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 CNS Story:

POLITICS-RATZINGER Jul-12-2004 (810 words) xxxn

Cardinal Ratzinger says he, U.S. bishops 'in harmony' on politics

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Following a rash of news reports claiming the U.S. bishops defied Vatican Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the question of withholding Communion from Catholic politicians whose actions conflict with church teaching on abortion, Cardinal Ratzinger said the bishops' statement on the issue "is very much in harmony" with his recently leaked memo on the topic.

In a letter dated July 9 and made public July 12 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the bishops' June 18 statement, titled "Catholics in Political Life," "is very much in harmony with the general principles (of) 'Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion.'"

The Italian magazine L'Espresso obtained a copy of Cardinal Ratzinger's memo on general principles and published it online July 3.

L'Espresso and numerous other news reports characterized the U.S. bishops' statement -- which said a prudential judgment and decision whether to withhold Communion in particular cases rests "with the individual bishop" and "bishops can legitimately make different judgments" in individual cases -- as conflicting with the principles outlined in the memo.

Cardinal Ratzinger addressed his letter to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, head of the USCCB's Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians.

Cardinal McCarrick said, "I am grateful for his support of our (USCCB) statement and I look forward to continuing dialogue between our task force and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."

"Over the past several months, I have had many conversations and communications with Cardinal Ratzinger regarding the work of the task force, most recently last week," he said. "As I noted in the interim report I delivered to the bishops in June, His Eminence has consistently expressed his respect for the role of the bishops in carrying out their responsibilities as teachers, pastors and leaders in their own local situations."

When the U.S. bishops met in a Denver suburb in mid-June, Cardinal McCarrick's task force presented an interim report of its findings on the issue of withholding Communion from Catholic politicians whose public policy positions conflict with fundamental church teachings on issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

The task force said it "does not advocate the denial of Communion for Catholic politicians or Catholic voters in these circumstances," but it acknowledged that in certain circumstances individual bishops might decide otherwise in a particular case.

Speaking as chairman of the task force, Cardinal McCarrick told the bishops, "The question for us is not simply whether the denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent. It is not surprising that difficult and differing circumstances on these matters can lead to different practices."

Following the task force report, the bishops issued a statement saying church teachings on the intrinsic evil of abortion are clear and constant and bishops will "counsel Catholic public officials that their acting consistently to support abortion on demand risks making them cooperators in evil in a public manner."

On the withholding of Communion the statement said, however, that because of the "range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness," each bishop must decide on "the most prudent course of pastoral action" in each case.

While the bishops' statement and Cardinal McCarrick's comments on the topic emphasized the necessity of prudential pastoral judgments assessing the facts and circumstances in each case, the memo from Cardinal Ratzinger on general principles did not discuss the aspect of how a bishop should apply the principles in specific cases.

A number of news reports on the memo, ignoring that context, inferred that the memo posed an absolute rule that all Catholic politicians who campaign and vote for permissive abortion or euthanasia laws must be barred from Communion if they continue to hold that position after being instructed that it is contrary to church teaching and warned that they should not receive Communion until they change their views.

Here is the text of Cardinal Ratzinger's July 9 letter to Cardinal McCarrick:

"Your Eminence:

"With your letter of June 21, 2004, transmitted via fax, you kindly sent a copy of the statement 'Catholics in Political Life,' approved by the members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at their June meeting.

"The congregation is grateful for this courtesy. The statement is very much in harmony with the general principles 'Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,' sent as a fraternal service -- to clarify the doctrine of the church on this specific issue -- in order to assist the American bishops in their related discussion and determinations.

"It is hoped that this dialogue can continue as the task force carries on its important work.

"With fraternal regards and prayerful best wishes, I am,

"Sincerely yours in Christ

"Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger"


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