Boston Cardinal: Church Needs ‘Clear’ Injunction Denying Pro-Abortion Pols Communion

The best way for the Church to ensure pro-abortion Catholic politicians do not receive Communion would be through a change in the Church’s Canon Law, or an official directive from the Pope himself, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told caught up with O’Malley in Washington, DC last month, where he was among the concelebrating bishops for the Vigil Mass for Life at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. LSN asked O’Malley what he considered the appropriate pastoral response to pro-abortion politicians receiving Communion.

“Well, I think that the only way that that solution [denying communion] should be invoked is if there were a large catechesis or if it was universal for the whole church,” the cardinal responded. “You can’t have people doing things in one parish and another, you would only divide the Church hopelessly.”

(To view the full LSN interview transcript with Cardinal O’Malley, click here)

For several years, the US Catholic Bishops have actively engaged the problem of how to correct the scandal of pro-abortion politicians receiving Holy Communion – but developed no consensus on a uniform pastoral approach.  Many orthodox Catholics continue to protest against pro-abortion politicians presenting themselves to receive the Church’s holiest sacrament, yet the practice is widespread.

O’Malley said an official papal directive or change in Canon Law would be “the only way it is really going to work.”

“That would be helpful if they did it,” he continued. “But if it is not done – to make it look like it’s an individual bishop sparring with the people of particular parties is only going to divide the Church in a very terrible way.  Then you’ll have some priest who will obey and others who won’t, other divisions of the Church, more scandal, and undermining the authority of the bishops.”

O’Malley revealed that he had been concerned about the issue for a long time, and asked Pope John Paul II for guidance when the pontiff was soliciting input from bishops for his pro-life encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

“I wrote to him and asked him to please give us very clear direction on how to deal with politicians who will be pro-abortion and will be Catholic,” related O’Malley.

“We have not had the kind of clear response that we need.”

However, it seems the Vatican has already attempted to give the US bishops guidance on how to deal with the issue, through a 2004 letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – entitled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles.”

The memo states that, once persistently pro-abortion Catholic politicians had been warned by their respective bishops not to approach the altar, they “must” be denied Communion.

Unfortunately, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) never received the letter as Ratzinger intended.  Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, chairman of the USCCB task force on the issue, only referenced the document as an afterthought in his 12-page report to that committee.

Later – in what may have been a Vatican end-run around McCarrick – Ratzinger’s letter hit international headlines after being leaked to Roman media.

In the end, the US Bishops task force put out more generalized guidelines in the document “Catholics in Political Life,” which leaves the appropriate pastoral response towards pro-abortion politicians — including denial of Communion – to the prudential judgment of the individual bishop. Ratzinger would later affirm to the USCCB that the document was “very much in harmony” with his general principles.

(To view the full LSN interview transcript with Cardinal O’Malley, click here)

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  • Joe DeVet

    It is sad to see this wonderful and holy man dissembling in this way.

    “…you would only divide the Church hopelessly.” Earth to Cardinal. The Church is already hopelessly divided. Below a patina of unity and cooperation which the USCCB tries to display, at street level where I work and where most of us live, there is a radical divide between the orthodox and the heterodox, between believers that the Catholic Church proclaims the fullness of truth and those who say to us “that’s your truth, but I have my truth,” between the faithful and the dissenters.

    We all know who we are and who those on the other side of the divide are. The problem is this: as all teachers know and as all parents know, children are very quick to test whether Mom and Dad “really mean it.” If we require something of them, they will quickly test the limits of what we asked, and often test the heart of it by doing the opposite. If disobedience doesn’t bring consequences, then the parents “don’t really mean it.” The children of our dear Mother and Teacher are watching to see if the Church “really means it.” And based on the waffling of which we see an example in this article, who can blame them if they conclude that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about certain things, including abortion and the cooperation in the evil of abortion by politicians?

    Several leading bishops have made a move to rebuke their pro-abortion politicians, and to see to it that they are refused communion. So the “divide” already exists. Cardinal O’Malley can help heal the divide by himself following their lead.

    “We need a clear directive…a change in Canon law.” What week-kneed drivel this is, in the light of the Cardinal Ratzinger letter which “never reached the USCCB” but reached the rest of the world. How specific does one need to get?

  • consecrata

    Archbishop Burke who heads the highest Vatican court has said over and over and over again that Canon Law does prohibit those who openly defy the teachings of the Catholic Church from receiving Holy Communion. Pope Benedict confirmed this in his letter to Cardinal McCarrick…and at other times also. Archbishop Burke has steadfastly repeated that the duty to deny publicly pro abortion politicians Holy Communion is NOT a matter of personal opinion…so why aren’t our Bishops obeying these mandates. The people of God are required to obey, why not the Bishops? If the Bishops don’t stand with Rome, then they are responsible for the ongoing slaughter of the innocents in the wombs of their mothers.

  • ngomba

    Oftentimes people give up in the middle of a project and then blame the instructions rather than their own dedication.

    As consecrata has outlined, the teaching is clear. But O’Malley has more state funerals to celebrate and more high-ranking abortion supporters to placate.

    ND President Jenkins “wasn’t clear” on the Church’s teachings, either. At least O’Malley isn’t helping local prosecutors get 88 dedicated non-violent pro-Lifers sentenced to jail time.

    Sean Cardinal O’Malley, please. It doesn’t matter what the Pope says or does; Clergy like yourself and Fr Jenkins will continue to do exactly whatever you want, dispersing with Church teachings and guidelines whenever needed.

    In the Year of the Priest,
    let us join St John Vianney in praying for our Clergy