By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, DC, February 17, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The best way for the Church to ensure pro-abortion Catholic politicians do not receive Communion would be through a change in the Church’s Canon Law, or an official directive from the Pope himself, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston told LifeSiteNews.com.

LifeSiteNews.com caught up with O’Malley in Washington, DC last month, where he was among the concelebrating bishops for the Vigil Mass for Life at the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. LSN asked O’Malley what he considered the appropriate pastoral response to pro-abortion politicians receiving Communion.

"Well, I think that the only way that that solution [denying communion] should be invoked is if there were a large catechesis or if it was universal for the whole church," the cardinal responded. "You can’t have people doing things in one parish and another, you would only divide the Church hopelessly.”

(To view the full LSN interview transcript with Cardinal O'Malley, click here)

For several years, the US Catholic Bishops have actively engaged the problem of how to correct the scandal of pro-abortion politicians receiving Holy Communion – but developed no consensus on a uniform pastoral approach.  Many orthodox Catholics continue to protest against pro-abortion politicians presenting themselves to receive the Church’s holiest sacrament, yet the practice is widespread.

O’Malley said an official papal directive or change in Canon Law would be “the only way it is really going to work.”

“That would be helpful if they did it,” he continued. “But if it is not done – to make it look like it’s an individual bishop sparring with the people of particular parties is only going to divide the Church in a very terrible way.  Then you’ll have some priest who will obey and others who won’t, other divisions of the Church, more scandal, and undermining the authority of the bishops.”

O’Malley revealed that he had been concerned about the issue for a long time, and asked Pope John Paul II for guidance when the pontiff was soliciting input from bishops for his pro-life encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

“I wrote to him and asked him to please give us very clear direction on how to deal with politicians who will be pro-abortion and will be Catholic,” related O’Malley.

“We have not had the kind of clear response that we need.”

However, it seems the Vatican has already attempted to give the US bishops guidance on how to deal with the issue, through a 2004 letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – entitled "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles."

The memo states that, once persistently pro-abortion Catholic politicians had been warned by their respective bishops not to approach the altar, they "must" be denied Communion.

Unfortunately, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) never received the letter as Ratzinger intended.  Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, chairman of the USCCB task force on the issue, only referenced the document as an afterthought in his 12-page report to that committee.

Later – in what may have been a Vatican end-run around McCarrick – Ratzinger's letter hit international headlines after being leaked to Roman media.

In the end, the US Bishops task force put out more generalized guidelines in the document "Catholics in Political Life," which leaves the appropriate pastoral response towards pro-abortion politicians - including denial of Communion - to the prudential judgment of the individual bishop. Ratzinger would later affirm to the USCCB that the document was "very much in harmony" with his general principles.

(To view the full LSN interview transcript with Cardinal O'Malley, click here)

See related coverage by LifeSiteNews.com:

For the Vatican it's Clear - Pro-Abortion Politicians 'Must' be Denied Communion
 
Pope Supports Excommunication for Pro-Abortion Politicians - "Incompatible with Receiving Communion"

Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles

Cardinal McCarrick and the Concealing of Rome's Position on Denying Communion: Part I  Part II