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Pope Francis meets Argentine president Alberto Fernandez and his mistress, Fabiola YanezRome Reports / screenshot

ROME, February 7, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — A Vatican bishop has defended giving Holy Communion to the pro-abortion president of Argentina and his mistress during their recent visit to the Vatican, saying it is a “problem” only for U.S. Catholics and Cardinal Raymond Burke. 

The bishop accused this journalist of being a “fanatic” for challenging him on it.

In comments to LifeSite on February 6, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, vigorously argued that canon law “obliges” a priest to give the Eucharist to openly pro-abortion politicians who present themselves for Communion. The Argentine prelate said that only someone who has formally been excommunicated can be refused the Sacrament. 

“The [Argentine] president is not excommunicated, so I can give him Communion,” Bishop Sánchez insisted. His pro-abortion policies have “nothing to do with it,” he said. 

Other positions are only “the opinion of some bishops of your country,” Bishop Sánchez told this correspondent, singling out U.S. cardinal Raymond Burke.

Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states: “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

In February 2007, Cardinal Burke wrote an extensive, 55-page article for Periodica De Re Canonica titled “Canon 915: the discipline regarding the denial of Holy Communion to those obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin.” He went on to serve as head of the Vatican’s highest court for over a decade (2008–2014).

The scandal

On January 31, a video circulated on social media of Argentine president Alberto Fernández, 61, and his mistress, Fabiola Yáñez, 38, receiving Holy Communion at a Mass celebrated by Bishop Sánchez in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica. Following the Mass, Fernández had a 45-minute meeting with Pope Francis during which the issue of abortion was reportedly not raised. 

The new Argentine president has made the legalization of abortion one of his political priorities. At a presser following his meeting with the pope, Fernández confirmed that he will not back down on legalizing abortion and said the proposed legislation will be sent to Parliament on March 1.

Fernández divorced his wife in 2005 and has been living with 38-year-old actress Fabiola Yáñez since 2014 (having lived with another woman for nearly 10 years). After his election in December 2019, Yáñez moved to the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires and acts as first lady despite their not being married.

The video of the couple receiving Communion caused an international scandal among Catholics. One high-ranking prelate told LifeSite that several Argentinians had expressed shock and dismay at their compatriots’ actions.

A frank exchange

In the wake of the controversy, LifeSite sat down with Bishop Sánchez at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS) headquarters in the Vatican, during a two-day workshop on the Global Education Compact — Pope Francis’s May 2020 initiative aimed at promoting a “new humanism.”

During the back-and-forth (see full exchange below), Bishop Sánchez said refusing Holy Communion to a pro-abortion politician runs contrary not only to the “common interpretation of the Church,” but also to “the bishops’ conferences of the United States, Italy, and Argentina — and the pope.”  

When it was pointed out that bishops’ conferences have little authority in the matter, the Argentine prelate pivoted, justifying his position based on Pope Francis’s predecessors. 

“Pope John Paul II gave Communion to all the people who are in favor of abortion — all the presidents,” he said. 

The PAS chancellor also claimed that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI), as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a “second letter” to U.S. bishops “agreeing with the conclusion” that “we can give Communion to [pro-abortion politicians] because they are not excommunicated.”

Weighed against the facts, the bishop’s claim about Cardinal Ratzinger appears rather light. In fact, the cardinal’s main text on the issue strongly opposed giving Communion to pro-abortion politicians.

In 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger sent a letter titled “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles” to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as they were discussing the issue of Communion for pro-abortion politicians given the presidential candidacy of John Kerry, a pro-abortion Catholic Democrat.

He sent the letter to former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then-archbishop of Washington, D.C. and chairman of the USCCB Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, and Bishop Wilton Gregory, then-president of the USCCB, to clarify the Church’s doctrine and assist the bishops at their June 14–19 meeting in Denver.

In the letter, Cardinal Ratzinger stated, based on Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law:

[W]hen a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

Having received Ratzinger’s letter, McCarrick withheld it from his brother bishops, tempered its force, and distorted its contents. 

“I was at the meeting, we never saw it,” Cardinal Burke told LifeSite in comments on February 7.

At the conclusion of the June 2004 meeting, the USCCB issued a statement titled “Catholics in Political Life.” The relevant passage concerning pro-abortion politicians states that the “prudential decision” for denying them Communion rests “with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles.”

The statement, while admittedly weak, notes that a bishop’s decision must be “in accord with established canonical and pastoral principles.” Cardinal Ratzinger had provided those principles in his letter.

Cardinal Ratzinger reportedly sent a second memo to the USCCB affirming that the bishops’ statement was “in harmony with” his initial letter. Yet he did not agree, as Bishop Sánchez suggested, that bishops and priests “can give Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians.”

Sparring about St. Paul

Bishop Sánchez further downplayed the Fernández scandal by pointing to pro-abortion U.S. politicians like former Vice President Joe Biden, telling this journalist: “It’s your problem — again; it’s a problem of your bishops, but it’s not a problem of the Church.”

Pressed on the grave public scandal caused by a pro-abortion president and his mistress receiving Communion in the heart of Christendom, the Argentine prelate said he organized the Mass because Fernández wanted to offer his people an “example” during his visit to Rome. 

Suggesting that he might have spoken with President Fernández before Mass, he said: “I don’t have the opportunity to speak.”

“You’re a priest. You could make the opportunity,” this correspondent replied. “For the good of his soul — and for the good of her soul. St. Paul is very clear about how we can eat condemnation” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:29), I said.

“Yes,” Bishop Sánchez retorted, “but St. Paul is also very clear and said ‘my only judge is my conscience.’”

“No, he didn’t. He said that the Lord is my judge,” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4), I responded. To this, Sánchez replied: “The Lord is my judge, but the Lord is in my conscience.”

“But if you don’t have a well formed conscience, where divine grace is actually active, then your conscience is probably lying to you,” I said. “It’s the darkness of the intellect.” 

Bishop Sánchez stood up, claimed this was only my “interpretation,” and said he no longer wished to speak.

A fanatic?

Earlier in our interview, Bishop Sánchez and I talked about why he has allowed American globalist and climate change guru Jeffrey Sachs to openly and repeatedly criticize U.S. president Donald Trump in Vatican-hosted meetings since his election. 

Returning to the topic of President Trump, at what proved to be the end of our discussion, Bishop Sánchez suggested that Cardinal Burke be told that at least the Argentine president “goes to Mass” — unlike President Trump. 

“He’s not Catholic,” I said. “But he was the first president ever to go to the March for Life with thousands and thousands of young people.” 

“Yes, to have the votes of the Catholics,” he responded.

“He’s saving babies,” I said. “He’s saving babies.”

With that, it was suggested that this correspondent seek to “understand Catholic ideas,” not be “fanatic,” and “try to use reason.” Bishop Sánchez then returned to his workshop on the Global Education Pact.

Here below is the transcript of our conversation with Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo. 

Diane Montagna (DM): [Bishop Sánchez], why is Jeffrey Sachs allowed to criticize so much – it’s not the first time, I heard it back in 2017 — criticize President Trump so much? He says terrible things about President Trump in this room [where Pontifical Academy of Sciences meetings are held], when President Trump is the most pro-life president we’ve had. He is for school choice, for helping young black children. 

Bishop Sánchez (BS): He is not criticized for this. He is criticized for other things. 

DM: For his climate change policies? 

BS: For example.

DM: Or what else?

BS: For climate change and because he doesn’t have any collaboration in the dialogue with the other cultures. 

DM: That’s not true. 

BS: Well I don’t know, it’s not my problem.

DM: Well, I’m saying this because as soon as he was elected president one of the first things he did, actually it was right before he came to visit the Pope, he went and had a meeting with the leaders of the Muslim world about terrorism, in order to work with them to decrease terrorism. So, there are plenty of things … it would be better to have a positive attitude. All you hear here is negative things about President Trump when, in many respects, he’s been a very good president for everyone, for the poor — for everyone. You can disagree with him on climate …

BS: I don’t want to make an opinion about the question of your country, because I don’t know things…

DM: Yes.

BS: But Jeffrey Sachs is an American, and yesterday…

DM: I heard about what he said yesterday.

BS: It was in the same line.

DM: It was worse.

BS: Yes, it was worse…so it’s not my problem. But there are many Americans who criticize him.

DM: This is true.

BS: Many intelligent Americans.

DM: This is true. I want to ask you about another matter and that is the recent visit of the Argentinian President to the Pope. It caused scandal that you gave him and his mistress [Communion] — because he’s known to be pro-abortion and it’s known he’s not married to that woman — but they live together. They received Communion.

BS: This is another discussion of your country. We don’t have this problem. 

DM: How can you give them Communion? It’s Jesus. It’s Jesus. They’re living openly in adultery and he supports abortion. 

BS: Sorry, sorry, do you know the canon law? Do you know the canon law? We need to follow canon law, not the opinion of some bishops. And the canon law says that you cannot not give – you are obliged to give Communion if somebody asks you for Communion. Only in the case that he is excommunicated. The President is not excommunicated, so I can give Communion if he asks me for Communion. 

DM: But if he is pro-abortion…

BS: Nothing to do [with it]. They don’t say that we shouldn’t give Communion to a politician who is pro-abortion. This is the opinion of some bishops of your country, but it is not the opinion of the bishops’ conference. 

DM: Cardinal Raymond Burke …

BS: Cardinal Burke!

DM: But the bishops’ conference doesn’t have any authority. 

BS: The Pope doesn’t say this. Pope John Paul II gave Communion to all the people who are in favor of abortion – all the presidents. So… this is the opinion only of Burke. 

DM: No… there are others.

BS: Maybe two or three, but it’s not the opinion of the bishops’ conference of Argentina. It’s not the opinion of the bishops’ conference of Italy. It’s not the opinion of the Pope. 

DM: So anyone, even someone who is living in open and grave public scandal, can go up to Communion, and you as a priest can’t say “I’m sorry, but…”

BS: Only if he is excommunicated!

DM: But what if he has excommunicated himself by his public act of scandal?

BS: He’s not excommunicated! Excommunicated is a very important sentence and it needs to be communicated that he is excommunicated. You can’t excommunicate a person. 

DM: No, I know that. 

BS: Only the bishop. 

DM: I know, but he’s living with this woman, they are living in open adultery …

BS: It’s a problem of his conscience. It’s not my problem. I don’t have the possibility of saying no. 

DM: But wouldn’t it be the opportunity for the sake of his soul …

BS: You have the same problem in your country with the Vice President of Obama, no? 

DM: Biden

BS: Biden

DM: Exactly, and Pelosi. Pelosi openly promotes abortion and she calls herself Catholic. 

BS: So, it’s your problem — again. It’s your practice. It’s a problem of your bishops, but it’s not a problem of the Church. 

DM: But the Eucharist is Jesus. How can you give Jesus …

BS: I believe in the conscience of the people. If the people ask me for Communion; I don’t know if he is really in sin, or not. I don’t have the possibility to say. Maybe this day they went to confession, and he doesn’t want to have relations with his lady. So, there are many questions that are impossible to resolve in this form. 

DM: I know, it’s just this was a publicly … it went all over social media that the Argentine president, who everyone knows wants to pass pro-abortion …

BS: It was an example that the first thing that he says and does while he was here in Rome was to speak to the Pope and in the morning, he wanted to go to the Mass, and I organized this Mass. 

DM: It’s wonderful that he goes to Mass. 

BS: And I didn’t know if he wanted to go to Communion. He asked me for Communion, and I didn’t have reason to say no.

DM: Not even if he’s pro-abortion and wants to pass pro-abortion legislation.

BS: No, it’s not a reason to say no for Communion according to canon law. 

DM: Do you know which canon it is? 

BS: Yes, I can give the canons. There are three canons. The first canon says we are obliged to give Communion to persons who ask for Communion. There is only one exception and the exception is when he is excommunicated. Of course, there are some cardinals like Cardinal Burke, but it is the opinion of the Cardinal. 

DM: Well, but he knows what the canon law says. I mean, he was the head of the Apostolic Signatura.

BS: Yes, but it’s an interpretation of the canon. It’s not the common interpretation of the Church. It’s only his interpretation and it’s also against the American Bishops’ Conference. 

DM: But everybody knows, and Benedict XVI said, that the bishops’ conference doesn’t really have any authority, not in that matter. 

BS: Benedict, when he was cardinal, said “I agree with the conclusion of the American Bishops’ Conference.” Yes! Yes! This is the question.

DM: I’ll look it up. I’ll look it up. If you tell me that, I’ll look it up. 

BS: Yes, look at these things. 

DM: You’re saying that Benedict XVI agreed that a pro-abortion…

BS: This was a question that the American Bishops’ Conference posed and after the declaration of Cardinal Ratzinger, Cardinal Ratzinger sent a second declaration to say: “I agree with the conclusion of the bishops’ conference from America. We can do this. We can give Communion if they ask for Communion because they are not excommunicated.”

DM: Well, I’ll look that up. 

BS: Yes, so only Cardinal Burke. 

DM: There are others too.

BS: Yes, maybe two or one bishop. But it’s not a problem. It’s not a problem in Italy. It’s not a problem with the Pope. St. John Paul II gave Communion to [inaudible], to all people, who promote abortion. This is the practice [inaudible] Maybe I’m not happy with this.

DM: But it would be an opportunity. This was a public scandal. The fact that a pro-abortion president who’s sleeping with his mistress… 

BS: So you say…

DM: He’s living with his mistress!

BS: I don’t know. I don’t know. 

DM: Everybody knows. She lives with him. She acts like the first lady. 

BS: I don’t know.

DM: How can you not know? You’re Argentinian.

BS: Look, this is his problem. It’s not my problem. And I don’t have any reason, any canonical reason, to say no. So, what can I do?

DM: Would you ever take an opportunity like that to speak to him, before the Mass or after the Mass? Before the Mass, if he wants to go to Mass. This was all organized…

BS: No, I don’t have the opportunity to speak.

DM: You’re a priest. You could make the opportunity. It was organized…

BS: I don’t say more, I don’t say more. Maybe I have in the future an opportunity to speak.

DM: Because these things are organized. He didn’t just show up and want to go to Mass. 

BS: Okay, thank you for that. 

DM: I’m just thinking of the good of his soul – and for the good of her soul. St. Paul is very clear about how we can eat condemnation upon (cf 1 Cor. 1:29)…

BS: Yes, but St. Paul is very clear also to say, “my only judge is my conscience.” St. Paul said it.

DM: No, no he didn’t. He said that the Lord is his judge. He said: “Not even I can judge myself. The Lord is my judge” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4).

BS: The Lord is my judge, but the Lord is in my conscience.

DM: The Lord isn’t necessarily if we don’t have …

BS: He’s not in the conscience of the bishop or the cardinal…

DM: But if you don’t have a well-formed conscience where divine grace is actually active, then your conscience is probably lying to you. The darkness of the intellect…

BS: This is your interpretation. Sorry, I don’t want to continue to speak with you because you are completely… and you want only to make polemics. You need to be very happy and to say to your Cardinal Burke, “Look the president [of Argentina] goes to the Mass.” This is the important fact. And your president did not go to the Mass. 

DM: What do you mean, my president?

BS: Say this.

DM: My president in terms of President Trump? 

BS: Yes. He does not go to the Mass.

DM: But he’s not Catholic. He’s not Catholic. 

BS: Exactly! This is a great difference.

DM: He’s not Catholic. But President Trump went in January… he was the first U.S. president ever to go to the March for Life with thousands and thousands of young people. 

BS: Yeah, to have the votes of the Catholics. To have the votes of the Catholics. Say this to Cardinal Burke. And in fact, I heard that Cardinal Burke is against President Trump. 

DM: Is against?

BS: Yes. Yes.

DM: Or he went to see him?

BS: He is against many things that [Trump] says.

DM: Well, you don’t have to agree with everything President Trump does. But he’s saving babies. He’s saving babies.

BS: Please, lady, understand the Catholic ideas and do not be fanatic, do not be fanatic. 

DM: Okay…

BS: If you continue to speak with me, do not be fanatic. Try to use reason. 

DM: I am. Okay. Thank you very much.