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Cardinal Dulles on Communion and Pro-Abortion Politicians

Outlines What Actions Should Be Taken

NEW YORK, JUNE 30, 2004 (Zenit) - Cardinal Avery Dulles is encouraging U.S. bishops to dialogue with dissenting Catholic politicians about their moral responsibilities before advising them to not receive Communion.

Cardinal Dulles, the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University, shared with us what important steps need to be taken to defend human life, protect the sacraments, uphold the teachings of the Church and respond to pro-abortion politicians.

Q: What are the practical steps a bishop could or should take to encourage a Catholic politician to forgo support for abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research?

Cardinal Dulles: The first step should probably be to make sure that the politicians understand the doctrine of the Church and the reasons for it. Many politicians, like much of the American public, seem to be unaware that abortion and euthanasia are serious violations of the inalienable right to life.

These are not just "Church" issues but are governed by the natural law of God, which is binding upon all human beings. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights, since a person deprived of life has no other rights.

The Church does not herself frame civil laws, but she admonishes lawmakers that the laws must be designed to support justice, including the rights of the unborn child. Bishops should try to get into dialogue with politicians and other persons in public life to remind them of their moral responsibilities.

If, after dialogue, the bishop finds the politician incorrigibly opposed to Catholic teaching on this matter, he may have to advise or order the politician not to receive holy Communion, which is by its very nature a sign of solidarity with the Church.

Other steps might also be considered. For instance, the bishop could instruct Catholic parishes and institutions not to invite such politicians to speak on Church premises, not to give them roles in the liturgy and not to honor them with rewards and honorary degrees.

Q: Some have questioned the insistence on the abortion question when there are other matters -- such as the conflict in Iraq and the death penalty -- in which there are contrasts between some politicians and the Church position. Why is abortion being singled out?

Cardinal Dulles: The three cases you mention are quite different. The Church recognizes that there are occasions when war and the death penalty are justified, even though such measures are undesirable and should be kept to the necessary minimum.

The present Holy Father has made it clear that he thinks that certain, particular wars and executions are wrong and unnecessary. Catholics will respect this as the prudential judgment of a wise and holy pastor.

But Catholics who fully accept the doctrine of the Church can sometimes disagree about whether a given war or death sentence is morally defensible.

Abortion is in a different class. As the deliberate taking of innocent human life, direct abortion can never be justified. About the moral principle, there can be no debate in the Church. The teaching has been constant and emphatic.

The civil law should not authorize, let alone encourage, such moral evils. It should protect human life and dignity to the maximum degree possible. But in assessing how to proceed, there may be differences of opinion. If it is impossible to obtain passage of a law banning all abortions, or if such a law would be unenforceable, it might be best to work for a law that restricts access to abortion as much as possible, while continuing to work for full justice.

Politics, after all, is the sphere of the possible, not the ideal. Provided that the moral principles are kept clearly in view, bishops and politicians will do well to keep in dialogue about matters of strategy.

Q: What are the risks the Church faces if it enforces stricter penalties against politicians?

Cardinal Dulles: In imposing penalties, the Church is trying to protect the sacraments against the profanation that occurs when they are received by people without the proper dispositions. Dissenting politicians often want to receive Communion as a way of showing that they are still "good Catholics," when in fact they are choosing their political party over their faith. But the imposition of penalties involves at least three risks.

In the first place, the bishop may be accused, however unfairly, of trying to coerce the politician's conscience.

Secondly, 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.

And finally, the Church incurs a danger of alienating judges, legislators and public ...

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