By Vatican News staff writer
The Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis F. Ladaria, SJ., has sent a letter to the president of the US Bishops Conference, Archbishop José Gomez, concerning moves by the conference to formulate a national policy regarding admission to Communion for Catholics in public office who support legislation permitting abortion, euthanasia or other moral evils.
Cardinal Ladaria’s letter dated 7 May, comes in response to a letter from Archbishop Gomez in March, informing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that the US Bishops were preparing to draft a document following some controversy related to US President Joe Biden and some of the policies of his administration.
The teachings of the Magisterium
The Cardinal expressed gratitude for the information received, including the intention on the part of the US Bishops to send in a draft for an “informal review, prior to its submission to the body of Bishops for a vote.”
He also responded to a request that the Congregation make available a copy of a letter sent in 2004 by the then prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope emeritus Benedict XVI) to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick on the same issue. Cardinal Ladaria explained that the letter was written “in the form of a private letter to the bishops” and the future Pope had stipulated that “these principles were not intended for publication”. Therefore, Cardinal Ladaria insisted that the CDF will continue to respect that desire.
However, Cardinal Ladaria acknowledged that some of the principles contained in the letter assist the US Bishops in the drafting of the document, but they “should only be discussed in the context of the CDF’s authoritative Doctrinal note of 2002: “On some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life.” He further noted that the text predates Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter and provides “the teaching of the Magisterium on the theological foundation for any initiative regarding the question of the worthy reception of Holy Communion.”
Ad limina visits
The Prefect of the CDF also recalls that the question about Catholic pro-choice politicians and their admission to receiving Communion had been raised during the ad limina visits of the US Bishops. He noted that the CDF had then recommended that “dialogue among the bishops be undertaken to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of the disagreements over this controversial topic. The formulation of a national policy was suggested during the ad limina visits only if this would help the bishops to maintain unity.”
Promoting unity and dialogue
Cardinal Ladaria further stated that the CDF notes that “such a policy, given its possibly contentious nature, could have the opposite effect and become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States.”
Thus, the CDF advised during the ad limina visits that the effective development of a policy in this area requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.
Dialogue among bishops
The Cardinal urged that dialogue among the bishops is important to help them “agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching” in light of the 2002 Doctrinal Note which states “Christians are called to reject, as injurious to democratic life, a conception of pluralism that reflects moral relativism and accept that democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society.”
Dialogue with politicians
Having done this, the Bishops are to “reach out to and engage in dialogue with Catholic politicians within their jurisdictions who adopt a pro-choice position regarding abortion legislation, euthanasia, or other moral evils, as a means of understanding the nature of their positions and their comprehension of Catholic teaching,” Cardinal Ladaria said.
After these two stages of dialogue, the USCCB “would then face the difficult task of discerning the best way forward for the church in the United States to witness to the grave moral responsibility of Catholic public officials to protect human life at all stages.”
The Cardinal however stressed that “If it then decided to formulate a national policy on worthiness for communion, such a statement would need to express a true consensus of the bishops on the matter, while observing the prerequisite that any provisions of the Conference in this area would respect the rights of individual Ordinaries in their dioceses and the prerogatives of the Holy See.”
He added that “any statement of the conference regarding Catholic political leaders would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of Holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholics, reflecting their obligation to conform their lives to the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ as they prepare to receive the sacrament.”
Furthermore, he pointed out that ““it would be misleading if such a statement were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.”
Cardinal Ladaria, therefore, urged that “every effort” be made to dialogue with other episcopal conferences so as to “preserve unity” in the universal Church.