– Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith, was clear with Theodore Cardinal McCarrick,
archbishop of Washington and the head of the “domestic policy”
commission of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference.
He was more than
clear, he set it down in writing: No eucharistic communion for the
politicians who systematically campaign for abortion.
communion for the Democratic candidate for the White House,
the Catholic John F. Kerry.
memorandum is presented in its entirety below. It was sent as a
confidential letter, during the first half of June and written in
English expressly for cardinal
McCarrick and to the president of the United States bishops'
then, is Ratzinger's previously unpublished memorandum, which he wrote.
Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious
decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one’s worthiness to
do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such
questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I
guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication,
interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared
myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice of
indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely
as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be
corrected (cf. Instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” nos. 81, 83).
The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The
Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial
decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or
euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to
oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an
intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or
euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in
a propoganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’” (no.
73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate
formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation,
are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is
never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can
never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others
or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it”
3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as
abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds
with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the
decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered
unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church
exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise
discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still
be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have
recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of
opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death
penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
Apart from an individuals’s judgement about his worthiness to present
himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion
may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute
Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared
excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in
manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).
5. Regarding the grave sin of
abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes
manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his
consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and
euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him
about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present
himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective
situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the
6. When “these precautionary measures have not had
their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in
question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive
the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to
distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics”
, nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction
or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement
on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the
person’s public unworthiness to receive
Holy Communion due to an
objective situation of sin.
A Catholic would be guilty of
formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present
himself for Holy
Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a
because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or
euthanasia. When a Catholic
does not share a candidate’s stand in
favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for
other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can
be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]
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