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 CNS Story:

VATICAN LETTER Sep-3-2004 (760 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

Not on the radar: No one at Vatican asks about Bush, Kerry

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With a tight race for the White House under way, U.S. bishops visiting the Vatican found it a bit strange than no one asked them for their opinions on who the next president will be.

"It's just not on their radar," said Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., Sept. 2, the last day of the Republican National Convention in New York.

"I'm really surprised no one is asking," said Ukrainian Bishop Basil H. Losten of Stamford, Conn.

Bishop Robert E. Mulvee of Providence, R.I., said not only was he not asked about the election, but during his 10-day stay in Rome he did not bother to turn on CNN, even though it is available at the Vatican's St. Martha guesthouse, where the bishops stayed.

While the presidential race did not come up with Vatican officials, the bishops from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut did talk about it among themselves, Bishop Losten said.

He declined, however, to share the conversations.

Although specific candidates were not named during their Sept. 1 visit to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the bishops did discuss the question of publicly denying the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support abortion.

Referring to the congregation by its former name, Bishop McCormack said, "The Holy Office thinks the statement the U.S. bishops made (in June) does agree with and complement the statement of Cardinal (Joseph) Ratzinger, even though some people want to believe it doesn't."

Cardinal Ratzinger, congregation prefect, sent the bishops a letter before their June meeting outlining the circumstances under which a bishop or priest could deny Communion to Catholic politicians who consistently support abortion.

A few days later, the U.S. bishops approved a statement saying that politicians who act "consistently to support abortion on demand" risk "cooperating in evil and sinning against the common good."

While making it clear that those who cooperate with evil should not present themselves for Communion, the bishops said that the decision to publicly impose sanctions on a person, such as announcing the person would be denied Communion, rests with each bishop in his own diocese.

Cardinal Ratzinger's statement "has been misrepresented" by people on both sides -- those who think such politicians always should be publicly condemned and those who think bishops have no right to point out the sinfulness of supporting abortion, Bishop Losten said.

The congregation meeting, he said, underlined that "each bishop has to discern and follow the dictates of his pastoral judgment" on whether to deny Communion to a specific individual.

Bishop Mulvee said it was clear that the congregation and the bishops "are on the same wavelength."

However, he said, "there were people who weren't happy with that, and the issue is very sensitive," even for many of the bishops.

"But I think the bishops feel they are at peace with what they are doing," Bishop Mulvee said.

In the prayer before Communion during Mass, "everyone says, 'I am not worthy to receive you.' You are not supposed to say, 'he' or 'she is not worthy,'" the bishop said. "Everyone is called to look inside oneself and ask, 'Can I approach the Eucharist? Am I worthy?'"

When the answer is "no," he said, a Catholic has an obligation to go to confession.

A declaration of worthiness or unworthiness to receive Communion, he said, "has to be personal."

Bishop Mulvee said religion is being used "as a tool" in the 2004 elections; while he said it is not being used well, determining which side is misusing it the most "depends on whose ox you're trying to gore."

At a time when the Republican convention and politics topped the news at home, the New England bishops were focused on prayer, their meetings with Pope John Paul II and the discussions with Vatican officials that make up an "ad limina" visit, which heads of dioceses are required to make every five years.

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., said the bishops' prayer at the tomb of St. Peter "was a reminder that the church is built on the faith of the apostles. That truth is powerfully, palpably evident when praying before the tomb, especially coming just after you've seen the successor of Peter."

"We are not here to give a business report, but to express our faith, have our faith strengthened by the successor of Peter and to return home, in turn, to strengthen the faith of others," Bishop Lori said.


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