Archbishop of Washington Donald W. Wuerl has expanded his previous comments about politicians who support permissive abortion laws but also present themselves to receive Holy Communion. Though he insisted that support for abortion is wrong, he said that convincing and persuading national Catholic pro-abortion political figures is best done in their respective home dioceses, rather than in the Archdiocese of Washington.
Writing in his archdiocesan newspaper The Catholic Standard, Archbishop Wuerl said that both Catholic citizens and Catholic politicians must follow Catholic moral convictions.
“Just as Catholic voters are not asked to leave aside the most deeply held moral convictions of our faith when they enter a voting booth, so Catholic elected officials are not asked to deposit the moral and ethical convictions of the Church at the door of Congress or at the State Assembly where they serve,” he wrote.
The archbishop reiterated Catholic teaching on abortion, saying, “The teaching is clear. Abortion and support for abortion are wrong. No informed Catholic can claim that either action is free of moral implications, and certainly no one should be led to believe, because of someone else's voting record, that this teaching about abortion is uncertain.”
The archbishop said Catholics’ political actions must be based on the natural moral law and respect for “the most basic of all human rights,” the right to life.
Archbishop Wuerl said that he, along with priests and bishops nationwide, has taught “with persistence and insistence” that abortion is an intrinsic evil. He noted that the Archdiocese of Washington sponsors a Mass and Rally for Life each January.
He characterized as an “altogether different yet related issue” how to respond to public officeholders who support abortion legislation. He said that a June 2004 statement from the Catholic bishops of the United States titled “Catholics in Political Life” taught that the responsibility to assess the situation and to apply canon law within a bishop’s own diocese “clearly rests with the individual bishop.”
“Bishops may arrive at different conclusions based on their local situations,” Archbishop Wuerl said. The U.S. bishops’ document, he noted, was confirmed in 2004 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is now Pope Benedict XVI.
While emphasizing that the archdiocese would continue to teach about the “evil of abortion,” he said that national political figures must be persuaded and convinced in their home dioceses.
“A decision regarding the refusal of Holy Communion to an individual is one that should be made only after clear efforts to persuade and convince the person that their actions are wrong and bear moral consequences,” the archbishop said. “Presumably this is done in the home diocese where the bishops and priests, the pastors of souls, engage the members of their flock in this type of discussion. In the case of public figures who serve in Washington as representatives of other parts of the nation, this dialogue and any decisions would take place within their home diocese.”
Archbishop Wuerl said he had always respected the “role of the local Church.” For that reason, he wrote, “I have not accepted the suggestions that the Archdiocese of Washington or episcopal conferences have some particular role that supersedes the authority of an individual bishop in his particular Church.”