pope and top Curial Cardinals in charge of the matter there is no question about the responsibility to deny Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who obstinately support abortion. In fact, the issue was closed as early as 2004 with a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
The then-head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith intervened into a debate among the US Bishops on the issue. Simply put, Cardinal Ratzinger said in his letter titled "Worthiness to receive Holy Communion," that a Catholic politician who would vote for "permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" after being duly instructed and warned, "must" be denied Communion.
Ratzinger’s letter explained that if such a politician "with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it."
The letter even answered common objections such as how to deal with politicians that supported war or the death penalty in light of denial of Communion to pro-abortion politicians.
The man who is now Pope, explained: "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
Since then, Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed this position speaking as Pope. Answering a reporter on an in-flight press conference in 2007, Pope Benedict addressed a question on the Mexican bishops excommunicating politicians who support legalizing abortion. "Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon law which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving communion, which is receiving the body of Christ," said the Pope.
In the comment, the Pope was referring to the Church’s Canon law 915, which states: "Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion."
The highest authority on the subject in the Vatican, next to the Pope, is the head (or Prefect) of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Canizares. The head of that Congregation, appointed by Pope Benedict XVI a year ago, quoted the Ratzinger document on the question in a LifeSiteNews interview earlier this year.
In addition, Cardinal Antonio Canizares stated : "The strongest words are found in St. Paul: one who goes to the Eucharist and is not properly prepared, duly prepared, ‘he eats his own condemnation.’ This is the strongest thing that we can say and what is the most truthful statement."
This line is not only coming from Pope Benedict and his appointees, however. The Cardinal who preceded Cardinal Canizares in heading the Congregation was Nigerian-born Cardinal Francis Arinze.
Already in 2004, Cardinal Arinze said a pro-abortion politician "is not fit" to receive Communion. "If they should not receive, then they should not be given," he added. Cardinal Arinze was asked the question so frequently he began to joke about the matter. One such question and answer session even made it to youtube.
Arinze is seen on the video as saying that he is regularly asked if a person who votes for abortion can receive Holy Communion. He replies, "Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that? Get the children for first Communion and say to them, ‘Somebody votes for the killing of unborn babies, and says, I voted for that, I will vote for that every time.’ And these babies are killed not one or two, but in millions, and that person says, ‘I’m a practicing Catholic’, should that person receive Communion next Sunday? The children will answer that at the drop of a hat. You don’t need a cardinal to answer that."
Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke who has been appointed to head up the highest court in the Vatican remarked on the need for bishops to uphold this canon since without doing so they undermine belief in the truth of the evil of abortion.
"No matter how often a bishop or priest repeats the teaching of the Church regarding procured abortion, if he stands by and does nothing to discipline a Catholic who publicly supports legislation permitting the gravest of injustices and, at the same time, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, then his teaching rings hollow," wrote Burke. "To remain silent is to permit serious confusion regarding a fundamental truth of the moral law."