Part 1

By John-Henry Westen

CORNWALL, October 23, 2006 ( – Last week, recently-retired Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick delivered an address to the annual Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. McCarrick, who headed up the US Bishops Conference task force on Catholics in Political Life, spoke mainly of his experiences on the task force and of the central debate it explored – namely that of whether or not to deny Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who reject Church teachings on central issues such as abortion and euthanasia.

During the 2004 deliberation among US Bishops, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter to the US Bishops to use as a guide. The letter pointed out that obstinately pro-abortion Catholic politicians, after being duly instructed and warned, “must” be denied Communion.

In his 12-page address, however, McCarrick did not even provide the gist of Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter which outlined in six successive points why communion “must” be denied in the specified cases. He did however speak about a bracketed afterthought at the bottom of Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter which spoke of reception of communion for Catholics who vote for pro-abortion politicians.

The failure to mention the central contents of that Ratzinger letter entitled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles” is seemingly habitual for Cardinal McCarrick.

Although it was sent to the US Bishops via Cardinal McCarrick by Cardinal Ratzinger, the document was not revealed to the US Bishops. Rather McCarrick gave the impression that Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter indicated Rome was ambiguous about the matter. Speaking of Ratzinger’s letter in a June 15, 2004 statement to the US Bishops, Cardinal McCarrick said, “the Cardinal (Ratzinger) recognizes that there are circumstances in which Holy Communion may be denied.”

A couple of weeks after Cardinal McCarrick’s speech, the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger was leaked to well-known Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, who published the document in full. In a surprising move, Cardinal Ratzinger’s office confirmed the leaked document as authentic.

In the days after the Ratzinger letter was leaked and confirmed as authentic, noted US theologian Michael Novak told the Washington Times that sources in Rome were perturbed by Cardinal McCarrick’s soft-pedalling of the Ratzinger letter. “Some people in the Vatican were upset that McCarrick was putting on too kind a face on it,” Novak told reporter Julia Duin.

Rather than a permissibility to deny communion, Ratzinger’s letter spoke of cases where “the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone.” It went on to explain that an obstinately pro-abortion Catholic politician who has been warned and instructed, if “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.” (see the full letter from Cardinal Ratzinger: )

In interviews with Catholic writer Barbara Kralis, two US bishops said publicly that they were disappointed in not receiving the letter from McCarrick . Asked, “were the contents of the memo made known to you and the other bishops at the Denver meeting?” Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis replied, “It certainly was not made known to me and I do not believe it was given to the other bishops. Cardinal McCarrick referred to the memorandum. We were told that, according to Cardinal Ratzinger, the application of the Canon 915 was up to the prudent judgment of each bishop. The text of the memorandum would have been very helpful at the meeting in Denver. Knowing now about the memo, I am disappointed it was not given to us at the meeting of the Bishops’ Conference.”

Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Oregon also told Kralis the memo was not revealed, even to bishops on the task force. “As I recall, Cardinal McCarrick made reference to some letter, but I did not see a copy of the letter at the meeting. I don’t know if the committee writing the ‘Statement,’ entitled ‘Catholics in Political Life,’ was given a copy of the letter,” he said.

Reacting to the controversy, Cardinal McCarrick tried to downplay the significance of the Ratzinger letter. McCarrick said that the leaked Ratzinger letter “may represent an incomplete and partial leak of a private communication from Cardinal Ratzinger and it may not accurately reflect the full message I received.” (see coverage: )

Some months earlier, Cardinal McCarrick was downplaying or even denying the statements of another Vatican Cardinal on the same topic.

In April 2004, the Vatican’s leading prelate – second only to the Pope – on the Sacraments, Cardinal Francis Arinze, declared unequivocally that unambiguously pro-abortion politicians should be denied Holy Communion. Cardinal Arinze said such a politician “is not fit” to receive Communion. “If they should not receive, then they should not be given,” he added.

Cardinal McCarrick reacted to Cardinal Arinze’s statements by suggesting that Arinze did not really mean what he said. Speaking with the National Catholic Reporter, after Cardinal Arinze’s statements were publicized, McCarrick said of Cardinal Arinze, “I don’t think it was his eminence’s official opinion . . . The cardinal’s position . . . was that . . . the United States should figure out what they ought to do.”

Since that time, Cardinal Arinze has so frequently been asked the question he has begun to joke about it. In a live interview on EWTN Cardinal Arinze was asked if pro-abortion politicians should be denied communion. He replied: “The answer is clear. If a person says I am in favour of killing unborn babies whether they be four thousand or five thousand, I have been in favour of killing them. I will be in favour of killing them tomorrow and next week and next year. So, unborn babies, too bad for you. I am in favour that you should be killed, then the person turn around and say I want to receive Holy Communion. Do you need any Cardinal from the Vatican to answer that? . . . “Simple, ask the children for First Communion, they’ll give you the answer.” (see coverage: )

Cardinal McCarrick’s full address

Part 2 of this article appears here: