By Hilary White

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2007 ( – In comments to the Washington Times, Archbishop Donald Wuerl has described himself as a “pastoral and spiritual” leader, and said that his job with Catholic politicians who oppose core Church teachings is to “teach” and “help them form a conscience.”

“My primary responsibility is to teach and therefore to help every Catholic inform their conscience.”

“When people do things contrary to church teaching, my responsibility is to help them understand that is wrong. Sometimes that takes a lot of conversation. Sometimes you’re not successful at it,” Wuerl told the Times’ Julia Druin.

Wuerl, however, declined to tell Druin whether he would ever reach the stage of such disciplinary measures as refusing Communion. “I think there will always be a time you say, ‘For the good of the church, you are now presenting a public scandal,’ but you have to remember this person has a bishop and he has to be involved in this discussion as well. I think discipline is always the last step,” he said.

The archbishop’s actions, however, have already spoken for him. Earlier this year, Wuerl angered many when he raised no objections to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a vigorous supporter of abortion and opponent of Catholic teachings on life and family, receiving Communion at a Mass celebrated by notorious abortion campaigner, the late Fr. Robert Drinan.

Despite having been begged by pro-life leaders to address the issue, Wuerl told California Catholic Daily reporter Allyson Smith that “there was no reason to make any comment about” the incident. When asked directly if he would “discipline [Pelosi] at all” for her “persistent and obstinate” support for abortion, the Archbishop responded, “I will not be using the faculty in that, in the manner you have described.”

When Smith asked if he would tell priests and deacons to refuse her Communion, the archbishop said, “You’re talking about a whole different style of pastoral ministry. No thank you.”

Wuerl closed his discussion with Druin, giving a disclaimer, saying he was not personally responsible for the pastoral care of legislators serving in his diocese. He said, “Every Catholic member of government has a pastor and a bishop and they need to be in dialogue with them. The idea that the archbishop of Washington is somehow bishop for the nation is not acceptable.”

Describing the controversy over pro-abortion politicians and Communion that arose in the last Presidential election, Druin writes, “In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – now Pope Benedict XVI – wrote a letter to U.S. Catholic bishops saying they must try to convince pro-choice Catholic legislators that their stance is wrong. If the lawmakers did not change their minds, the letter said, they should be barred from receiving Communion.”

The letter, however, written in the meticulously precise manner of Vatican instructions, did not use the relatively ambiguous term “should,” but specified that if they did not alter their stance, such public figures “must” be refused Communion.

The aversion of US bishops to disciplining their political flock was underscored in 2004 when Wuerl’s predecessor in Washington, Cardinal McCarrick, who headed the US bishops’ task force on the question, withheld the contents of Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter at a meeting of bishops in Denver. Instead, McCarrick gave the impression that Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter indicated Rome was ambiguous about the matter.

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