"I think what Archbishop Wuerl and others fail to understand is the impact of things like this on the lay Catholic who is struggling to be a faithful disciple in the world. The message that is sent by silence is strong, in terms of the lay apostolate in the world, in terms of the unity of faith and life."And Welborn's response was relatively timid. Richard John Neuhaus, whose essay I addressed in part yesterday, had this to say:
"It is understandable that Catholics and others have drawn the conclusion that, for both Wuerl and Egan, bishops of the two most prominent sees in the country, rejecting the Church’s teaching on the human dignity of the unborn child is not a big deal."Neuhaus also accused Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl's immediate predecessor, of misrepresenting a letter sent by Cardinal McCarrick in 2004. Pretty serious charges. I've discussed this letter many times before in different contexts, including the relationship between abortion on one hand, and war and the death penalty on the other; and the conditions under which Catholics can licitly vote for pro-abortion candidates. But now the time has come to address the main point of the letter, the issue of communion. Here is Ratzinger:
"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, 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."This results directly from the truth that directly-procured abortion is always and everywhere wrong, without recourse to intent or circumstance. It is the taking of innocent life. There can be no "right to take life". In this sense, and only in this sense, is abortion "non-negotiable".
So, what does this mean? First, formal cooperation in evil means something pretty specific. It refers to the proximity of the person to the act of abortion itself. It can be defined as "..when a person or organization freely participates in the action(s) of a principal agent, or shares in the agent’s intention, either for its own sake or as a means to some other goal." According to Ratzinger, in the case of abortion, formal cooperation includes "consistently campaigning and voting for permissive" laws.
Now, this may come as a shock to some American commentators, but perhaps Ratzinger was not just thinking about the United States when he set of these principles. In the United States, the "right" to abortion comes directly from the U.S. Supreme Court. Members of Congress do not typically vote for permissive abortion laws. If anything, legislators are indicted by their rhetoric, if inappropriate. It is therefore really difficult to discern the true intent of a politician in voting for or against a piece of legislation. As blogger M.Z. Forrest notes, "a politician could claim that by enacting a piece of legislation that would be turned down by the courts at this time he would cause harm to justice and not effect the rate of abortion."Cardinal Avery Dulles has also discussed this issue, noting that voting for an appropriations bill that includes some provisions for funding abortions "might arguably be licit if the funding for abortion were only incidental and could not be removed from a bill that was otherwise very desirable." And of course, it is perfectly licit to vote against a Supreme Court nominee that might well vote to overturn Roe v. Wade (but who knows if they actually will?) for other compelling reasons.
Overall, given the source of the abortion "right" in the United States, the proximity of legislators to the act of abortion is automatically diminished. Of course, that does not let them off the hook, especially if they share in the intention of Roe v. Wade that abortion is a "right" and hence something good. But this becomes incredibly difficult to discern. And even when the Church is compelled to deny the Eucharist in a specific case, the guidelines call for it to be done privately, without the fanfare of right-wing Catholics jumping up and down.
Of course, one can argue that persistently lobbying for abortion creates a public scandal. The USCCB statement on the issue makes this point by noting that "to give scandal means more than to cause other people to be shocked or upset by what one does...Rather, one’s action leads someone else to sin.” But does anybody really think that John Kerry or Nancy Pelosi are encouraging others to sin, either directly or indirectly? And what about the public scandal of the Bush administration defending torture for the sake of "security"? And so many other examples spring to mind...
Of course, for Catholics, participation in the Eucharist is a serious issue, not to be taken lightly. And many pro-abortion politicians probably should not participate. Any Catholic can tell you that we are encouraged to partake in the sacrament of reconciliation before receiving communion after committing grave sins. And there are many such sins out there, ranging from murder and abortion through malicious gossip and missing mass. How many of those who receive the Eucharist do so correctly? No, the key issue is coercion, whether people should be refused communion. The line is hard to draw. In Northern Ireland, the Church did not refuse communion to members of Sinn Fein and supporters, even though they supported terrorism. How many known mafia members are turned away in parts of Italy?
If the Church singles out one issue, the abortion issue, it will be seen as politicizing the Eucharist. Cardinal Dulles makes this point when he says that a coercive approach raises the possibility that "people can easily accuse the Church of trying to meddle in the political process, which in this country depends on the free consent of the governed." Moreover, he claims that the Church could be accused of trying to coerce the politicians conscience, and, even worse, risk " alienating judges, legislators and public administrators whose good will is needed for other good programs, such as the support of Catholic education and the care of the poor." No, the correct approach is the non-coercive approach, the teaching approach, and that is favored by both Archbishop Wuerl and Pope Benedict.
For these reasons, the bishops in the United States opted not to deny communion to John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, or any other politician. There were a few exceptions (you can count them on one hand) and they were heavily criticized by their brother bishops. We should also realize that Wuerl's position on this was a matter of public record long before he was appointed Archbishop of Washington, and that he was chosen by Pope Benedict, who also happens to the the author of the Ratzinger letter. Clearly, some American Catholics seem to know more about the mind of Ratzinger than Ratzinger himself!