House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Catholic Democrats pushed through a government takeover of health care that forces all taxpayers to fund abortion on demand. This rejected the instruction of the U.S. Catholic bishops. Why, then, can these public dissenters against Catholic teaching receive Communion at churches in the nation’s capital?
In the last year, my colleagues and I have taken two trips to Rome to meet with Vatican officials concerning the scandal caused by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, who permits Catholics who promote abortion to receive Holy Communion in his archdiocese, which includes the U.S. capital.
On our first trip in March 2009, we presented “Oves Sine Pastore” (Sheep Without a Shepherd). On our more recent trip two weeks ago, we presented “Sanguis Innocens, Sanguis Sanctus” (Innocent Blood, Sacred Blood). Both detail this problem. All together, we met with officials from over 25 Vatican offices, including four cardinals, a half-dozen bishops and nearly 20 priests.
Our message got straight to the point: Archbishop Wuerl is in open defiance of Pope Benedict XVI’s instruction to American bishops that he wrote as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004, when the cardinal was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog.
In “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” then-Cardinal Ratzinger said Communion “must” be “denied” to Catholic politicians who promote the killing of unborn babies by abortion. Cardinal Ratzinger specifically referred to Canon 915, which states, “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
The logic is simple. The church teaches that abortion is murder. For a Catholic politician - such as Mrs. Pelosi - to promote murder while claiming to be Catholic is a grave public scandal, which automatically disqualifies her from receiving Communion. It is not up to her conscience; she must be denied.
About 15 U.S. bishops follow Cardinal Ratzinger’s instruction. Bishop Rene H. Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., have publicly denied Communion to pro-abortion Catholics.
In open opposition to the Vatican directive, Archbishop Wuerl and dozens of other U.S. bishops - including prominent prelates such as Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago - say that the local bishop can decide whether or not to withhold Communion from those responsible for abortion. Some say the decision depends on “pastoral style;” others claim they are trying not to “politicize Communion.” After the excuses are proffered, they proceed to give the blood of Christ to those whose hands are covered with the blood of babies.
Our question to Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and other church leaders in Rome was simple: “Who is right? Cardinal Ratzinger, or Archbishop Wuerl? They cannot both be right.”
Archbishop Wuerl has tried to write himself a “pass,” stating that these errant Catholic politicians are the problem of the bishops of their home dioceses and are merely guests in his archdiocese. However, His Excellency is the chief shepherd of the territory assigned to him and the chief presider of the Eucharist. He is therefore canonically responsible for what happens in his diocese regarding those who approach to receive the Eucharist.
We told our Vatican hosts that the fruit of Archbishop Wuerl’s “collegial treachery” is that the teaching of the church is marginalized, the murder of babies is minimized and Holy Communion is trivialized. The message sent is that killing babies isn’t so bad; Holy Communion isn’t so sacred.
We asked the Vatican to intervene in this scandal and to “cauterize the wound” by instructing Archbishop Wuerl as the bishop of our nation’s capital to forbid Mrs. Pelosi and other pro-abortion Catholic politicians from receiving Communion. If His Excellency will not obey, we requested that he be relocated - perhaps to Idaho or Montana - and replaced by a bishop with true Apostolic valor. We need a man who will uphold the teachings of the church in the place where America’s laws are made.
One Vatican official joked, “What do you have against Montana?” On the serious side, one prelate shook his head in dismay at the mess in Washington and declared his full support for the position put forth by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, who as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura is the Vatican’s chief judge on canon law, told us plainly: “I would encourage the faithful when they are scandalized by the giving of Holy Communion to persons who are publicly and obstinately in sin, that they go to their pastors, whether it’s their parish priest or to their bishop, to insist that this scandal stop.”
Our discussions in Rome showed that the same abortion struggle we face in America is happening inside the Vatican. Some want the Eucharist properly protected from scandal; others want to go on with business as usual. My sense is that both sides know that this crisis is not going to go away, and that at some point - no matter how painful it is - this boil must be lanced.
If bishops will not withhold Communion over child killing, for what crime would they withhold it? Our unhappy task is to lift up our voices until truth prevails, innocent children are protected from murder and Holy Communion is protected from sacrilege.
Randall Terry is the founder of Operation Rescue. More information can be found at ahumbleplea.com.