VATICAN, December 16, 2013 ( – Vatican Cardinal Raymond Burke said in an interview last week that he has considered dropping his push to have pro-abortion Catholic politicians denied Holy Communion. Attention to this particular stance was highlighted Monday as Pope Francis removed Cardinal Burke from the influential Congregation for Bishops and appointed another US Cardinal who opposes Burke on the matter of communion for politicians who promote abortion.

In the interview with Cardinal Burke which aired Thursday on EWTN, host Raymond Arroyo asked the Cardinal if he’d ever considered pulling back due to the “scorn” he has experienced over the years “for that clear teaching” on denying Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians. “Do you ever stop and say maybe I should back off a little bit?” asked Arroyo.

“I’ve thought about it because I’ve received very severe criticism both at the time… that I was insisting on applying the discipline and also my writing and another situations,” replied Burke. “But I have to say that I think about again the discipline itself and it's a consistent discipline from the time of St. Paul from the very first years of the Church and it makes perfect sense. In fact, it makes such fundamental sense that I can’t feel badly about it or question.”

“The question in my mind is ‘Why don't more people understand this?’” added Cardinal Burke. “Because I don't consider it to be rocket science or any kind of unusual insight it's something that's just natural to our faith.”

Left-leaning Vatican reporters pounced on the news of Burke’s ouster and Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s appointment at the Congregation of Bishops as evidence that Pope Francis has sided with an approach which would not withhold communion.  The controversy is severe as both Popes Benedict and John Paul II insisted on the discipline as required by the Catholic Church’s canon law. 

At the leading US dissident National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters gloated in a post covering Wuerl’s replacement of Burke on the Congregation for Bishops. “Wuerl has stood up to those who argued he should deny communion within the archdiocese to politicians who did not support the Church’s stance on neuralgic issues,” he wrote. “Wuerl correctly understood that denying communion to politicians was lousy theology.”

Rocco Palmo of the famous blog Whispers in the Loggia called it ‘extrordinary’ that Wuerl “has replaced his historic rival” meaning Burke, linking to coverage of their opposing views on the matter.  Palmo calls Wuerl, the “lead voice of the majority of the American bench opposed to public denial of the Eucharist to those politicians whose platforms don't square with definitive church teaching.”

Where Pope Francis actually stands on the issue is not fully clear.

From the appointments and his recent writings however, Pope Francis does seem to be leaning in Wuerl’s direction on the matter.  In his recent exhortation, The Gospel of Joy, Pope Francis wrote, “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

And in the very latest off-the-cuff interview, published in La Stampa Saturday, the Pope said similarly. “I spoke about baptism and communion as spiritual food that helps one to go on; it is to be considered a remedy not a prize,” he said. “We must try to facilitate people’s faith, rather than control it. Last year in Argentina I condemned the attitude of some priests who did not baptise the children of unmarried mothers. This is a sick mentality.”

However, while Archbishop in Argentina, Pope Francis was the lead bishop working on a document to guide the Church in Latin America which included a section, albeit minor, which barred Holy Communion to anyone who facilitates an abortion, including politicians.  Moreover, as Pope, he encouraged the bishops of Latin America to use that document.

The Aparecida document states in paragraph 436 “we should commit ourselves to ‘eucharistic coherence’, that is, we should be conscious that people cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act or speak against the commandments, in particular when abortion, euthanasia, and other serious crimes against life and family are facilitated.  This responsibility applies particularly to legislators, governors, and health professionals.”

Cardinal Wuerl explained his position on the matter in a 2009 interview with Politics Daily in which he spoke against the use of Communion ‘as a weapon’.

“We never – the Church just didn't use Communion this way. It wasn't a part of the way we do things, and it wasn't a way we convinced Catholic politicians to appropriate the faith and live it and apply it; the challenge has always been to convince people,” he said.

Cardinal Wuerl described two different approaches to the matter, one pastoral and the other canonical. “I have yet to see where the canonical approach has changed anyone's heart,” he said. But when pressed could not name a single example of anyone’s mind being changed by his ‘pastoral’ approach.

Cardinal Burke explained his position on EWTN: “The Holy Eucharist is the most sacred reality. It is the body blood soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And I simply wouldn't approach to receive Holy Communion if I was in the state of sin and neither would I give Holy Communion to someone who I knew was is in the state of sin.” 

World Over Live’s Arroyo quipped “And the Canon law is kind of your job, and it’s right there in the canons,” referencing the Church’s canon law which specifies that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” (canon 915)

Burke responded, “Right and I would consider myself less than an honest canon lawyer not to insist on this.”

See related story: