DUBLIN — As the Irish parliament considers legalizing some abortions, Cardinal Raymond Burke says that local Catholic politicians who support the procedure should be refused Holy Communion in hopes of inspiring their conversion.
“There can be no question that the practice of abortion is among the gravest of manifest sins,” Cardinal Burke told the Irish newspaper Catholic Voice in an interview published Feb. 1.
Once “a Catholic politician has been admonished that he should not come forward to receive Holy Communion,” the cardinal added, “as long as he continues to support legislation which fosters abortion or other intrinsic evils, then he should be refused Holy Communion.”
The American cardinal heads the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest legal tribunal that rules on canon law.
Cardinal Burke said that the local bishop and parish priests must ensure that Holy Communion is properly received to avoid “the grave sin of sacrilege” from those like Catholic politicians who receive Communion in spite of “grave moral evil.” The bishops and clergy must also prevent the “scandal” caused by this kind of reception because it “gives the impression that the Church’s teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is not firm.”
The Fine Gael-controlled Irish parliament has said it will introduce legislation to legalize abortion where the mother’s life is at risk to conform Irish law to a December 2010 ruling from the European Court of Human Rights. That ruling itself is based on a 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision that was never codified into law.
Opponents of the proposed change support current Irish practice that distinguishes morally wrong direct abortion from medical treatments that may indirectly put an unborn baby’s life at risk. They say proposals to allow abortion for women who threaten suicide would allow abortion on demand.
Savita Halappanavar’s Death
The push for a change to Ireland’s laws on abortion comes in reaction to the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who died at a Galway hospital after miscarrying. She reportedly asked for an abortion and later died of a severe infection. The cause of her death is still under investigation, although abortion advocates seized on the case to claim legal abortion would have saved her life.
Cardinal Burke said Halappanavar’s death is “tragic.” However, he said this does not mean “an innocent and defenseless human life can be justifiably destroyed in order to save the life of the mother.”
He warned the Irish people and the Irish government to be alert for this kind of justification for abortion.
Even if Halappanavar did request an abortion, he said, “her request would not have made it right for the law to permit such an act which is always and everywhere wrong.”
The cardinal said Catholic politicians have the duty to support all legislation that will “most reduce the evils which attack human life and the integrity of marriage.”
Politicians cannot vote for any legislation that would confirm or advance “evil,” but a politician may support legislation to reduce such evils if he acknowledges these evils and the need for his voters to work to eliminate them.
Cardinal Burke stressed that the Catholic Church’s rules on the need to receive communion worthily are based on Christians’ relationship with Jesus Christ.
Someone who persists in “manifest grave sin” should not receive Holy Communion “because of his love of our Lord and his sorrow for the grave sin which he is committing against our Lord and His Holy Church.”
Recognizing this “grave offense” against God will “most inspire a conversion of heart” in Catholic politicians who support abortion, the cardinal said. He cited St. Paul’s admonition in the First Letter to the Corinthians that those who receive communion unworthily “eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
Laments Legacy of Roe
Cardinal Burke also lamented the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down abortion laws nationwide. He said the legalization of abortion contradicts the “fundamental principle” of safeguarding human life and has done “incalculable harm.”
“It is not possible to comprehend all of the devastation worked by procured abortion on demand during these past forty years,” the cardinal told the Catholic Voice.