By Hilary White, Rome correspondent

ROME, July 23, 2009 ( – A high level Vatican official has reminded US bishops of their responsibilities to pro-abortion Catholic politicians, including the possibility of withholding Communion. Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, the head of the Vatican’s liturgical office, told in an interview today that the guiding principle for bishops considering withholding Communion from pro-abortion politicians in their dioceses should be “caritas in veritate” or “charity in truth.”

Canizares explained that according to Catholic teaching those who insist upon receiving Communion in a state of serious sin are in grave spiritual danger and emphasized that the withholding of Communion is meant for the person’s spiritual salvation.

He said, “I think that the strongest words are found in St. Paul: one who goes to the Eucharist and is not properly prepared, duly prepared, ‘he eats his own condemnation’. This is the strongest thing that we can say and what is the most truthful statement.”

The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, in an exclusive interview with LSN, said that it is the duty of bishops and priests to instruct Catholic politicians who refuse to accept the Church’s teachings on life, to help them understand the “gravity” of what they are doing.

“Politicians should become aware and they should be helped to become aware of the gravity of their conduct,” the cardinal said at his offices in Rome. “When they approve laws against life, in favor of abortion or euthanasia, priests and bishops should say this.”

He said that the principle that should be applied is the one that gives the title to the latest encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, “Caritas in Veritate.”

“This principle, caritas in veritate [love in truth], should be the principle used, first by politicians when they come to Communion, and second it should be the rule for bishops when they decide whether to give or to withdraw Communion.”

While the cardinal said he does now know whether the Vatican is preparing a document on the problem of pro-abortion politicians, he reiterated the Church’s position that to be actively involved in procuring abortion is the gravest of offenses and one that incurs the most severe punishment the Church has: excommunication.

“In the cases of public sinners,” he added, “we don’t know what is happening in the consciences of those politicians. And I understand the prudence with which we have to act. But I think also that it is our duty to clarify their consciences. To help the person to act in accordance with a right and true conscience.”

This is part of the function of bishops, he said, “to help the due formation of conscience. To form consciences in such a way that people should act in accordance with the truth.”

Cardinal Canizares’s remarks echo those of Archbishop Raymond Burke, the former head of the archdiocese of St. Louis and current head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Burke told Democrat candidate Senator John Kerry, who though Catholic held a 100 percent approval rating with the country’s leading abortion lobbyists, that he could not receive Communion in the St. Louis diocese.

In an interview with LSN in February, Archbishop Burke said the politicians who are persisting in what the Church says is a “grave sin” must be refused Communion for the sake of their own souls. “When you talk to these people, they know,” he said. “They know what they’re doing is very wrong. They have to answer to God for that, but why through our pastoral negligence add on to that, that they have to answer to God for who knows how many unworthy receptions of Holy Communion?”

Similarly, in Canada, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast told LSN in an interview last year, “The Church’s concern is for anyone who persists in grave sin, hoping that medicinal measures (which is how excommunication and interdict are to be understood) may draw them away from the wrong path to the truth of our faith.”

Cardinal Canizares pointed to two documents that bishops can use for guidance on how to deal with politicians who refuse to reform their consciences – the encyclical of the late Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae and the document produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2004 when Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect. That document stated clearly that pro-abortion Catholic politicians “must be refused” Holy Communion if they attempt to receive at Mass.

The cardinal emphasized that such a formation of conscience merely means that “politicians should act in accordance with the truth.”

Read related coverage:

Vatican Official: Bishops Have no Choice But to Refuse Communion to Pro-Abort Politicians

Exclusive Interview: Ottawa Archbishop Explains Why Pro-Abortion Politicians are Denied Communion

Archbishop Wuerl Refuses to Deny Communion to Pro-Abortion Speaker Pelosi