BALTIMORE — A new document by U.S. bishops about who should and shouldn’t receive Communion says nothing about refusal of Communion to Catholic lawmakers who write or vote for pro-abortion laws.

And, contrary to the wishes of at least one bishop, it contains no specific guidelines regarding couples who use contraception.

Colorado Springs, Colo., Bishop Michael Sheridan, an outspoken critic of pro-abortion politicians who receive Communion, felt the 24-page document “could have made a few issues more clear.” He does feel, however, that it has “good catechetical value.”

Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper, adopted 201-24 Nov. 14 at the U.S. bishops’ annual fall meeting, says: “In order to receive holy Communion we must be in communion with God and with the Church. Mortal sin constitutes a rejection of communion with God and destroys the life of grace within us.”

It lists 10 sinful activities of modern life — inspired by the 10 Commandments — as general examples of behavior that should prevent Catholics from receiving Communion in the absence of reconciliation.

Bishop Sheridan said the document should have stressed that canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law forbids Communion to those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.”

Several bishops, including Bishop Sheridan, have stated in recent years that politicians and others who aid the abortion industry are obstinately complicit in grave sin and should not take Communion.

The issue emerged again during debate on the Eucharist document when Providence, R.I., Bishop Thomas Tobin argued for an amendment stating that individuals in “diminished communion with the Church” would make it necessary for the diocesan bishop to carefully examine the details and possibly make “a formal canonical response.”

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke said Catholics who write or vote for pro-abortion laws are rampant and cause widespread scandal and confusion by defying canon law and receiving Communion.

“Why is it that whenever one of these politicians is notorious for voting against the natural moral law ultimately he gets his picture in Time magazine receiving holy Communion?” Archbishop Burke asked. “It’s an open affront to the Church and her most sacred teaching. It’s profoundly confusing to the faithful, and we should clear it up.”


Opponents of Bishop Tobin’s amendment, which failed on a voice vote, said the document was not intended as a technical tool for bishops, pastors or ministers, but as an aid to the laity in personally preparing for Communion.

The list of grave sins mentioned in the document includes “committing murder, including abortion and euthanasia.”

Though the document says nothing about pastoral refusal of Communion to Catholics who make pro-abortion laws, it says anyone who publicly rejects definitive Church teaching gives scandal and should refrain from receiving Communion.

“Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil,” it states.

San Diego Auxiliary Bishop Salvatore Cordileone tried to amend the document to state specifically that contraception, in absence of reconciliation, would be reason to avoid Communion. His amendment failed 75-148.

Bishop Cordileone argued that on the list of examples of grave sins should be “those issues that are serious and commonplace because they’re readily accepted as morally legitimate by society as a whole.”

“Contraception fits those criteria,” the bishop said. “We all know how widespread it is, and there’s no doubt about its seriousness. The contraceptive mentality is at the heart of all of the problems our contemporary society is experiencing in the areas of marriage and family life. People have been misled.”

Bishop Cordileone told the Register the document should not be confused or misused as “tacit approval” of contraception.

“The Committee on Doctrine unanimously felt it would call too much attention to this one particular issue and detract from the whole document,” Paterson, N.J., Bishop Arthur Serratelli said in opposition to Bishop Cordileone’s amendment.

Bishop Serratelli said that the document, drafted by the Committee on the Doctrine that he heads, was never intended to include an exhaustive list of specific sins.

“This is not meant in any way to be a tacit approval, and the other document we approved today [on married love] deals with the issue of contraception very thoroughly,” Bishop Serratelli said. “It would be difficult for anyone to believe we approve of contraception.”

Cardinal Ratzinger

In response to the defeat of amendments to the Communion document, Lincoln, Neb., Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz told the conference the statements have little weight regardless of what they say. He quoted various past statements of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before he became Pope Benedict XVI.

“He said we must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis,” Bishop Bruskewitz said. “He said ‘they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated. They have only a practical concrete function.’

“He said, quote: ‘No episcopal conference as such has a teaching mission. Its documents have no weight of their own save that of the consent given to them by the individual bishops.’

“He said quote: ‘It is a matter of safeguarding the very nature of the Catholic Church, which is based on an ecclesial structure and not on a kind of federation of national churches. The national level is not an ecclesial dimension.’”

Said Bishop Bruskewitz, “I just say this to contextualize all of the various productions of this episcopal conference.”

Wayne Laugesen filed

this story from Baltimore.