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'Cardinal Ratzinger said, 'The minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.' He did not say 'could,' or 'may,' but that he 'must.'

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By Barbara Kralis

© Catholic Online

Is it possible that after so much scandal and hurt in the Catholic Church, Bishop Wilton Gregory and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick would withhold and distort an important memo written by the head of the Vatican's second most important dicastery of the Roman Curia?[1]

The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote the memo in English expressly for the USCCB's use as a guideline of the Church's teachings to be used at their 'closed door' plenary Conference in Denver, June 14-19, 2004.

Recently, Catholic World News[2] revealed that the Italian weekly newspaper L'Espresso [3] had exclusively published the confidential Vatican memorandum.

It is important to understand the letter was sent to Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Gregory.  As chair of the USCCB's 'Task Force' committee, McCarrick would be giving the Bishops' his recommendations regarding pro-abortion 'Catholic' politicians.

It would appear that Cardinal Ratzinger wanted the Bishops' Conference to issue a firm statement, sooner rather than later.  In contrast, 'Task Force' committee member Bishop Joseph Galante indicated it was "unlikely that the principles would be developed prior to the November 2004 elections."[4]

Cardinal Ratzinger, in his memorandum entitled "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion - General Principles," said without ambiguity:

"The minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it"[5] when warning and counsel given to the manifest sinner "have not had their effect."

Why then did Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Gregory mislead the faithful to believe that Cardinal Ratzinger was urging caution against denying the Eucharist?[6]

Learning of the 'leaked' memo, McCarrick said it 'may represent an incomplete and partial may not accurately reflect the full message I received."  He added that at Ratzinger's request he would not release what he had sent him.[7]

Would Cardinal Ratzinger really insist that the memo supporting Church teachings be kept hidden?

Let us look at what we know Cardinal Ratzinger's memo, "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion - General Principles" did say:

Paragraph #1 - Cardinal Ratzinger cited the Vatican Instruction 'Redemptionis Sacramentum' n.81, 83:

"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."

Paragraph #2 - Cardinal Ratzinger teaches here the grave and clear obligation for Christians to oppose judicial decisions or civil laws that authorize or promote abortion or euthanasia.[8]

Paragraph #3 - Cardinal Ratzinger gives the U.S. bishops clear directives that no other human rights or moral issues have the same serious moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.

Please note that #3 readily refutes those many U.S. bishops who have publicly said they would not deny the Eucharist to pro-abortion legislators because then they would have to deny also those persons who favored war, the death penalty.  Ratzinger explained the church does not condemn war and the death penalty, but does condemn abortion and euthanasia.

Ratzinger's statement #3 also refuted those bishops, including the 'Task Force's' head, Pensacola-Tallahassee, FL Bishop John Ricard, who questioned the requirement to withhold the Eucharist from anybody.  Bishop Ricard reasoned (incorrectly) that the Bishops would have to consider as grave manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners those politicians who defy church policy "on the role of marriage and family, on the rights of parents to choose the best education for their children, the priority for the poor, and welcome for immigrants."[9]

Paragraph #4 - The Cardinal teaches that the priest may find an individual's judgment about his own worthiness to receive the Eucharist to be in grave error and the priest must deny him Holy Communion, according to c.915.

Paragraph #5 - Here is the Church's teaching regarding the pastor's obligation to warn the manifest sinner of his grave condition, to counsel him of the Church's teachings, and informing the sinner not to present himself for Communion until he ends the objective situation of sin and that he will be denied the Eucharist.

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Paragraph # 6 - Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum instructs that the bishops, priests and deacons, as 'ministers of Holy Communion'[10] must deny the Eucharist, as the Code of Canon Law c.915 directs, to persons who have obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin.[11]

This #6 answers the question of Cardinal Francis George,[12] who, at the November 2003 bishops' Conference, asked if bishops have the right to deny anyone the Eucharist.  Cd. George asked the 'Task Force' to clarify under canon law what ability a bishop has to deny manifest, obstinate, persistent sinners the Eucharist.[13]

Is Cardinal George and most of the Conference of Bishops ignorant on the understanding of Canon Law c.915?

It contains only one sentence, which is easily understood by countless others in the Church.

In a 'Nota bene,'[14] Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum warns the bishops against allowing any Catholic to deliberately vote for candidates who were pro-abortion and/or pro-euthanasia.

Now we shall look at what Cardinal McCarrick presented to the bishops in his 'Task Force' interim report.  McCarrick said:

"Vatican officials offered...principles and advised caution and pastoral prudence in the use of sanctions.

 "The battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail, but in the public square."[15]

McCarrick warned the bishops of "serious unintended consequences" in using Communion as a weapon.

Even Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister reported that McCarrick's words to the conference of bishops were suspicious:

"McCarrick also told the assembly that he had had from the Holy See professions of their trust in the responsibility of the American bishops: thus they may judge whether the refusal of communion is a 'pastorally wise and prudent' decision.  However, there is no trace of any such professions in Ratzinger's memorandum.  In reading the two notes in parallel - the note of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and that of the bishops - the impression is one of a clear divergence."[16]

After McCarrick presented his report to the bishops in Denver, a controversial Statement, "Catholics in Political Life," was then adopted by a vote of 183-6. 

The 'Statement' was negligent and left the impression that one of the options of a bishop is to permit or 'admit' a manifest sinner to Holy Communion. 

The directives from Cardinal Ratzinger should have been incorporated into the 'Statement.'

Will the USCCB now reissue a faithful 'Statement' to replace the lacking, confusing one they issued in Denver?

Why would the bishops issue a 'Statement' that is in direct opposition to Church teachings, Canon Law and Cardinal Ratzinger directives?

Were all of the bishops informed of Ratzinger's clear supportive directive citing why the Bishops must deny manifest, obstinate, persistent persons in grave sin? 

Did the Vatican purposely release the memorandum to the Vatican correspondent Sandro Magister after realizing the Conference of U.S. Bishops voted against a clear Vatican recommendation to deny the Eucharist?

You may remember that in April, Cardinal Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of Sacraments issued at the Pope's request an Eucharistic instruction, "Redemptionis Sacramentum.'  He warned that manifest persons who are 'unambiguously pro-abortion" must be refused Communion.

Cardinal McCarrick within hours of the released instruction contradicted Arinze's and the Pope's teaching, saying, "I have not gotten to the stage where I'm comfortable denying the Eucharist." [17]

Shortly afterwards, we remember the poignant ad by American Life League, asking Cardinal McCarrick if he was "comfortable now?"

In a show of hostility against Church law, after the Denver Bishops' meeting, Los Angeles Cardinal Mahony made it clear in a written statement to the media that he would not refuse anyone Holy Communion:

"The Archdiocese will continue to follow church teaching, which places the duty on each Catholic to examine their consciences as to their worthiness to receive Holy Communion.  That is not the role of the person distributing the Body and Blood of Christ."[18]

Does Mahony's statement indicate he is in schism from Rome?

It must be pointed out that Cardinal Mahony's use of the word 'sanctions' is inappropriately applied to canon law c.915.

Canon 915 is neither a penal law, nor a punishment of any kind, nor is it a law of excommunication or interdict.  Rather, c.915 and the conditions contained therein are matters of sacramental discipline, that is, an important regulation concerning the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist.

This misuse of terminology to c.915 is no small matter. 

Other bishops in recent weeks have used the same obfuscation.  Many have said they do not want the Eucharist to be used as a public punishment. 

Especially interesting is that Archbishop Raymond Burke, Juris Canonis Doctor,[19] has, with apostolic daring, corrected the bishops and the media on the ill-usage of the words 'sanctions' and 'punishment' several times in relation to c.915.[20].

One wonders if this frequent public misusage of terminology by some bishops against c.915 is to beget a false misunderstanding and public opposition toward the rightful, legal protection of the Eucharist from sacrilege.

To ad to the confusion, during the months of April, May and June, before the Denver meeting, several widely diverse reports were heard from different bishops returning from their 'ad limina' meetings with the Holy Father.

Some bishops returned saying that Cardinal Ratzinger was advising them they must deny the Eucharist.  Other bishops returned saying Ratzinger advised they should be very cautious about denying anyone the Eucharist.

Regarding one bishop's 'ad limina' visit, it's important to note that Cardinal Ratzinger's memo is in complete contradiction with the account given by Gallup, N.M. Bishop Donald E. Pelotte.

Catholic News Service (CNS), a division of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reported that Bishop Pelotte met with Cardinal Ratzinger during his 'ad limina' visit in Rome on June 2, 2004.  Pelotte said Ratzinger had discouraged him, as well as a group of 15 Western U.S. bishops, from denying anyone the Eucharist.  [21]

CNS wrote "the Cardinal left him with the impression that denying Communion was not usually the appropriate action."[22]

Fac me cocleario vomere!

Bishop Pelotte explained to CNS that some Catholics are upset at some of the bishops' statements, seeing them as too partisan.  "What I tell Catholics," Pelotte said, "is to look at the candidate, at all his positions, and then vote your conscience."[23]

Bishop Pelotte failed to make clear to these folks an important 'sine qua non.'  Only a well-informed conscience, one that is in agreement with all Magisterial teachings, is a conscience that one can safely follow.  Such a conscience would not have to struggle with which candidate to vote for.

The U.S. bishop's Catholic News Service is sometimes perceived as being unreliable and biased in their reporting.  CNS was the only news service to report Pelotte's personal interpretation, now clearly in conflict with Ratzinger's actual memo.[24]

Why is the CNS showing bias against Archbishop Burke and Bishop Bruskewitz, the only two prelates who have diocesan notifications in place, saying that they would deny the Eucharist?

Another news service reporting on the sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist was Catholic World News (CWN); an independently owned lay Catholic apostolate.[25]

Conversly in content, CWN reported on June 17, 2004 that another U.S. bishop indicated in April that Cardinal Ratzinger actually encouraged the U.S. bishops to be "more attentive to this question."

CWN also reported that Vatican sources confirm that Cardinal Ratzinger was pleased with the public pronouncements of the more orthodox U.S. bishops who courageously have state they would deny the Eucharist.[26]

A note of clarification; every bishop must be a doctor of theology or canon law, or at least a licentiate.  For instance, Cardinal George's designation of S.T.D. is 'Doctor of Sacred Theology.'  A doctor is one who has attained the highest academic degree in a given field.  The term 'doctor' is derived from the Latin 'docere, meaning to teach.

With this understanding, is it not reasonable to say that each bishop is highly educated and well versed in Church teachings? 

Why, then, does so much confusion and misinterpretation reign among some bishops in the U.S. Conference?  Are some bishops faithful and others not faithful?

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said:  "Who is going to save our Church?  Not our bishops, not our priests and religious.  It is up to you, the people.  You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church.  Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops and your religious act like religious."[27]

"Corruptio optimi, pessima."  ("The corruption of the best is the worst of all.")


[1] The Roman Curia is the ensemble of the discasteries and bodies that assist the Pope in the exercise of his supreme pastoral office for the good and in the service of the Church throughout the world.  The Secretariate of State is the most important part of the curia.  Second would be the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.  Other Congregations follow these.  Finally, there are Pontifical Councils and Pontifical Commissions.  (
[2] Catholic World News, 7/3/04,  "US bishops rejected Ratzinger's advice."
[3] (L'Espresso), 7/3/04,  "The Kerry Affair: What Ratzinger Wanted from the American Bishops," by Sandro Magister.
[4] National Catholic Reporter, 11/21/03, "Bishops to address politicians who reject church teaching," by Joe Feuerherd.
[5] Cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration 'Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics", nos. 3-4, 6/00.
[6] Catholic News Service, 6/23/04, "Task force on politics: Battle in public square, not at Communion, " by Jerry Filteau.
[7] Catholic News Service, 7/6/04, "Cardinal McCarrick says leaded Ratzinger memo is not whole story," by Jerry Filteau.
[8] Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter 'Evangelium vitae' n.73, 74.
[9] National Catholic Reporter, 11/21/03, "Bishops to address politicians who reject church teaching," by Joe Feuerherd.
[10] Congregation for the Divine Worship, Cd. Arinze, 4/23/04, "The only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist 'in persona Christi' is a validly ordained Priest.  Hence, the name 'minister of the Eucharist' belongs properly to the Priest alone.  Moreover, also by reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary 'ministers of Holy Communion' are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon," taken from 'Redemptionis Sacramentum,' n.154.
[11] Code of Canon Law, c.915: "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."
[12] Every bishop must be a doctor of theology or canon law, or at least a licentiate.  For instance, Cardinal George's designation of S.T.D. is 'Sacrć Theologić Doctor' or in English, 'Doctor of Sacred Theology.'  A doctor is one who has attained the highest academic degree in a given field.  The term 'doctor' is derived from the Latin 'docere, meaning to teach.
[13] National Catholic Reporter, 11/21/03, "Bishops to address politicians who reject church teaching," by Joe Feuerherd.
[14] 'Nota bene' in English means 'mark well.'
[15] Catholic News Service, 6/23/04, "Task Force on Politics: Battle in public square not a Communion," by Jerry Filteau
[16] L-espresso (Rome) newspaper, 7/3/04, "The Kerry Affair: What Ratzinger Wanted from the American Bishops," by Sandro Magister.
[17] USA Today Newspaper, 5/20/04, "House group warns church about denying Communion," Associated Press.
[18], 6/19/04, "Local bishops given final say on tying rite to abortion stance," by Eric Gorski.
[19] The highest degree of education in Canon Law is the J.C.D. (Juris Canonis doctor, Doctor of Canon Law), which would apply to Archbishop Raymond Burke.
[20] Diocese of La Crosse website, "Questions and Answers."  Also, America weekly, 6/21/04, "Catholic politicians and bishops," by Most Rev. Raymond L. Burke, Archbishop of St. Louis, Mo.
[21] Catholic News Service, a division of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reported on 6/3/04, "Vatican wants to meet with U.S. Task force on Catholic politicians, " by John Thavis.
[22] Ibid
[23] Ibid
[24] Ibid
[25] Philip Lawler in l996 started Catholic World News, the first Catholic news service on the Internet.  Since l993, he is also editor of the esteemed 'Catholic World Report' an international monthly news magazine.
[26] Catholic World, 6/17/04, "Cardinal Ratzinger joins U.S. Bishops' debate."
[27] Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, 6/72, address to the Knights of Columbus,

Barbara Kralis, the article's author, writes for various Christian and conservative publications.  She is a regular columnist at Catholic Online,, Life Issues, The Wanderer newspaper, New Oxford Review Magazine, Washington Dispatch, Catholic Citizens, Illinois Leader, NewsBull, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Phil Brennan's WOW, ChronWatch and others.  Her first journalism position was with Boston Herald Traveler, l964.  Barbara published and edited 'Semper Fidelis' Catholic print newsletter.  She and her husband, Mitch, live in the great State of Texas, and co-direct the Jesus Through Mary Catholic Foundation.  She can be reached at:


Jesus Through Mary Foundation TX, US
Barbara Kralis - Director, 903 532-5555



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