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CDF head calls for ‘extensive and serene’ debate on Communion by US bishops

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has written to Archbishop Jose Gomez offering guidance to the U.S. bishops on their plans to debate a proposed document on Eucharistic coherence.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Pillar, is addressed to Archbishop Gomez, president of the USCCB, and dated May 7.

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer. Credit: Diocese of Cordoba.

In the letter, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer responds to an earlier letter from Gomez, informing the congregation of the U.S. bishops’ intention to debate the drafting of a document on sacramental worthiness to receive Communion.


The cardinal thanked Gomez for informing that congregation of the bishops’ plans to submit a draft of a proposed document “to address the situation of Catholics in public office who support legislation allowing abortion, euthanasia or other moral evils” prior to the CDF for review prior to any vote by the USCCB.

The cardinal also notes that the original suggestion for the bishops to discuss the reception of Communion by pro-abortion Catholic politicians came from the CDF:

“When this issue re-surfaced during the 2019-2020 ad limina visits of the United States bishops, this Congregation advised that dialogue among the bishops be undertaken to preserve the unity of the episcopal conference in the face of disagreements over this controversial topic.”

“The effective development of a policy in this area requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions,” wrote the cardinal.

During the first stage, the cardinal advised Gomez, the bishops should agree to affirm the teaching of a 2002 doctrinal note from the CDF “on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life.”

That note, Ladaria said, makes clear that Christians “are also called to reject, as injurious to democratic life, a conception of pluralism that reflects moral relativism.” 

The 2002 note states that “When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility.”

“This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia... Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo.”

“The bishops should affirm as a Conference,” wrote Ladaria, “that ‘those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life.’”

The 2002 doctrinal note did not directly address the question of reception of Communion by pro-abortion politicians or others in a state of manifest grave sin. 

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Lardaria’s also cited a 2004 letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick addressing the question of reception of Communion by pro-abortion politicians in which the former head of the CDF outlined the process by which the situation of a pro-abortion Catholic politician could be addressed by his local bishop. Cardinal Ladaria called the Ratzinger letter “a private communication addressed to the bishops.” 

“This Congregation respects Cardinal Ratzinger’s stipulation that ‘these principles were not intended for publication’,” said Ladaria, though it is not clear from the text of the letter to whom the quotation is supposed to be attributed.

“Insofar, therefore, as these principles [from Ratzinger] are not published by the Conference, they may be of assistance in the preparation of the draft of your document,” wrote Ladaria.

When engaged in the second stage of the recommended process for developing a consensus policy and dialoguing with Catholic politicians affected by any document on Eucharistic coherence, Ladaria said the bishops should bear in mind that it would be “misleading” for the debate to proceed while giving the impression that abortion and euthanasia are “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability on the part of Catholics.” 

Ladaria also stressed that the debate on Eucharistic coherence among the bishops “would best be framed within the broad context of worthiness for the reception of holy Communion on the part of all the faithful, rather than only one category of Catholics,” that is, politicians.

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The cardinal also reiterated the provisions of canon law which do not allow bishops’ conferences to issue norms binding on individual bishops or dioceses outside of areas specifically delegated by Rome. 

In the case of determining who is not to be admitted to Holy Communion, the final decision remains with the individual diocesan bishop. Bishops’ conferences can only approve statements on doctrine, Ladaria noted, when they have unanimous support among the voting membership and not by simple majority alone.

The cardinal also stressed that, given the “contentious nature” of the debate, there is a risk that the discussion could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

In addition to counseling the U.S. bishops to engage in “extensive and serene dialogue” among themselves, the cardinal advised the USCCB to make “every effort” to engage with other episcopal conferences “in order both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”

Other bishops’ conferences have issued statements on Eucharistic coherence in the past, including CELAM, the episcopal conference of Latin America. 

Following the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops' Conferences in 2007 in Aparecida, Brazil, the bishops there issued a final document which has been referenced by Pope Francis on several occasions.

In it, the bishops wrote that “We hope that legislators, heads of government, and health professionals, conscious of the dignity of human life and of the rootedness of the family in our peoples, will defend and protect it from the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia; that is their responsibility.”

“Hence, in response to government laws and provisions that are unjust in the light of faith and reason, conscientious objection should be encouraged,” they said. 

“We must adhere to ‘Eucharistic coherence,’ that is, be conscious that they cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged.” 

“This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals,” the bishops said.

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