At a public lecture this week, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh said Catholics, who dissent with Church teachings, should refrain from receiving Communion. The bishop also said he is convinced that the best means for bishops to address the issue of pro-abortion Catholic politicians is to teach about abortion.
The bishop delivered his address, called “Faith, Personal Conviction and Political Life”, at the annual St. Thomas More Society Loebig Lecture May 25.
In the case where a politician or a private citizen supports abortion legislation, the pastoral tradition of the Church places the responsibility of whether they should receive the Eucharist “on those presenting themselves for Holy Communion,” said the bishop.
“It is the ancient teaching and practice of the Church that only those who are properly disposed should present themselves for Holy Communion,” said Bishop Wuerl. “Each Catholic has a personal obligation to examine his or her conscience. If individuals are not properly disposed — for whatever reason — they are obliged to refrain from receiving Holy Communion.”
The bishop noted that the November 2002 Vatican document, called “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life”, reminds Catholics that abortion and supporting pro-abortion legislation are wrong, and that bishops have a responsibility to make that known.
However, the document does not speak of sanctions or disciplinary actions against pro-choice Catholic politicians, the bishop pointed out, adding that “there seems to be a practice both in Rome and throughout the Diocesan Churches in Europe of refraining from disciplinary actions in such circumstances.”
Nonetheless, should a bishop choose to take disciplinary action, he should provide a clear explanation about what action is being taken and why, said Bishop Wuerl.
Bishops must teach first
“The justification for it would have to be convincingly put forth lest Catholic faithful be confused that this is somehow an effort of the Church to force its will on a legislative assembly rather than to convince legislators what they ought to do,” he said.
“This is no small matter,” he continued. “Historically, the people in the United States, including Catholics, react with great disfavor to any effort of a church body that appears to tell people how to vote or to attempt to punish people for the manner in which they vote.”
Bishop Wuerl said that in order to address this looming problem of pro-abortion Catholic politicians, bishops must first teach clearly on abortion and “the separate issue of voting in support of abortion legislation.
“The next step might very well be a private discussion with politicians on the issue,” he said.
Eventually, it may become necessary for a bishop to point out publicly that the position or voting record of a pro-abortion politician contradicts the teaching of the Church, he added.
“Such public declaration would serve to eliminate or at least minimize the scandal of having it appear that a Catholic is free to support any law that attacks human life,” he explained.
Every member of the faithful, including those engaged in political activity, should act out of a well-formed Christian conscience, and it is the responsibility of the bishops to instruct the faithful so that they might have a correctly informed conscience, said Bishop Wuerl.