My emphases and comments.
Obama’s Pick for Vice President Is Catholic. But the Bishops Deny Him Communion
The reason is that Biden is a staunch abortion supporter. The archbishop of Denver says that he should refrain from presenting himself for communion. From Rome, Archbishop Burke is backing his stance. And in 2004, Ratzinger wrote to the American bishops…
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, August 27, 2008 – On the eve of the Democratic party convention in Denver, the party’s candidate for president of the United States, Barack Obama, chose a Catholic as his vice presidential running mate, Senator Joseph Biden.
The choice immediately reignited the controversy over whether or not Eucharistic communion should be given to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.
Biden is one of these. The son of working class Irish parents, as a boy he thought about entering the seminary and has his rosary always in his pocket. He goes to Mass every Sunday and receives communion at his parish, St. Joseph’s in Greenville, Delaware.
But as a politician, he has always vigorously upheld the Roe v. Wade decision of the supreme court, which opened the way to legal abortion in the United States. He says that he accepts the teaching of the Catholic Church on life, beginning from conception, and he voted for a law prohibiting abortion in the last weeks of pregnancy, but he maintains that the Roe v. Wade decision is correct for a society that has different views on abortion. [Thus, Sen. Biden actively supports the direct intentional killing of those whom he accepts are human beings.]
In an interview with the "Christian Science Monitor," Biden said that he believes his positions are "totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine." [They aren’t.]
But this is not the view of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, the city in which the Democratic party is officially presenting Obama and Biden as its candidates for the presidential election.
In interview with the Associated Press, Chaput said that Biden’s support for the so-called "right" to abortion is a serious public error. And he added: "I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion."
During these same days, from Rome, another American archbishop, Raymond L. Burke, has spoken out on the same question and along the same lines: he, too, says communion should not be given to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.
Neither Burke nor Chaput is new to taking stances like these. In 2004, on the eve of the previous presidential election, Burke advocated withholding communion from the Democratic candidate for the White House at the time, John Kerry, also a "pro-choice" Catholic.
In June of that year, from Rome, then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had sent to the United States bishops’ conference a memorandum stating the "general principles" on this question.
Ratzinger’s memorandum was private, but www.chiesa published it in its entirety. It sided with the unyielding bishops like Burke and Chaput. But most of the bishops in the United States were against withholding communion from Catholic politicians who support abortion. There were even two authoritative cardinals from the conservative wing, Francis E. George of Chicago and the Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles, who said they were reluctant to "make the Eucharist a political battleground." In the end, the bishops’ conference decided to "apply" the principles presented by Ratzinger on a case-by-case basis, leaving it "to each bishop to express prudent pastoral judgments in his own specific circumstances." [Which is a way for the conference to decide not to decide what to do.]
From Rome, Cardinal Ratzinger accepted this solution and said that it was "in harmony" with the general principles of his memorandum. [Subsidiarity.]
In this, Ratzinger adopted a practice typical of Catholic countries in Europe, where rigorous principles coexist with more flexible pastoral customs.
In Europe, in effect, the Catholic Church has never addressed or created cases similar to those of Kerry or Biden in the United States. [This is interesting. It is one of the reasons why we must continue to present this problem in the blogosphere, why the Catholic media must pick it up, and why our bishops should carefully consider what to do: action or inaction in this regard could have a global influence.] In recent decades in Europe, bishops, cardinals, and popes have knowingly given communion to Catholic politicians who advance abortion laws. In 1989, the devoutly Catholic king Baudouin of Belgium temporarily abdicated his throne to avoid signing a law on abortion, but this was an entirely personal gesture: no one in the Church’s hierarchy had asked him to do so.
Returning to the United States, Senator Biden’s case nonetheless presents new aspects compared to the case of Kerry four years ago.
First of all, Ratzinger was a cardinal back then, and has now become pope. And an important part of his magisterium is focused on the theme of the memorandum that he sent to the United States bishops in 2004: how one becomes "worthy of receiving holy communion," or unworthy.
 Secondly, the bishop of Denver, Chaput, is becoming increasingly prominent among the United States bishops. Just recently, he published a book on how act in politics in keeping with the Catholic faith, with a clear statement that communion should be withheld from those who promote abortion. And the book – entitled Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life – recently received a positive review in "L’Osservatore Romano," which recommended that it be read "in the United States and elsewhere."
In the third place, there is the interview with Burke. Until last June 27, he was the archbishop of St. Louis. After this, he was called to Rome as the new prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura. In this capacity, he therefore spoke as a representative of the Church’s central government, in close connection with the pope.
Finally, it must be noted that the prevailing tendency among the American bishops on giving communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians is more rigorous than in the past. [An important point.] Proof of this is in the controversy that followed Benedict XVI’s trip to the United States last April, over the reception of communion during the papal Masses by John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, and Rudy Giuliani. On that occasion, the cardinal of New York, Edward Egan, condemned their actions in unusually harsh terms.
Here follow some of the passages from the interview Burke gave to Thomas J. McKenna, founder and president of Catholic Action for Faith and Family, an interview republished in Rome, in Italian, by the monthly "Radici Cristiane." [I haven’t heard much about the fall out in Italy over this. I bet there have been some fireworks.]
After this – as a helpful reminder – is the memorandum that Ratzinger sent to the United States bishops in 2004:
When the minister of the Eucharist is obliged to withhold communion
Interview with Raymond L. Burke
Q: Your Excellency, in today’s world there seems to be a lax attitude regarding the reception of the Holy Eucharist. Why?
A: One of the reasons I think that this laxity with regard to the Holy Eucharist has developed is that there has not been sufficient emphasis on Eucharistic devotion. […] Without devotion to the Blessed Sacrament people quickly lose Eucharistic faith. We know that there is a high percentage of Catholics who do not believe that the Eucharistic species are the Body and Blood of Christ. […]
Another aspect is a loss of the sense of connection between the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. […] people go to Communion regularly and perhaps never, or very seldom, go to Confession. […]
Also connected with this is a sense that has grown up from the civil sphere, which is that receiving Holy Communion is a right. […]
Q: There are laws of the Church to control inappropriate actions by the faithful for the good of the public. Could you please comment on this and explain to what degree the Church and the hierarchy have an obligation to intervene to clarify or correct issues?
A: With regard to the Holy Eucharist for instance, there are two canons in particular that have to do with the worthy reception of the sacrament. They have in mind two goods.
One is the good of the person himself. To receive the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily is a sacrilege. […] So, for the sake of the person himself, the Church has to instruct us that each time we are going to receive Holy Communion, we should first examine our conscience.
If we have a mortal sin on our conscience, we should first confess that sin and receive absolution, and only then approach to receive the Sacrament. Many times, our serious sins are hidden and only known to ourselves […] But there are other cases in which people are committing grave sins knowingly and publicly. […] An example is a public official who knowingly and willingly supports actions which are against the Divine and Eternal moral law; for instance, to publicly promote procured abortion […] A person who is sinning in this way publicly is to be admonished not to receive Holy Communion until he has reformed his life.
If a person, who has been admonished but persists in serious or mortal sin in a public way, receives Holy Communion, then the minister of Holy Communion has the obligation to refuse Holy Communion to that person.
Why? First of all, for the sake of the salvation of the person himself, lest he commit a sacrilege. But, secondly, for the sake of the whole Church, lest there be scandal in two ways.
Number one, scandal regarding what our disposition should be to receive Holy Communion. In other words, people would be led to think it is alright to be in the state of mortal sin and to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.
Or it could be scandal, in a second way, in that people think that the public act which this person is committing, which everyone thinks is a serious sin, must not be so serious because the Church permits that person to receive Holy Communion.
If you have a public figure who is openly and deliberately supporting abortion rights, and that same person approaches and receives Holy Communion, what are people to think? They could be led to imagine that some how it is alright to support publicly the taking of innocent and defenseless lives in the womb. […]
Q: Some people say that it is a right to receive Holy Communion and that no one else has the right to tell another not to receive the Sacrament. Not even a bishop, priest or minister. What would you respond to them? [This is an excellent question.]
A: In responding to this question, the first thing that needs to be said is that the Body and Blood of Christ is a gift of God’s love to us. It is the greatest gift, a gift beyond our ability to describe. No one, therefore, has a right to the gift. Just as we don’t have a right to any gift that is given to us.
A gift is freely given out of love and that is what God is doing for us every time we are able to participate in Mass and approach to receive Holy Communion. So to say that I have a right to receive Holy Communion is not correct.
If one means by this that, if he is well disposed and the Mass is being offered, he has a right to receive Holy Communion in the sense that he has a right to receive. Yes, that is true.
Now, regarding the reception of Holy Communion, there is Our Lord Himself who is involved. There is the person who is receiving Holy Communion. Then there is the minister of the Sacrament, the one who has the responsibility to make sure that the Sacrament is distributed only to those who are properly disposed. Certainly the Church does have the right to tell someone who persists in public grave sin that he may not receive Holy Communion because he is not well disposed.
That right of the minister to refuse to give Holy Communion to someone who persists in public and grave sin is safe guarded in the Code of Canon Law, under canon 915. Otherwise the minister of Communion would be put in the situation of violating his conscience regarding a most serious matter, when he sees a notorious sinner coming to receive Holy Communion to the scandal of everyone, and he is somehow told he does not have the right to refuse to give Holy Communion, in such a circumstance. That simply would be wrong.
Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles
by Joseph Ratzinger, June 2004
1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one’s worthiness to do so, [So often today this is not the case. People go trooping forward with little regard for anything. I think it safe to assume that this is not the case with pro-abortion Catholic politicians. I suspect they think about their worthiness all the time and approach Communion while deep inside knowing that they are doing something the Church says is wrong. But they do it anyway.] 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?" [Were we to increase the length of the Eucharistic fast to, say, three hours instead of one, many who know they shouldn’t receive would have a far better way to avoid public question or personal discomfort in deciding not to receive.] 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. [Something which Speaker Pelosi doesn’t accept.] 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). [Remember: that didn’t come merely from the Prefect of the CDF (Ratzinger), that came from the Roman Pontiff John Paul II.] 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. [Get that? We can disagree on some other points about the sanctity of life, but not when it comes 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). [So there is the individual and there is the minister of the Church.]
5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest [Important. It must be clear and open.] (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," [In other words, the pastors tried to engage the erring politician but without success.] 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. [Note the distinction of "subjective" and "objective". The minister cannot know the state of conscience of the person in front of him. He can, however, know the facts surrounding the person’s actions and words. A politician might have had a conversion experience and, with great remorse, gone to confession or made a perfect act of contrition with the intention of going to confession, etc. But the manifest public actions and words are still in play, uncorrected. So, subjectively, the politician might be well-disposed, but the objective outward factors leave the minister no room. As a result it is a red herring for a minister to state that he cannot judge the soul of the politician at the moment of Holy Communion. He doesn’t have to judge his soul! he must refer to the facts that everyone knows. Thus, pastors of souls have the obligation to stay current with the news.]
[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]
Do you remember how the content of then-Card. Ratzinger letter was distorted by the one who presented it to the American bishops conference?
Times have changed and that sort of thing won’t be happening any more.