By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the U.S. bishops attempted to move the debate about
abortion and politics away from the Communion rail and into the hearts of
individual Catholics, reaction to their June 18 statement on "Catholics
in Political Life" indicated that discussion of the topic would continue.
Groups with differing stands on the issue of refusing Communion to Catholic
politicians who support keeping abortion legal all seemed to find some support
for their position in the 1,000-word document, approved on a 183-6 vote during
the special assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held June 14-19
in Englewood, Colo., a Denver suburb.
"All must examine their consciences" about their worthiness to receive
Communion, including with regard to "fidelity to the moral teaching of the
church in personal and public life," the document said.
"Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential
judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest
with the individual bishop in accord with established canonical and pastoral
principles," the bishops added.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, focused in a June
19 statement on the section of the bishops' document that said abortion "is
always intrinsically evil" and politicians who consistently support abortion
risk "cooperating in evil and sinning against the common good."
The document "dispels the confusion that leads some to conclude that all
moral issues are equal, or that it suffices for one's opposition to abortion to
be 'private and personal' rather than public," Father Pavone said.
Repeating the bishops' statement that abortion "can never be justified," the
priest added, "This cannot be said about war, capital punishment or particular
policy decisions that do not contradict fundamental moral principles."
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, who had strongly opposed any move
toward sanctioning Catholic politicians who support abortion by refusing them
Communion, said in a June 18 statement of support for the document that the
archdiocese would "continue forward with clear teaching and respectful dialogue
with all members of the church on the value of human life."
"The archdiocese will continue to follow church teaching which places the
duty on each Catholic to examine their consciences as to their worthiness to
receive Holy Communion," the cardinal added. "That is not the role of the person
distributing the body and blood of Christ."
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil
Rights, had special praise in a June 21 statement for the bishops' declaration
that "the Catholic community and Catholic institutions" should not honor those
"who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" with awards, honors or
"platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
"For too long, Catholic colleges and universities have bestowed honors on
those who have worked overtime to advocate abortion rights, including
partial-birth abortion," Donohue said. "They would never honor someone
associated with anti-Semitism or racism, but when it comes to abortion, too many
have let radical feminists on the faculty rule the day."
The abortion-politics link also has played a role in the Canadian federal
elections scheduled for June 28.
If political leaders claim any right to call themselves Catholic, they must
"unequivocally and publicly state their opposition to abortion," said Archbishop
Anthony Meagher of Kingston, Ontario.
The archbishop, writing in his column for the June-July issue of the
archdiocesan newspaper, Journey, also said that Catholic political leaders must
be "willing to do what can be done to protect the dignity of all human life."
Although the archbishop did not refer specifically to any Canadian
politician, Prime Minister Paul Martin, described in the secular press as "a
devout Catholic," has repeatedly defended what he says is a woman's right to
have an abortion.
"It is never appropriate for Catholic leaders to claim that acceptance of
such denial of human dignity -- for example, abortion on demand -- is a sign of
Canada's tolerance and goodness. It is not; it is simply cowardice," Archbishop
Earlier, Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary, Alberta, called Martin's
positions on abortion and same-sex marriage "a source of scandal."
Recalling the 2000 federal election campaign when he took party leaders Jean
Chretien and Joe Clark, both Catholics, to task for their support of abortion,
Bishop Henry said, "This is more of the same."
In the days leading up to the U.S. bishops' meeting in Englewood, many voices
had joined in the debate over support of abortion by Catholic politicians and
Writing in the June 21-28 issue of America magazine, Archbishop Raymond L.
Burke of St. Louis said "the church herself must refuse the sacrament" when a
Catholic politician who "has publicly violated the moral law in a grave matter"
does not recognize on his own that he or she does not have "the proper
disposition to receive Communion."
An affiliate organization of the American Life
League called Crusade for Defense of Our Catholic Church published a
full-page ad June 16 asking the bishops to "end this public sacrilege being
perpetrated by so-called Catholic, pro-abortion public figures against the body
and blood of Christ." The ad cited Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which
says that those "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be
admitted to holy Communion."
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, who has been writing a series of
columns about the abortion/politics/Communion debate in the Denver Catholic
Register, his archdiocesan newspaper, said in his latest column, "None of us
earns the gift of Christ's love. None of us 'deserves' the Eucharist."
Denying anyone Communion "should be reserved for extraordinary cases of
public scandal," Archbishop Chaput said. "But the church always expects
Catholics who are living in serious sin or who deny the teachings of the church
-- whether they're highly visible officials or anonymous parishioners -- to have
the integrity to respect both the Eucharist and the faithful, and to refrain
from receiving Communion."
Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., USCCB vice president, took a
different tack in a column for the June 10 edition of the Inland Register,
"I strongly oppose using Eucharist as a weapon," he wrote. "As a bishop, I
believe we are called to persuade, not to bludgeon. ... We have neither need nor
call to take God's gifts ... and turn them into weapons of divisiveness and
Speaking at a June 13 Mass at Corpus Christi Parish in Carol Stream, Ill.,
Bishop Joseph L. Imesch of Joliet, Ill., agreed that "the Eucharist should not
be used as a sanction."
"Both the good and the wicked can approach the table,"