The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced yesterday that Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick has received a letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, saying the recent U.S. Bishops' statement on “Catholics in Political Life” is “very much in harmony” with the general principles previously sent by the Congregation.
Cardinal Ratzinger's letter says:
“With your letter of June 21, 2004, transmitted via fax, you kindly sent a copy of the Statement ‘Catholics in Political Life,’ approved by the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their June meeting.”
“The Congregation is grateful for this courtesy. The statement is very much in harmony with the general principles ‘Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,’ sent as a fraternal service to clarify the doctrine of the Church on this specific issue in order to assist the American Bishops in their related discussion and determinations.
It is hoped that this dialogue can continue as the Task Force carries on its important work.”
Cardinal McCarrick, who is Archbishop of Washington DC and Chairman of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, is quoted saying that “I was grateful to receive Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter, which affirms the harmony between the principles he had provided as a service to assist us in our discussions and the statement which the U.S. bishops overwhelmingly passed during our June meeting in Denver.”
Ratzinger's letter came after several news reports claimed the U.S. bishops defied the Vatican Cardinal on the question of witholding Communion from Catholic pro-abortion politicians.
The claims came after Sandro Magister, Vatican expert of the weekly Italian magazine L'Espresso, released a copy of Cardinal Ratzinger's memo on July 3.
L'Espresso and other news reports characterized both the U.S. bishops’ statement and the interim report presented by Cardinal McCarrick at the USCCB meeting held in Denver last June, as conflicting with the principles outlined in the memo.
Cardinal Ratzinger's letter expresses instead his approval for the USCCB's final document, but makes no reference to the interim report released by the Ad Hoc committee, headed by the Washington Cardinal.
Last week, Julian Coman, Washington correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, a London-based broadsheet, wrote that “the leaking of Cardinal Ratzinger's memo has hugely embarrassed Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington and head of the 'domestic policy' commission of the US Catholic Bishops Conference.”
The interim report read by Cardinal McCarrick at the Denver meeting, unlike the USCCB's final document, strongly stressed avoiding dennying Communion to pro-abortion politicians.
“Based on our consultation process –said Cardinal McCarrick,- there is significant concern about the perception that the sacred nature of the Eucharist could be trivialized and might be turned into a partisan political battleground.”
“Expecting a minister of Holy Communion to make these judgments would create great pastoral difficulties. We do not want to encourage confrontations at the altar rail with the Sacred Body of the Lord Jesus in our hands. This could create unmanageable burdens for our priests and those who assist them and could turn the Eucharist into a perceived source of political combat,” the interim report added.
The Washington Cardinal also said that denial of Holy Communion “could further divide our Church and that it could have serious unintended consequences. For example, it could be more difficult for faithful Catholics to serve in public life because they might be seen not as standing up for principle, but as under pressure from the hierarchy.”
“We also fear it could push many people farther away from the Church and its teaching, rather than bringing them closer.”
“In light of these and other concerns, the task force urges for the most part renewed efforts and persuasion, not penalties,” Cardinal McCarrick's report also said.
The interim document, despite stating that “this is not a final report,” is posted in the USCCB's website (www.usccb.org) next to the USCCB’s final document.