Washington’s archbishop, who will be made a cardinal this weekend, told a journalist Tuesday that in his diocese, he will not deny Holy Communion to a politician who has pledged to enshrine access to abortion in federal law and permit federal funding of abortions. That politician is President-elect Joe Biden.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s comment is sure to raise questions about the Church’s pro-life witness. But for some Catholics, the remark might also raise questions about the sincerity of U.S. bishops on the topic of ecclesial reform.
In 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Church’s doctrinal office, told U.S. bishops in a memo that a Catholic politician “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws” is engaged in “manifest” and “formal cooperation” in grave sin.
In such a case, the politician’s “pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist,” Ratzinger wrote.
If the Catholic perseveres in grave sin and still presents himself for Holy Communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”
Ratzinger’s memo was an application of canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”
In short, Ratzinger’s memo gave bishops instruction on how to apply the Church’s law. On Tuesday, Archbishop Gregory said he has no plans to do so.
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