Catholics & the 2004 Presidential Election - Collected Readings & Resources


Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Ratzinger vs. McCarrick 

Posted by Jamie at 4:09 PM

Over the weekend Christopher broke the news on CKW regarding the supposed publication of Cardinal Ratzinger's communication to Cardinal McCarrick, which was purportedly summarized last month in McCarrick's 'Interim Reflections' to the bishops in Denver (on which we had some lengthy reflections last week, here and on my own blog, Ad Limina Apostolorum). Though I've seen quite a few commentaries on the letter, I have yet to see a line-by-line comparison of Ratzinger's letter with McCarrick's alleged summary of it, which - at the risk of excessive verbiage - I hope to provide here.

Three caveats: (1) We have no proof or confirmation that this indeed is the text of Ratzinger's letter, even if it bears more than a few characteristic markings of it; (2) We have even less proof that this is the full content of the letter in question; and (3) the jury is still out as to the canonical authority of this letter, which, if anything, seems quite minimal (even if it does seem to convey the mens ecclesiae on this matter). Lastly, I am always cautious to offer the benefit of the doubt to our bishops, in addition to the general loyalty and fidelity we owe them: they are the vicars of the apostles and of Christ, whether we love them or hate them. Perhaps I err too much in this direction, but I have to admit I would prefer to find out - in the end, I mean - that I had erred too much in the direction of loyalty to our shepherds than disloyalty. The following, then, is intended not as a criticism of our bishops, but rather as an ongoing investigation into the background of the USCCB statement 'Catholics in Political Life' issued last month.

Below, 'TM' represents Cardinal Theodore McCarrick; 'JR' represents Josef Ratzinger. The intent, again, is to determine how accurate was Cardinal McCarrick's summary of Ratzinger's letter. All italicized or bold emphases are mine.

TM: "Having said this, Cardinal Ratzinger speaks about WHAT constitutes 'manifest grave sin' and 'obstinate persistence' in public life, stating that consistently campaigning for and voting for permissive laws on abortion and euthanasia could meet these criteria."

JR: "Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, etc . . ."

McCarrick's summary here is not quite accurate. Ratzinger's wording, when restated in the form of a positive statement, implies that a Catholic politician's "consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" is, by definition, the manifestation of formal cooperation in grave sin. McCarrick's summary dulls the statement by phrasing it in such a way that such activities 'could' meet these criteria.

TM: "Cardinal Ratzinger outlines HOW a bishop might deal with these matters, including a series of precautionary measures involving a process of meeting, instruction and warning. This process involves meeting with the person and providing instruction on Catholic moral teaching. Cardinal Ratzinger suggests informing such persons that if they reject Catholic moral teaching in their public actions, they should not present themselves for Holy Communion until their situation has ended. Using the precedent of our teaching and practice in the case of a person in an invalid marriage, the Cardinal recognizes that there are circumstances in which Holy Communion may be denied. He also indicates that in these cases a warning must be provided before the Eucharist can be denied."

JR: ". . . his 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. When 'these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,' and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, 'the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.'"

Here is the crux of the disagreement, with regard to the bishop's course of action once 'precautionary measures' with said Catholic politicians have proven ineffective. McCarrick paraphrases Ratzinger as suggesting a warning that "they should not present themselves for Holy Communion." Ratzinger, in fact, after stating this, went further and advised "warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist," with the consequent statement that, if he again presents himself, the minister "must refuse to distribute it." The proposals are as different as night and day. Although McCarrick adds, almost as an afterthought, that "there are circumstances in which Holy Communion may be denied," this is posited only as a theoretical possibility, apart from the concrete situation of the bishops' admonishment of the Catholic politician. Ratzinger does not suggest this as a theoretical possibility; for him it is the normative course of action for a bishop who is put in this situation. Another difference: McCarrick states that, in this situation, "a warning must be provided." Ratzinger, however, explicitly allows for a situation in which precautionary measures "[are] not possible." What sort of situation this would be is difficult to imagine, but it is notable that McCarrick leaves it out entirely.

TM: "I would emphasize that Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders WHETHER to pursue this path. The Holy See has repeatedly expressed its confidence in our roles as bishops and pastors. The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent. It is not surprising that difficult and differing circumstances on these matters can lead to different practices. Every bishop is acting in accord with his own understanding of his duties and the law."

Although it is almost undeniable that Ratzinger would agree to the above statement, I cannot find anything approximating it in the text of his letter. Perhaps it was stated in another context - in a cover letter or accompanying documentation. But the fact that McCarrick makes this the dominant motif, whereas the substance of Ratzinger's letter does not even mention it, may be telling. If anything, the substance of Ratzinger's communication leans in the other direction. Rather than simply maintaining absolute neutrality and delegating this entirely to the bishops, Ratzinger pronounces what is, incidentally, my favorite line in the text: "The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected." And Ratzinger does not seem to posit the denial of communion as simply one option among others, but as a necessary corollary of a politician's obstinate refusal to submit to episcopal correction: "When . . .the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it." This position can hardly be summarized adequately in the simple statement that "Ratzinger clearly leaves to us . . . whether to pursue this path."

TM: "It is important to note that Cardinal Ratzinger makes a clear distinction between public officials and voters, explaining that a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil only if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion. However, when a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted if there are proportionate reasons."

JR: "[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]"

Ratzinger's closing statement here has raised some furor among more conservative Catholics, but it is in fact quite uncontroversial, as it only reflects traditional Catholic teaching. Also, I see no difference between Ratzinger and McCarrick here; the quote is almost verbatim, with the exception that Ratzinger explicitly underlines the conclusion that the culpable voter in question "is unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion," whereas McCarrick simply states that he is "guilty of formal cooperation in evil," and leaves the conclusion implicit.

Lastly, it is worth noting one other point of Ratzinger's letter which McCarrick neglects to summarize, which is particularly relevant to the American debate. Ratzinger has some very helpful observations regarding the 'weight' of abortion/euthanasia vis-a-vis other moral issues, which McCarrick neglects entirely: "There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."


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Sen. John Kerry stands with Kate Michelman (right) President of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Since 1995, Michelman's group has given Kerry a 100% rating for his voting record to defend abortion.

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Related Documents & Articles

Worthiness To Recieve Communion: General Principles
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Evangelium Vitae
Pope John Paul II

Worthy to Receive the Lamb: Catholics in Political Life and the Reception of Holy Communion, from Archbishop Donoghue (Atlanta, GA), Bishop Baker (Charleston, SC) and Bishop Jugis (Charlotte, NC).
August 4, 2004

Catholics in Political Life U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. June 7, 2004.

Catholic Politicians and Bishops. By Most Rev. Raymond L. Burke, Archbishop of St. Louis. America June 21-28, 2004.

A Time For Honesty, Pastoral Statement by The Most Reverend John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark. May 5, 2004.

Why Communion Could Be Denied to Anti-Life Legislators. Interview with Father Thomas Williams, dean of the School of Theology of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Why Don't Catholic Politicians Practice What the Catholic Church Preaches?, by Judie Brown. Washington Dispatch April 19, 2004.

How to tell a Duck from a Fox: Thinking with the Church as we look toward November, by Archbishop Chaput. Denver Catholic Register April 14, 2004.

On the Dignity of Human Life and Civic Responsibility, a Pastoral Letter by La Crosse Bishop Raymond L. Burke.

Blood On Their Hands: Exposing Pro-abortion Catholic Politicians, by Mark Stricherz. Crisis May 2003.

The Failure of Catholic Political Leadership, by Robert P. George & William E. Saunders. Crisis 18, No. 4 (April 2000).

Denying Holy Communion: A Case History, by Bishop Emeritus Rene Henry Gracida. [PDF Format].

Ten questions regarding the denial of the Eucharist, by Barbara Kralis.

Recommmended Reading

John Kerry, Abortion and the Catholic Church

Irreconcilable Differences", by Matthew Mehan. NRO Sept. 16, 2004.

John Courtney Murray and the 'Liberal Catholic' Justification of Abortion Investigative report by Christopher Blosser. August 30, 2004.

"Please answer the question, Senator Kerry", The Mighty Barrister. August 2, 2004.

You wouldn't even ask. Fr. Pavone (Priests for Life). July 2004.

Kerry isn't making abortion stand clear, by Raymond J. Keating. Newsday July 27, 2004.

Senator Kerry May Be Human . . . But is He a Person?, Catholic Kerry Watch. July 23, 2004.

Kerry's Catholic Problem, by Brent Bozell. July 7, 2004.

The Body Politic and the Body of Christ: Candidates, Communion and the Catholic Church. Debate btw/ Thomas J. Reese, S.J. and George Weigel. June 23, 2004.

The Kerry challenge, by George Weigel. May 5, 2004.

Rites and Wrongs: Why John Kerry should not take communion, by Philip F. Lawler. Wall Street Journal April 30, 2004.

John Kerry's Catholic Problem", by Cal Thomas. April 26, 2004.

Kerry Distorting Catholic Doctrine. Newsmax.com interviews George Weigel. April 16, 2004.

"Personally Opposed, But…" Five Pro-Abortion Dodges, by Todd M. Aglialoro. Crisis April 1, 2004.

On Embryonic Stem-Cell Research

Reagan vs. Reagan and The Stem-Cell Cover-Up, Catholic Kerry Watch, August 14, 2004.

Senator Kerry dismisses religious convictions as "ideology"  Catholic Kerry Watch. August 9, 2004.

Ron Reagan & Functionalism, Revisited, Catholic Kerry Watch. July 29, 2004.

Out of Touch, by Michael Fumento. Refuting Kerry's claims on the use of embryonic stem cells. Citizen Magazine August 2004.

Stem Cell Defection, by Ramesh Ponnuru. National Review August 16, 2004.

Stem Cell Research: Fact Sheets, Letters to Congress and Articles from the USCCB.

On Voting, "Proportionality" and Cardinal Ratzinger's Memorandum

What Ratzinger Said, by James Akin. Sept. 9, 2004.

Bishops Refute Flawed Theology (of Andrew Greeley) Barbara Kralis. August 22, 2004.

Thoughts on Proportionality, Catholic Kerry Watch. July 12, 2004.




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