Commentary by John-Henry Westen
BOSTON, November 11, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In an interview published today in the Boston Globe, Cardinal Archbishop Sean O’Malley, once again speaks on the matter of Holy Communion for Catholic politicians who support abortion. Globe reporter Michael Paulsen asked: “You just alluded to the fact that many of the people in your archdiocese are Catholics who support abortion rights, including leading politicians, and both US senators. What is your position on whether they should present themselves for Communion, and whether you should be giving it to them?”
On presenting themselves, the Cardinal responded that the church’s teaching is in the Catechism, but added that the bishops have more teaching to do on the matter. However, with regard to “giving it to them,” Cardinal O’Malley said: “But until there’s a decision of the church to formally excommunicate people, I don’t think we’re going to be denying Communion to the people.” He added: “However, whatever the church’s decision is, we will certainly enforce.”
While there may be debate among US Bishops over whether or not to deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians, for the Vatican there is no such debate. The issue was closed several years ago with a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
The then-head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith intervened into a debate among the US Bishops on the issue in 2004. Cardinal Ratzinger said in his letter, titled “Worthiness to receive Holy Communion,” that a Catholic politician who would vote for “permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” after being duly instructed and warned, “must” be denied Communion. Ratzinger’s letter explained that if such a politician “with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”
Since then, Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed this position, speaking as Pope. Answering a reporter on an in-flight press conference in May last year, Benedict addressed a question on the Mexican bishops excommunicating politicians who support legalizing abortion. “Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon law which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving communion, which is receiving the body of Christ,” he said.
In the comment, the Pope was referring to the Church’s Canon law 915 which states: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, whom Pope Benedict appointed this year to head the highest judicial court in the Vatican, has remarked on the need for Bishops to uphold this canon since without doing so they undermine belief in the truth of the evil of abortion. “No matter how often a bishop or priest repeats the teaching of the Church regarding procured abortion, if he stands by and does nothing to discipline a Catholic who publicly supports legislation permitting the gravest of injustices and, at the same time, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, then his teaching rings hollow,” wrote Burke. “To remain silent is to permit serious confusion regarding a fundamental truth of the moral law.” (See coverage: https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2007/sep/07091107.html)
Another prominent Vatican figure in this matter is the head (or Prefect) of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments – Nigerian-born Cardinal Francis Arinze. His department deals specifically with the sacraments, of which Holy Communion is preeminent.
Already in 2004, Cardinal Arinze said a pro-abortion politician “is not fit” to receive Communion. “If they should not receive, then they should not be given,” he added.
Since then, Cardinal Arinze, who still holds the position of prefect of the congregation, has been asked about the issue so frequently he has begun to joke about it. The latest such incident was videotaped and is available on Youtube.
In the November 2007 video, Arinze said that he is regularly asked if a person who votes for abortion can receive Holy Communion. He replied, “Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that? Get the children for first Communion and say to them, ‘Somebody votes for the killing of unborn babies, and says, I voted for that, I will vote for that every time.’ And these babies are killed not one or two, but in millions, and that person says, ‘I’m a practicing Catholic’, should that person receive Communion next Sunday? The children will answer that at the drop of a hat. You don’t need a cardinal to answer that.” (see the youtube video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYdMHsq2AuE )
The full text of the interview with Cardinal O’Malley is available from the Boston Globe here:
The full text of the letter on the subject by then-Cardinal Ratzinger is available here:
Commentary by John-Henry Westen