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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XIX No. 2
Pentecost 2004

On Catholics and Political Responsibility:
What the Bishops Said

Following is an abbreviated version (to mid-June 2004) as published in Voices of the main page of bishops' statements
To go to UPDATED Main page on this site click here:
Diocesan Bishops' Statements

Diocesan bishops in the United States have expressed concern about Catholics, especially politicians, who publicly oppose fundamental Catholic doctrine.

In a section on the WFF web site, "Statements by Bishops on Catholics and Political Responsibility" (, we have collected these statements, and continually update. The web page quotes from bishops' actual statements, linking to the complete version, on our site or elsewhere. Following is a much abbreviated sample.

January 22, 2003 ­ Bishop William Weigand (Sacramento) Homily on 30th Anniversary of Roe v Wade:

"No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life. No appeal to policy, procedure, majority will or pluralism ever excuses a public official from defending life to the greatest extent possible. Those who justify their inaction on the grounds that abortion is the law of the land need to recognize that there is a higher law, the law of God...."

November 22, 2003 ­ Bishop Raymond Burke (LaCrosse, now archbishop of St. Louis) Pastoral Letter On the Dignity of Human Life and Political Responsibility:

"Our faith and our political judgments cannot be separate compartments of our lives; they must relate to each other in a life which is lived with integrity. This is especially true with respect to safeguarding the right to life, the foundation of all other rights."

January 22, 2004 ­ Archbishop Alfred Hughes (New Orleans) "Co-responsibility for Public Policy":

"When Catholic officials openly support the taking of human life in abortion, euthanasia or the destruction of human embryos, they are no longer faithful members in the Church and should not partake of Holy Communion. Moreover, citizens who promote this unjust taking of human life by their vote or support of such candidates share in responsibility for this grave evil."

January 22, 2004 ­ Bishop Robert Morlino (Madison) and Wisconsin bishops, "Mind of Christ: Must not be set aside in public office":

"It is indeed the case that Catholics who are public office holders enjoy the blessing of only one conscience -- they do not have one conscience for their private lives and one for their public responsibility, one for Church matters and another for State matters."

March 18, 2004 ­ Bishop Thomas Olmsted (Phoenix) "Rebutting the 'Catholic but...'":

"The 'Catholic but' syndrome stands in direct contradiction to Jesus' clear and unequivocal demand.... Now is the time to say 'yes' when we mean yes, and to say 'no' when we mean no."

April 14, 2004 ­ Archbishop Charles Chaput (Denver) "How to Tell a Duck from a Fox -- Thinking with the Church as We Look toward November":
"We've come a long way from John F. Kennedy, who merely locked his faith in the closet. Now we have Catholic senators who take pride in arguing for legislation that threatens and destroys life - and who then also take Communion.
"The kindest explanation for this sort of behavior is that a lot of Catholic candidates don't know their own faith."

April 21, 2004 ­ Archbishop Chaput "What Vatican II did -- and didn't -- teach about conscience":

"Elections and voting booths are not 'faith-free' zones. Vatican II can never be invoked as an alibi for Catholics ignoring grave public evil or failing to act on their faith in the political sphere. That's a distortion of the council's message. It also misreads the U.S. Constitution...

"If we're sincere about our faith, 'conscience' can never be used as an excuse for dismissing what the Church teaches..."

April 23, 2004 ­ Cardinal Francis Arinze (Congregation for Divine Worship) at a press conference introducing Redemptionis Sacramentum:

"The norm of the Church is clear". He said that an American bishop should determine its application. When asked if a priest should refuse Communion to a Catholic politician who supports abortion, Cardinal Arinze said, "Yes. If he should not receive, he should not be given."

April 23, 2004 ­ Bishop Wilton Gregory (Belleville, President of the USCCB) Statement from USCCB:

" as Cardinal Arinze stated, it is the responsibility of the bishops of the United States to deal pastorally with such situations as they exist here. Each diocesan bishop has the right and duty to address such issues of serious pastoral concern."

April 29, 2004 ­ Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (Washington, Chairman of USCCB task force on implementing Doctrinal Note) Interview with National Catholic Reporter:

"I don't think it was his eminence's official opinion. I did speak to the cardinal while I was here in Rome, and I think the cardinal would say that what he wanted to say is what was in the document... this was not something that he reported as an official or even a personal statement, whatever he might personally believe, and whatever I may even personally believe. The cardinal's position was that this is the teaching of the Church, and the bishops of the United States should figure out what they ought to do."

April 25, 2004 ­ Bishop Samuel Aquila (Fargo) Homily:

"I would remind Catholic politicians, clergy and all of the faithful of the words of Saint Paul when he reminds the people who are not living their lives according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and yet still receive the Eucharist that they bring judgment on themselves. They bring judgment on themselves. Let those words sink in."

April 28, 2004 ­ Bishop John M. D'Arcy (Fort Wayne-South Bend) Statement on declining honorary degree at the University of St. Francis:

"A bishop is bound to preach the truth, not only in words, but also by his actions. The Church's position on unborn life is well known, and the Church's position is my position."

April 29, 2004 ­ Bishop Joseph Galante (Camden) response to reporters the day before his installation:

"The public becomes confused about Church teachings when bishops fail to challenge Catholic politicians on their voting records."

April 29, 2004 ­ Bishop John Smith (Trenton) "Faithful Citizenship":

"Separation of church and state does not mean that the Church and its members should not voice or advocate for their positions.... the Church, its leaders and faithful, should speak up and they should speak loudly on public policy issues affecting our society. By so doing, we answer the call to faithful citizenship."

May 1, 2004 ­ Bishop Michael Sheridan (Colorado Springs) A Pastoral Letter On the Duties of Catholic Politicians and Voters:

"Anyone who professes the Catholic faith with his lips while at the same time publicly supporting legislation or candidates that defy God's law makes a mockery of that faith and belies his identity as a Catholic...

"Any Catholic politicians who advocate for abortion, for illicit stem cell research or for any form of euthanasia ipso facto place themselves outside full communion with the Church and so jeopardize their salvation. Any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for abortion, illicit stem cell research or euthanasia suffer the same fateful consequences. It is for this reason that these Catholics, whether candidates for office or those who would vote for them, may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their positions and been reconciled with God and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance."

May 3, 2004 ­ Bishop Thomas Wenski (Orlando, Task Force member) "Politicians and Communion":

"A practicing Catholic cannot invoke 'conscience' to defy or disregard what the Church definitely holds as true -- for a practicing Catholic doesn't create his own truth but forms his conscience according to the Truth.... Serious sin breaks our communion with God and His Church as does refusing by one's dissent obedience to Church definitive teachings in matters of faith and morals.

"[Saint Thomas More] did not draw any false distinction between his personal morality and his public responsibilities: he was his king's good servant, but God's first. Today, some self-identified Catholic politicians prefer to emulate Pontius Pilate's 'personally opposed but unwilling to impose' stance."

May 5, 2004 ­ Archbishop John J. Myers (Newark) "A Time for Honesty":
"Because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, the most sacred action of our Church, to misuse the Eucharistic symbol by reducing it to one's private 'feeling' of communion with Christ and His Church while objectively not being in such union is gravely disordered.

"Catholics who publicly dissent from the Church's teaching... should recognize that they have freely chosen by their own actions to separate themselves from what the Church believes and teaches. They have also separated themselves in a significant way from the Catholic community... For such a person to express 'communion' with Christ and His Church by the reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist is objectively dishonest."

May 5, 2004 ­ Archbishop Elden Curtiss (Omaha) "The candidacy of John Kerry: A dilemma for Catholics in Nebraska and the nation":

"It is fundamentally dishonest to claim one's conscience is opposed to abortion and then support abortion as public policy... I regret that John Kerry insists on giving public support to the abortion industry that promotes a culture of death in this country. He needs to be challenged by Catholics everywhere in this country. Because of the scandal his position is causing for the Church, he should refrain from receiving the Eucharist in public liturgies."

May 6, 2004 ­ Archbishop John Vlazny (Portland, Oregon) "Public Dissenters Should Themselves Refrain from Communion":

"[C]ommunion is clearly violated when one publicly opposes serious Church teaching. Reception of Holy Communion by such public dissenters betrays a blatant disregard for the serious meaning and purpose of the reception of the Eucharist. All Catholics in the state of mortal sin who are unrepentant also should refrain from the reception of the Eucharist... the prayer of the Church will be for their conversion, not for the acceptance of their dissent."

May 7, 2004 ­ Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk (Cincinnati) Interview by National Catholic Reporter:

"[I]t seems to me we need to be very cautious about denying people the sacraments on the basis of what they say they believe, especially when those are political beliefs. So Kerry believes abortion is a good thing for our society, let's say. Do you refuse him communion on the basis of his opinions? What about people who don't like Humanae Vitae? What about people who don't like the Church's teaching on the death penalty, or on homosexual marriages? Are we going to refuse them?

"[T]here's also a justice issue here. It seems to me that the last thing any church, or any representative or agent of the church wants to do, is to deny the sacraments to anybody unjustly. It seems to me at this point that it makes a lot more sense to presume people's good will, presume erroneous conscience or perplexed conscience and give them Communion, rather than say, 'I think you think such-and-such.'"

May 13, 2004 ­ Cardinal Roger Mahony (Los Angeles) Interview by National Catholic Reporter:

"I personally believe, as Church law sets out, that sanctions are an absolute last resort, particularly penal sanctions of depriving people of the sacraments. In fact, canonically, somebody has to be publicly found guilty of something that merits excommunication, or interdict, or some public crime.

"There has to be some process that leads to formal guilt, that then leads to sanctions. Obviously we don't have that situation. Moreover, in Evangelium Vitae, our Holy Father expressed many areas of concern with life issues, not just this one. In fact, he hit the death penalty as hard as many of the others. You have Catholic politicians who may be in favor of one but not the other. They're following their own different lights on these issues. With respect to Holy Communion, it is up to the communicant to decide whether they are in a state of grace and worthy to receive the Eucharist. Each one of us makes that decision. The Church never has the minister of communion make that decision, except in that rare case of public sinners who have been so found guilty. I'm puzzled by people rattling sanctions at the moment. That has not been our tradition over the years...

"The value of the Church's tradition, scripture, teaching, etc., is to help illuminate the contemporary social issues... That's what I think is at the heart of what we should be doing, rather than getting involved in questions of sanctions."

May 21, 2004 ­ Bishop Robert J. McManus (Worcester, installed May 14) "Pastoral Note of Clarification" responding to a Catholic politician on same-sex unions:

"Same-sex unions are clear and serious violations of the law of God and moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. In no way can they be 'in line with Catholic teaching', as Mr. Rushford mistakenly thinks. Same-sex unions contradict the moral wisdom of natural human reason and the cultural patrimony of the thousands of years of civilization. The judicial decision of a court can never make morally right what is by nature morally wrong...

"Moreover, it must be pointed out that Catholics, especially public officials, who willingly and with approval facilitate the legal sanctioning of same-sex unions are involving themselves in cooperation with evil. Such cooperation is not free from serious moral and spiritual harm."

May 25, 2004 ­ Bishop Donald Wuerl (Pittsburgh) "Faith, Personal Conviction and Political Life":

"In considering sanctions, which has always been the last response of the Church ... once we start down the road of disciplinary action where does it lead?

"The pastoral tradition of the Church places the responsibility of such a judgment first on those presenting themselves for Holy Communion..."

May 26, 2004 ­ Archbishop Charles Chaput " It's a Matter of Honesty: to Receive Communion we need to be in Communion":

"We're at a time for the Church in our country when some Catholics -- too many -- are discovering that they've gradually become non-Catholics who happen to go to Mass. That's sad and difficult, and a judgment on a generation of Catholic leadership. But it may be exactly the moment of truth the Church needs."

May 26, 2004 ­ Cardinal Arinze Interview by Zenit
"Moral theology and canon law explain which Catholics may and which may not receive holy Communion. The instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum mentions some of these details in paragraphs 81 and 82.... It is for the bishops in each diocese and country to explain to their people this discipline and the doctrine that gives origin to it."

May 28, 2004 ­ Cardinal William H. Keeler (Baltimore) Interview by Baltimore Sun, "Keep politics out of Communion -- It's between a Catholic and his conscience"

"Our position is ... Catholics have a responsibility to examine their own conscience and see if they are in a state that is appropriate for the reception of the sacrament. We don't need bishops to get into the act. We have said again and again as bishops, we are not in partisan politics. We dare not be pulled into a dispute between one party and another."

June 16, 2004 ­ Archbishop Raymond Burke (St. Louis) "Catholic Politicians and Bishops" (America, June 21-28):

"In proclaiming the Church's moral teaching, the bishop faces a challenge before the situation of a member of the flock who is engaged in political life and supports a position contrary to the moral law. The situation is especially serious when the position in question is contrary to the first precept of the natural and divinely revealed moral law, which requires us to safeguard and foster human life. It is made even more serious when the position espoused condones the taking of the innocent and defenseless life of the unborn child, a crime which 'has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable.'"

Editor's Note: Archbishop Burke's essay was posted June 16 on the America web site. It stresses the obligation of a bishop to the errant Catholic politician, to other Catholics, society, and to the unborn children threatened by abortion. Church documents are cited and explained in a clear way that will be instructive to all who read it. America also published articles in the same edition that defend the stance of so-called "pro-choice" Catholics - -politicians and voters. Access it on America site:

To read more extensive excerpts, or to link to complete statements of the bishops, visit our web pages on


Catholics and Political Responsibility
Vatican Statements (Canon Law, Documents) & US Bishops' Conference Statements

****Diocesan Bishops' Statements

****Selected articles, commentary

NEW USCCB Statement: Catholics in Political Life
Click title to go to USCCB web site, or HERE for summary on this site.

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