to Receive Holy Communion
A Guest Document
by Joseph Ratzinger
ROMA – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Vatican Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, was clear with Theodore Cardinal
McCarrick, archbishop of Washington and the head of the “domestic
policy” commission of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference.
He was more than clear, he set it down in writing: No eucharistic
communion for the politicians who systematically campaign for abortion.
Read: No communion for
the Democratic candidate for the White House, the Catholic John F.
Ratzinger's memorandum is presented in its entirety below. It was sent
as a confidential letter, during the first half of June and written in
English expressly for cardinal McCarrick and to the president of the
United States bishops' conference, Wilton Gregory.
Here, then, is Ratzinger's previously unpublished memorandum, which he
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”
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
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
The M+G+R Foundation
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