Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cooperation and Scandal: Are Politicians Who Vote for Permissive Abortion Laws Manifest Grave Sinners and Unworthy to Receive Holy Communion?

In the discussions that surround the issue of Holy Communion and the public sinner who is, therefore, unworthy to receive the sacrament, no one, as far as this author is able to tell, has given an explanation as to why the traditional moral teaching in this matter does not prevail in the matter of politicians who support a so-called right to abortion. Concerning the canonical discipline, the Rev. John P. Beal argued in 2004 that c. 915 could not be used to exclude pro-abortion politicians from Holy Communion, asserting that politicians cannot be compared to prostitutes, magicians and others who are publicly unworthy. (Beal, 2004) Unfortunately, the author does not give an explanation of his opinion that could withstand serious scrutiny. Distinguishing the pro-abortion politicians from those who are divorced and remarried, in the same article he argues, “However loathsome some politicians’ views and votes on life issues may be, it is hard to see how it can be said that theirs is a state and condition of life in such objective contradiction to the Gospel that their grave sin should be judged ‘manifest.’” That claim, given the death of those innocents whom the politicians make no effort to protect, is illogical and untenable. His assertions are in no way consistent with the moral law of administration of the sacraments. In any case, as Archbishop Burke points out in his article in 2007, the moral issue was settled by Cardinal Ratzinger in a letter to the bishops of the United States. What the future pope said seems to remove any doubt about the politician’s responsibility for the grave sin of abortion: “Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when 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.” (Ratzinger, 2004) That letter is widely available though it was a private letter sent to Archbishop Wilton Gregory and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick as representatives of the bishops' conference in the United States.

Works cited:

Beal, John P. 2004. Holy Communion and Unholy Politics. America, (June 21),

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. 2004. Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles. L’espresso, (July 3),

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