U.S. Bishops Come Home from Rome with Widely Differing Views of Rome’s Position on Politicians

Rome, June 9, 2004 ( - Numerous and sometimes contradictory stories are circulating about the reaction of Vatican officials to the US Bishops’ Task Force on Catholics in politics.

In April, Francis Cardinal Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments - under whose jurisdiction the problem falls - said that public figures who are “unambiguously pro-abortion” must be refused Communion. His statement was immediately contradicted by Theodore McCarrick, the head of the US bishops’ Task Force, who said that he was “not comfortable” refusing Communion and that politicians ought to refrain from approaching for Communion.

Last week, CNS, the Catholic news service reported that bishop Donald E. Pelotte of Gallup, N.M. claimed that Cardinal Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had given him no direct answer when asked about the problem. Bishop Pelotte said that the second highest-ranking official in Rome, after the Pope, had only instructed him to “be cautious” and that to refuse Communion was a very serious thing.

The CNS story quoted an “unnamed Vatican source” who backed up Pelotte’s assertion, saying that “a concerted and nuanced approach is needed” on the question of Communion and dissenting politicians. Bishop Pelotte said that Cardinal Ratzinger had urged a meeting between the US bishops’ Task Force and officials of the doctrinal congregation. Bishop Pelotte admitted that there was some division among bishops on the issue and revealingly made reference to the controversial theologian, the late John Courtney Murray S.J., who taught that questions of faith and morals do not have to be upheld by Catholic politicians.

However, another US bishop, returning from his ad limina visit in Rome, has said that the Holy See is in complete support of his position on publicly dissenting Catholic politicians. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, said Monday that Pope John Paul II and Vatican officials are “positive and very supportive” of the direction the Denver diocese is going. Archbishop Chaput’s statements have been among the strongest against publicly pro-abortion Catholic politicians receiving Communion.

He wrote in a column for the diocesan newspaper, “We’re at a time for the Church in our country when some Catholics - too many - are discovering that they’ve gradually become non-Catholics who happen to go to Mass.” He called the division in the Catholic Church, “sad and difficult” and said it was “a judgment on a generation of Catholic leadership.”  Archbishop Chaput continued, “We’ve come a long way from John F. Kennedy, who merely locked his faith in the closet. Now we have Catholic senators who take pride in arguing for legislation that threatens and destroys life—and who then also take Communion. The kindest explanation for this sort of behavior is that a lot of Catholic candidates don’t know their own faith.”

For Archbishop Chaput’s column for the Denver Catholic Courier, “It’s a Matter of Honesty: To Receive Communion, We Need to Be in Communion”

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