D.C. Archbishop Embraces ‘McCarrick Doctrine’ on Communion for Pro-Abortion Politicians

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 18: A priest serves communion during Mass on Ash Wednesday at St. Patrick's Catherdral on February 18, 2015 in New York City. Ash Wednesday is the holy day that marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period in the Christian calendar that leads up to …
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Washington D.C. Archbishop Wilton Gregory said this week he will not deny Holy Communion to Joe Biden, upholding the practice established by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of offering Communion to pro-abortion politicians.

In 2004, Bishop Gregory — who was then president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference — joined McCarrick in opposing Rome’s call for withholding Communion from pro-abortion Catholic politicians in accord with Canon Law.

As a 2004 article in the Christian Century noted, although Vatican Cardinal Francis Arinze stated that Catholic teaching is clear about denying communion to a politician who supports abortion rights, “two key U.S. bishops say withholding the sacrament from a dissenting Catholic like Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is not a likely option.”

Those two bishops were Wilton Gregory and Theodore McCarrick.

With John Kerry — a professed Catholic but also a supporter of abortion rights — running for the highest office in the land, the U.S. bishops entered into heated debate in spring 2004 over how to address a situation in which a publicly pro-abortion Catholic presents himself for Holy Communion.

On April 23, 2004, Bishop Gregory announced the formation of a “Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians” and named Cardinal McCarrick to head up the team. McCarrick, who was averse to refusing Communion to pro-abortion politicians, ably moved the discussion in that direction.

An article in the Washington Post observed that in late April 2004 Sen. John Kerry had had a 45-minute private meeting with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, despite the fact that McCarrick was not his bishop. The reason for the meeting? “McCarrick heads the task force on Catholic participation in public life established by the U.S. bishops.”

“About to become the first Catholic since John F. Kennedy to be nominated for president, Kerry was lobbying McCarrick against being denied Holy Communion as an unwavering pro-choice abortion advocate,” The Post article stated.

“Whether his lobbying helped, Kerry likely could not have been more pleased by the interview McCarrick published,” the article added, in which McCarrick downplayed the importance of abortion, noting it was one of many issues to be weighed in the balance.

In an address on June 15, 2004, McCarrick told his brother bishops that “based on the traditional practice of the Church and our consultation with members of our conference, other episcopal conferences, distinguished canonists and theologians, our Task Force does not advocate the denial of Communion for Catholic politicians or Catholic voters in these circumstances.”

For his part, Gregory concurred in full with McCarrick’s position, insisting that denying Communion to a politician who supports legalized abortion, must be the last resort.

“In the nature of the church, the imposition of sanctions is always the final response, not the first response, nor the second nor maybe even the 10th,” said Gregory, who was then the bishop of Belleville, Ill.

A more serious problem emerged that summer, when the prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued more specific instructions regarding when to withhold Communion, instructions that McCarrick intentionally misrepresented.

In a letter sent to then-Cardinal McCarrick and then-Bishop Gregory in early June, 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger said that 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.”

“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,” Ratzinger wrote.

This decision, properly speaking, “is not a sanction or a penalty,” Ratzinger added. “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 sin.”

When McCarrick presented to the body of U.S. bishops a summary of Cardinal Ratzinger’s instructions, which were known in full only to McCarrick and Gregory, he correctly observed that “Cardinal Ratzinger speaks about WHAT constitutes ‘manifest grave sin’ and ‘obstinate persistence’ in public life, stating that consistently campaigning for and voting for permissive laws on abortion and euthanasia could meet these criteria.”

McCarrick then told the bishops something that was not true.

“I would emphasize that Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders WHETHER to pursue this path,” McCarrick said.

“The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent,” he said. “It is not surprising that difficult and differing circumstances on these matters can lead to different practices. Every bishop is acting in accord with his own understanding of his duties and the law.”

In point of fact, Ratzinger did not state that in these cases Communion could be denied, but rather that “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (emphasis added).

Bishop Gregory, who was present at the meeting, was the only other person in the room who knew that McCarrick was misrepresenting what Ratzinger had said, leading one commentator at the time to query: “Is it possible that after so much scandal and hurt in the Catholic Church, Bishop Wilton Gregory and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick would withhold and distort an important memo written by the head of the Vatican’s second most important dicastery of the Roman Curia?”

“Why then did Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Gregory mislead the faithful to believe that Cardinal Ratzinger was urging caution against denying the Eucharist?” wrote Barbara Kralis for Catholic Online.

“It is important to understand the letter was sent to Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Gregory,” Kralis wrote. “As chair of the USCCB’s ‘Task Force’ committee, McCarrick would be giving the Bishops his recommendations regarding pro-abortion ‘Catholic’ politicians.”

On Tuesday of this week, Wilton Gregory, now McCarrick’s successor as the archbishop of Washington and cardinal-designate, has confirmed his intentions to continue following the McCarrick Doctrine with regard to Holy Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians such as Joe Biden, saying he will not “veer” from prior practice in the archdiocese.

“The kind of relationship that I hope we will have is a conversational relationship where we can discover areas where we can cooperate that reflect the social teachings of the church, knowing full well that there are some areas where we won’t agree,” Gregory said.

“Informed Catholics” know the church’s teaching on the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, Gregory said, so they will not be confused by the church cooperating with a Biden administration on other issues.

Gregory’s statement stood in contrast to a stern declaration made earlier this month by the current USCCB president, Archbishop José Gomez.

Anti-life policies “pose a serious threat to the common good whenever any politician supports them,” Gomez said. “We have long opposed these policies strongly, and we will continue to do so.

“But when politicians who profess the Catholic faith support them, there are additional problems,” he continued. “Among other things, it creates confusion with the faithful about what the Church actually teaches on these questions.”

Archbishop Gregory will be elevated to the rank of cardinal by Pope Francis on Saturday.


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