- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004


The head of a U.S. bishops’ task force studying Catholics in public life told fellow bishops that withholding Communion from politicians or others could hurt the church’s efforts to stop abortion and euthanasia, according to documents released yesterday.

But Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington and leader of the panel, and a top Vatican cardinal who advised him, also indicated that the sacrament could be withheld under some circumstances.

Cardinal McCarrick made the comments during the bishops’ closed-door spiritual retreat last week in suburban Denver. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops disclosed details of the task force presentation yesterday.

“Disciplinary actions are permitted,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “But they should be applied when efforts at dialogue, persuasion and conversion have been fully exhausted.”

Cardinal McCarrick said keeping the sacrament from defiant Catholic lawmakers could turn Communion into a “partisan political battleground,” create a backlash in support of abortion and raise concerns about the loyalties of Catholic politicians.

“It could be more difficult for faithful Catholics to serve in public life because they might be seen not as standing up for principle, but as under pressure from the hierarchy,” Cardinal McCarrick said.

“We could turn weak leaders who bend to the political winds into people who are perceived as courageous resistors of episcopal authority,” he warned.

He recommended that bishops do more to educate Catholics that opposition to abortion and euthanasia is based on the earliest Church teachings and is unequivocal.

Church leaders at the Colorado meeting voted 183-6 to adopt a statement warning lawmakers at odds with church teachings that they were “cooperating in evil,” but made no definitive statement on whether they should be denied Communion.

Under church law, each bishop applies Catholic teachings in his own diocese.

Cardinal McCarrick’s panel is developing guidelines on this and other issues as it adapts for the U.S. church a 2002 Vatican doctrinal document called “Participation of Catholics in Political Life.”

The task force will not complete its work until after Election Day.

Their work drew national attention after Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis said he would deny Communion to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic who supports abortion and stem-cell research that kills embryos.

Baltimore Cardinal William H. Keeler, a task force member, told the bishops that the prelates who expressed an opinion to the panel opposed using Communion as a sanction by about a 3-1 margin.

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