Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick: More Concerned with 'Comfort' than Christ?
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By Michael J. Gaynor
Jesus said: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).
The path of Jesus is not always a "comfortable" one.
For decades, Roman Catholic priests in the United States have knowingly given Holy Communion to unrepentant, publicly known, nominally Catholic, pro-abortion politicians, out of misguided compassion, excessive political correctness, fear of losing the Church's tax exemption and/or contributions from pro-abortion people, personal preference or ignorance.
In doing so, they have disregarded, if not deliberately disobeyed, unambiguous canon law.
On April 23, 2004, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, explained at a press conference in Rome that unrepentant pro-abortion "Catholic" politicians should be denied Communion. Cardinal Arinze put it succinctly: "If they should not receive, then they should not be given." He was followeding the mandate of Canon 915, which specifies that "[t]hose...who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion."
Nevertheless, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the most prominent Catholic clergyman in the United States and chairman of the task force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, then declared that Cardinal Arinze had not really said what he said and he (Cardinal McCarrick) had "not gotten to the stage where [he's] comfortable in denying the Eucharist."
There have been about 45,000,000 million abortions in the United States since Roe v. Wade was decided more than thirty years ago. That's approaching eight times the number of Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust.
How many more unborn babies must die before Cardinal McCarrick achieves comfort?
In 1995 then Archbishop of Newark McCarrick appeared comfortable with the concept of obeying canon law. He issued a soundly reasoned, elegantly written pastoral letter on penance. The kind of letter than indicated a promotion to Cardinal was in order.
Cardinal McCarrick rightly wrote in that letter: "We know that anyone who is aware of having committed a grave sin may not receive Holy Communion, even if he or she experiences deep contrition, without having first received absolution in the Sacrament of Penance. This is true unless the person has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession, a situation which does not apply in the area of the Archdiocese of Newark. (Emphasis added.)
Significantly, Cardinal McCarrick faithfully noted in his letter that abortion is a "grave" sin and a "crime against innocent life." He asserted, too generously, that "[w]e all recognize that it is a grave evil to take an innocent human life" and astutely observed that "[w]e tend to find excuses."
Sadly, Cardinal McCarrick has found an excuse for the sin of disregarding Canon 915 and knowingly giving Communion to pro-abortion nominally Catholic politicans: personal uncomfortableness.
The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, left no room for each bishop to adopt his own policy on giving and refusing Communion in Ecclesia de Eucharistia:
"[I]n cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who "obstinately persist in manifest grave sin" are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion." (Emphasis added.)
This was reiterated in Cardinal Ratzinger's recent confidential memorandum to Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the "General Principles" with respect to "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion."
In that memorandum, delivered as guidance for the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last month, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1981, stated succinctly, emphatically and unambiguously as follows:
"1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one's worthiness to do so, according to the Church's objective criteria, asking such questions as: "Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?" 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 (cf. Instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," nos. 81, 83).
"2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a "grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propoganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it'" (no. 73). Christians have a "grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it" (no. 74).
"3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
"4. Apart from an individuals's judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).
"5. 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.
"6. When "these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible," and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, "the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it" (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration "Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics" , nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person's subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person's public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin."
Cardinal McCarrick apparently neglected to provide a copy of Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum to his fellow bishops during their meeting last month and instead told them that what to do about nominally Catholic pro-abortion politicians seeking Communion was a discretionary matter for them to handle as they thought best.
Instead of providing copies for each bishop to consider with due care, Cardinal McCarrick told his fellow United States bishops, in emphatic terms, that "Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders WHETHER to pursue this path" of denying Communion. "The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent," Cardinal McCarrick said. The full text of Cardinal McCarrick's speech to the bishops is posted at the bishops' Web site, www.usccb.org.
Cardinal McCarrick reported to the conference that their task force on politics believes "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." He warned of "serious unintended consequences" in refusing Communion, including danger that faithful Catholic politicians who courageously stand for moral principles might be perceived as yielding to pressure from the Church hierarchy while "weak leaders who bend to the political winds...are perceived as courageous resisters of episcopal authority."
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The "each bishop decides for his diocese" approach carried, with183 of 189 voting in favor.
However, it is surely questionable, if not highly doubtful, that the bishops' conference would have approved a policy of allowing each bishop to decide whether to give Communion to pro-choice politicians, as though canon law depends upon geography or whim, if they had been aware of Cardinal Ratzinger's compelling conclusion that denial of Communion is obligatory "regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia."
The release of Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum to the media should prompt the United States bishops to reconsider their position as soon as possible instead of waiting for their next regularly scheduled meeting in November, AFTER the United States elections.
Cardinal McCarrick commented, "From what I have heard, it may represent an incomplete and partial leak of a private communication from Cardinal Ratzinger, and it may not accurately reflect the full message I received."
But the memorandum was released in full and is unambiguous and consistent with what both Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Arinze have said.
Cardinal McCarrick and the rest of the clergy need to follow Christ and canon law, not to coddle the powerful nominally Catholic pro-abortion politicians.
As Archbishop Raymond L. Burke put it in his statement on Catholic Politicians and Bishops made on June 17, 2004: "Right reason...tells us that a bishop, if he truly cares for the flock, must admonish Catholic politicians 'who choose to depart from church teaching on the inviolability of human life in their public life' regarding 'the consequences for their own spiritual well being, as well as the scandal they risk by leading others into serious sin' (Living the Gospel of Life, No. 32)." In addition, "if the Catholic politician does not recognize the lack of the proper disposition to receive Communion, then the church herself must refuse the sacrament, in order to safeguard the worthy reception of the sacrament and to prevent a serious scandal among the faithful."
Because, in the words of Archbishop Burke: "For a bishop or any pastor to exclude someone from Communion is always a source of great sorrow....What would be profoundly more sorrowful would be the failure of a bishop to call a soul to conversion, the failure to protect the flock from scandal and the failure to safeguard the worthy reception of Communion."
Michael J. Gaynor
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