U.S. Bishops issue statement on “Catholics in political life”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved on Friday a statement highlighting that Catholics public officials who dissent from key Catholic teachings should refrain from taking communion, but leaving to each individual bishop the decision of denying Communion to individuals.

The bishops say in the statement that those who formulate law are obliged in conscience “to work toward correcting morally defective laws,” and calls on Catholics in public life to protect the unborn and oppose legal abortion “lest they be guilty of cooperating in evil and in sinning against the common good.”

The bishops also pledged to counsel Catholic public officials who act “consistently to support abortion on demand” that this support could make them “cooperators in evil in a public manner.”
The statement, “Catholics in Political Life,” was adopted by a vote of 183-6. It came after the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians made an extensive interim report at the USCCB’ s special assembly, held in Denver, June 14-19, 2004.

In the statement, the bishops highlight:

  • The need “to continue to teach clearly” and help other Catholic leaders to do so about their “unequivocal commitment to the legal protection of human life from the moment of conception until natural death.” The statement notes that Catholic “teaching on human life and dignity should be reflected" in all parishes and all "educational, health care and human service ministries.”

  • The need to do more “to persuade all people that human life is precious and human dignity must be defended.” The bishops also welcome “conversation initiated by political leaders themselves.”

  • The need for Catholics “to act in support of these principles and policies in public life.”

The statement also says that “the Catholic community and Catholic institutions” should not honor those “who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” with awards, honors, or “platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Recalling the words of St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians about the unworthy reception of the body and blood of the Lord, the bishops state that “all must examine their consciences” about their worthiness to receive Holy Communion, including with regard to “fidelity to the moral teaching of the Church in personal and public life.”

The statement notes that “the question has been raised” whether it is necessary to deny Holy Communion to Catholics in public life who support abortion on demand.
“Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment” in this serious matter, the bishops state that they “recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with established canonical and pastoral principles.”

Noting that “bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action,” they express their shared “unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity.”

The bishops conclude their statement by saying that respect for the Holy Eucharist “demands that it be received worthily and that it be seen as the source for our common mission in the world.”

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