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August 29, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Almost a decade ago (how it now seems another world!), I was still naïve enough to believe that then-Archbishop Wuerl of Washington, D.C., would be open to the appeals of Catholics about his stance on giving Holy Communion to outspokenly pro-abortion politicians, in explicit contravention of Canon 915. 

I took time to write my letter with care, using strong arguments and polite speech. 

The response I received from Wuerl secretary was this: 

While abortion is a terrible evil and voting for legislation to support it is wrong, the refusal of Holy Communion to specific politicians for their political actions is a serious matter, rarely done and almost always at the direction of the person’s own bishop.

This feeble reply could have many explanations, of course, but subsequent events indicate the most likely explanation: a bishop who covered up clerical sexual predations, who facilitated and was facilitated by McCarrick, and who now, evidence suggests, “lies shamelessly” as he continues to deny knowledge or complicity, is not likely to be a bishop who cares much about the clear proclamation of Catholic truth on sexuality and the consistent implementation of the pro-life message.

Below is my letter, followed by the letter received from the chancery.


May 11, 2009
Most Reverend Donald W. Wuerl
P. O. Box 29260
Washington, DC 20017-0260

Your Excellency,

I have been following in the news your statements concerning the controversial subject of administering or denying holy communion to politicians who assert they are Catholic and yet reject fundamental moral teachings of the Church. I can only begin to imagine the many difficulties you must face every day in ruling your flock in a time of such great intellectual and moral confusion. As a parent of small children and a teacher of college-age students, I know that questions of discipline are always fraught with difficulties. All the same, I am deeply troubled by certain assumptions that seem to be operative in your statements and your approach to these difficulties.

Laity often hear it said that to deny the Eucharist to a politician is to politicize the Eucharist. This is not so. The ones who are politicizing the Eucharist are the politicians who insist on receiving it even though they are manifestly at odds with the well-known teaching of the Church. They make this most holy sacrament a validation of their good standing, an instrument of their reputation. It is a way for them to proclaim: “Look, what I hold and do isn’t problematic as far as the Church is concerned. If it was really problematic, then something would be done—but as you see, nothing is being done, so it must be okay, or at least within the realm of disputable opinion.”

The Church has the solemn obligation to protect the Sacrament from profanation and to protect the faithful against scandal. Is it any wonder that such a large number of American Catholics appear to think that the morality of abortion is not something about which the Church has a definite, unchanging teaching, and that it is up to each individual to decide for himself? Many American Catholics will continue to be confused until each and every bishop fulfills his task of proclaiming the truth unambiguously and taking all necessary, if regrettable, steps to make sure that no one misses or manipulates that truth because of compromises and evasions. A politician who is repeatedly corrected and yet repeatedly signifies no intention of changing his or her public position is manifestly not in a position to receive a Sacrament whose very meaning is unity with the Catholic Church in her faith and morals. This is, after all, what the Catechism teaches us about the res sacramenti of the Eucharist—that it is the unity of, and unity with, the Mystical Body. To exist at all, this unity requires adherence to the ecclesia docens.

Can a Catholic who supports in any way the murder of baby humans be unified with the Mystical Body? We know that Jesus welcomes sinners to his table, for all of us are sinners. But among murderers, he welcomes the repentant, not the unrepentant. If we have mortal sin on our souls, we are obliged to go to confession, and not just say we are sorry, but have a true purpose of amendment. With Pelosi, Biden, Sebelius, and too many others, where is the evidence of their amendment? As long as that is wanting, they should refrain from going to communion. And if they insist on going anyway, who, then, is “politicizing the Eucharist”? The priest or bishop who denies it, or the politician who treats it like his/her own personal right “regardless”? The priest who is doing his best to keep the injunction of Jesus himself—”throw not pearls before swine” (Mt 7:6)—or the politician who wants to be known as a faithful Catholic in spite of persistent public dissent?

Your position, as far as I can tell, does not do justice to the ever-growing problem, or rather scandal, of persistent dissent from Catholic teaching, a dissent that is rarely met with the obviously appropriate response of denial of communion at some level. Contrary to what you implied in a recent statement, the history of the Church is filled with countless examples of popes and bishops reasonably using the power of the keys to restrict or exclude lay members of the Church (in the old days it was kings and princes) when their behavior ran clearly and dangerously contrary to the Gospel. I am not saying the Church leaders were right to do this in every instance, but they were surely right to do so in many instances.

What would have happened if St. Ambrose of Milan had not been courageous enough to reprimand the Emperor Theodosius for the slaughter of 7,000 people at Thessalonica in 390? Ambrose refused communion to Theodosius for several months, urging him to imitate the penance of King David. Finally, the Emperor humbled himself and was readmitted. Here was a great bishop, a Father and Doctor of the Church, who knew that in dealing with the most powerful earthly ruler, he had to use the most powerful spiritual sanction of the Church. Nothing less would suffice. Anything less would have been to capitulate to the powerful of this world, as if the Church is subordinate to the State. In essence, the situation we are facing today is no different; indeed, the stakes are higher, for we are talking about the killing not of 7,000 but of millions of unborn children each year in our own country alone.

Is there a time and a place for public confrontation? Yes, absolutely, if there are truths worth living and dying for. The Holy Eucharist is the mystery of faith par excellence. It symbolizes and effects the unity of the Church for those who, already baptized, adhere to the Church’s teaching, which is the teaching of Christ. It therefore strikes at the very meaning of the mystery to allow those who proudly proclaim their dissenting ways to approach unchecked and to profane the sacrament by their practical rejection of what it means. If the Eucharist is not worth defending at all costs from profanation, nothing is worth anything. The approach that allows politicians to hold whatever they want and act however they want with no public consequences in Church membership or sacramental access does not have the long-term effect of winning them over but of emboldening them in their dissent, and confusing and scandalizing the faithful who are trying to live according to the mind of the Church.

Even our merciful Savior and the “all things to all men” St. Paul recommended severe measures in especially bad situations, so that there might be the hope of a startled awakening followed by repentance and reconciliation (cf. Mt 18:15–18; 1 Cor 5:4–5). This would be what Sheldon Vanauken called a “severe mercy”: a medicine that may make things worse for a time, in order that there might be healing in the end. As Plato and Aristotle argue, a truly just punishment does not have the purpose of satisfying a private desire for vengeance; its purpose is to restore the order of justice in the souls of the guilty, in the hopes that having been objectively corrected they might also be subjectively reformed.

If the Church does not defend her name, her confession of faith and morals, and her legitimate rights in the public sphere, then we have no one but ourselves to blame for the increasing boldness of anti-Christian, inhuman secularism.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Peter A. Kwasniewski, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology


And the reply I received:


May 19, 2009
Archdiocese of Washington
Archdiocesan Pastoral Center
5001 Eastern Avenue
Hyattsville, MD 20782-3447

Dear Dr. Kwasniewski,

Thank you for taking the time to write to Archbishop Wuerl. Although the Archbishop’s schedule precludes him from personally responding to every letter, each is carefully reviewed. I would like to respond to the concerns you raise about Catholic politicians who support pro-abortion legislation and who receive Holy Communion. 

While abortion is a terrible evil and voting for legislation to support it is wrong, the refusal of Holy Communion to specific politicians for their political actions is a serious matter, rarely done and almost always at the direction of the person’s own bishop.

Archbishop Wuerl and his brother bishops continue to speak out strongly against abortion and to point out that legislation supporting abortion is also wrong. Their teaching is intended to change hearts and minds to stop the terrible injustice of the killing of innocent unborn life. I have enclosed a brochure highlighting Archbishop Wuerl’s consistent teaching on the sanctity of life and its priority among issues to be considered in exercising faithful citizenship.

Prayers can be a significant force in helping to change hearts and minds, and I invite you to pray with the bishops for the success of their teaching efforts. Of course, our Holy Father has been an inspiration to many in his defense of human dignity, and I have enclosed a card commemorating his visit to our nation’s capital last year. Please pray daily for him as he shepherds the Church around the world. Thank you very much for your commitment to defending the sanctity of human life in all its stages.

Sincerely in Christ,

Rev. William Byrne, Secretary
Secretariat for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns

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Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California (B.A. Liberal Arts) and The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy). He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria and the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, then helped establish Wyoming Catholic College in 2006. There he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history and directed the choirs until leaving in 2018 to devote himself full-time to writing and lecturing.

Today he contributes regularly to many websites and publications, including New Liturgical Movement, OnePeterFive, LifeSiteNews, Rorate Caeli, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News, and has published thirteen books, including four on traditional Catholicism: Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014, also available in Czech, Polish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Belarusian), Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017), Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018), and Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over a thousand articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church.

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, visit his personal website,