.- In an unprecedented action, La Crosse Bishop Raymond L. Burke has issued a document clearly stating that Catholic legislators who support abortion rights or euthanasia should not present themselves to receive Communion and should be refused if they do so.
The four-paragraph Notification was published in the weekly diocesan newspaper Thursday and was posted on the diocesan Web site, along with a 10-page pastoral letter titled "On the Dignity of Human Life and Civic Responsibility."
Citing Vatican doctrine, canon law and teachings of the U.S. bishops, Burke says in the notice that it is his duty as bishop "to explain, persuade, correct and admonish those in leadership positions who contradict the Gospel of life through their action and policies."
The notice says: "Catholic legislators who are members of the faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse and who continue to support procured abortion or euthanasia may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion. They are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, should they present themselves, until such time as they publicly renounce their support of these most unjust practices."
Burke's pastoral letter says Catholic politicians cannot defend voting for an unjust law, whether it supports abortion rights or an action such as racial discrimination, "on the grounds that they are following their constituency or the will of the 'majority.' "
In December, Bishop Burke sent private letters to three unidentified Catholic officials from Wisconsin: a member of Congress and two state legislators. The letters warned them that they risked their spiritual well-being if they continued to support anti-life legislation.
When legislators made public the bishop’s private letters, Burke said in reply to a question that Catholic politicians in the diocese who refused to mend their ways would be told not to present themselves to receive Communion.
Pope John Paul II named Burke Archbishop-elect of St. Louis on December 2, and his installation at the Missouri Archdiocese is scheduled for January 26. But both the private letters and the notification were signed on November 23 -Solemnity of Christ the King- before his new papal appointment limited his role in La Crosse to that of diocesan administrator, so both carry his full weight as head of the diocese.
In fact, the diocesan newspaper reported Thursday that “Bishop Burke affirmed that both the letter and the notification carry the full weight of his authority as bishop of the diocese.”
Father Richard Gilles, a canon lawyer and Burke's chief of staff, said: “That is a direct statement to the priests. They have an obligation to not give them (politicians) Holy Communion. But I think any pastor who has any sensitivity or common sense would sit down in private with these people and dialogue and talk to them and ask them not to come to Holy Communion.”
Judie Brown, president of the American Life League in Stafford, Virginia., said of Burke's broad ban, "This is the first time this has ever happened in the history of the pro-life movement, and I am so grateful to Bishop Burke."
The notification is available in PDF format at the diocesan website: http://www.dioceseoflacrosse.com/whats_new/notification.pdf