US Bishops Non-Decision in Denver on Pro-Abortion Politicians and Communion Widens Catholic Divide

WILMINGTON, July 5, 2004 ( - The disciplinary split in the US Catholic Church continues to widen with bishops contradicting each other over the issue of pro-abortion politicians and communion. In April, Washington’s Cardinal McCarrick appeared to contradict the instructions of Francis Cardinal Arinze who said that pro-abortion politicians should be refused communion. McCarrick responded that though he is personally opposed to pro-abortion politicians receiving communion, he would not be “comfortable” refusing them.  Since then the US bishops have met in Denver to discuss the problem and the result has been a document that threw the “difficult” question back onto individual bishops to decide one diocese at a time. This non-decision has had the effect of drawing a map of a US Catholic hierarchy divided between those who will obey their Church’s clear directives and those who will obey media-generated public opinion.  In the diocese of Santa Rosa, Bishop Daniel Walsh has dismissed the possibility of denying communion to pro-abortion politicians calling the idea “an election year ploy.” On the issue of “dissenting” politicians, Bishop Walsh said in a statement, “In this diocese there will be no trying to force people to do what their conscience tells them they cannot do, or vice versa… The sacraments are not used as a bludgeon, a weapon to enforce Church law. Out of respect for the sacraments and the faithful, (dissenting politicians) would normally refrain from the Eucharist until they were in unity with the Church.” A priest of the Santa Rosa Diocese said that in the case of a person who persisted in public sin and reception of communion, “they would be notified that they could no longer receive the sacraments, and that priests of the diocese would be so instructed.  This would, however, be a highly unusual course of events, one that has not been invoked here in recent memory.”

In Delaware, however, a different tune is sung by bishop Michael Saltarelli who pledged that Catholic institutions in his diocese “will not honor” pro-abortion politicians. Calling the promotion of abortion a “grave and serious matter” he goes on to state, “it would be more spiritually beneficial for such a person to refrain from receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.”

The Roman Catholic Church uses very precise language in its theology and the term “grave matter” means that the action in question is what is commonly called a mortal sin. The 1983 Code of Canon Law, however is explicit where it states, “…others who persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.” Bishop Saltarelli says that individual priests and ministers of communion are not to take upon themselves the decision to refuse communion. He says it is, “…ultimately my responsibility in light of Catholic moral theology and the Code of Canon Law. At this stage, I much prefer the active engagement and dialogue called for by (USCCB document,) ‘Catholics in Public Life’.”

To read Bishop Saltarelli’s statement:   ph

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