Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cardinal Rodriguez "Reformulates" comments on Excommunicating Pro-Abortion Politicians


I hate to say it, Peregrinus, but Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez has just retracted his controversial statement to TIME Magazine which I commented on in my previous blog. AND (I really hate to say this) I was right and you were wrong. AND since I would really, really hate to go "na, na, na", I won't. Let's just read the CNA report and leave it at that, eh?

3 Comments:

At Friday, May 25, 2007 1:06:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I’m always happy to be corrected. How else am I ever going to learn anything?

I don’t mind being wrong, but I dearly like to know why I’m wrong. So I did a bit of digging.

My interest was piqued by Cardinal Rodriguez’s reference to “a recent declaration of the Holy See” which states that “when all 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.”

What, I wondered, was this ‘recent declaration’, and who was the ‘person in question’ to whom it referred? A hat tip to Google; it turns out that the declaration is the 2000 ‘Declaration on Communion for Divorced and Remarried Persons’ issued by the Congregation for Legislative Texts, and the ‘person in question’ is, yes, a divorced and remarried person, rather than a politician who votes for abortion.

So what Rodriguez is doing here is taking the principle set out in the Declaration, and applying it to a case not contemplated or discussed in the Declaration.

It has to be said immediately that he is not alone in doing this. He refers to what “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith teaches" in a document called “Worthiness to Receive Communion”, which does refer to abortion, and which applies the principle from the “Declaration on Communion” to politicians supporting abortion.

But I think two points should be noted.

First, despite what the Cardinal say, “Worthiness to Receive Communion” is not a CDF document. It’s a private letter from (then) Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick. Its status can be deduced from the fact that you won’t find it anywhere on the Vatican website. It’s widely available on the web, but the ultimate source of all the reports is in fact the (secular) Italian newspaper, L’Espresso.

I don’t want to make too much of that; even the private opinions of Joseph Ratzinger carry a great deal of weight, as far as I am concerned. But if we are appealing to Ratzinger’s personal authority, then I think we need to look closely at what he actually says.

What he actually says is that, when a person’s formal co-operation with evil is manifest, he should be counseled not to present himself for communion and, in the last analysis, refused communion.

And, he says, ‘formal co-operation with evil’ is ”understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws”.

A couple of points strike me here.

First the action must be ‘consistent’; it doesn’t seem as though a single, isolated vote the wrong way will warrant the withholding of communion. This makes sense, since the relevant canon law requires “obstinate persistence” in manifest grave sin, and a single act can hardly amount to obstinate persistence. That requires a course of conduct stretching over a period.

Secondly, the politician must apparently campaign for permissive laws as well as voting for them. It would seem that a politician who does not raise the issue, who votes according to his own conscience when others raise it, and who does not urge others to vote as he does, should not be refused communion.

But the third point is perhaps the most interesting one. The basis for refusing communion is not the subjective sinfulness of the politician’s stance, but ‘formal co-operation with evil’, abortion being objectively evil regardless of what the politician may think.

And it occurs to me to ask, if voting not to criminalize abortion is formal co-operation with evil, what about voting to fund abortions? What about introducing and promoting resolutions to fund abortions? This seems to me a much more proximate co-operation with abortion. We will, after all, be able to point to specific abortions which that vote has enabled and supported. This seems to be like the difference between saying “Well, I wish you wouldn’t, but I won’t try to stop you” and “Sure! I’ll drive you to the clinic! And here’s a few dollars to help with the surgeon’s fee!”

The point matters, because while votes on the criminalization of abortion come up only infrequently, once abortion is decriminalized votes to fund abortions come up regularly. At least once every year, each of the state and territory health ministers, and the Commonwealth health minister, introduce and promote appropriations for their Departments which include direct funding for the provision of abortions. Parliamentarians of the government party invariably vote for the appropriations; opposition parlamentarians invariably oppose them. In neither case does the voting stance have anything to do with attitudes to abortion.

Nobody ever seems to suggest that the politicians involved, if Catholic, should be refused communion, even though they are obviously doing more to support the carrying out of abortions than simply declining to criminalize them.

We can’t defend this on the basis that the parliamentary votes concerned pay for beneficial medical treatment other than abortions. Abortion is intrinsically evil, and we cannot do an evil act so that some other good may be achieved. Ratzinger says so unambiguously in the very document which Rodriguez quotes; support for abortion is never licit.

Nor, obviously, can we defend it on the basis that if a health minister refused to introduce a vote which included funding for abortion, he would lose his job, and some less scrupulous politician would be appointed. And an invidividual government MP cannot justify a vote for the appropriation on the basis that, if the appropriation is not passed, there will probably be a general election and he may lose his seat.

So, is there a defence? Can we argue that politicians who vote to decriminalize abortion should be refused communion, but politicians who promote, or vote for, the funding of abortion should not? And, if so, what is the argument?

 
At Friday, May 25, 2007 8:55:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Firstly, Peregrinus, my apologies for the tone of this post. My conscience has been pricking me ever since I put it up--but obviously not enough to pull it off the site! I was trying to goad you into just such a response as this, ie. Well thought out on the basis of the facts.

From the very beginning, Cardinal Rodriguez has been less than accurate in his comments to the press, and there are still some inaccuracies in the current statement--in terms of to which documents of the Holy See he is referring. I don't know if in fact the Cardinal is basing his position on the 'Declaration on Communion for Divorced and Remarried Persons’ released in 2000. Nor do I think it is quite accurate to say that the letter of Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick ("Worthiness to Receive Communion”) was based on the 2000 document. (You will remember the cufuffle over that letter at the time). I would also argue that the private letter of Ratzinger to McCarrick WAS a CDF statement of position, because Ratzinger offered it, not as a personal opinion, but as the opinion of the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF and as an authoritative judgement of that Congregation.

In essence, both the declaration on divorced and remarried persons and the letter regarding communion for pro-abortion politicians are drawing, not on any particular declaration, but on the common principle that bishops have the apostolic right to withhold communion from persons who are persisting in obstinate grave sin, and in fact that they may be seen to have the duty to do so when the sin in question is public knowledge. The latter case is to avoid what is called "scandal" in the Church (not the same thing as "scandal" in the tabloids, we should point out--in this case, it carries the original greek meaning of a stumbling block for the faithful).

And you will remember that my original beef with the original statement Cardinal Rodriguez made to TIME Magazine was not over the pastoral question of whether he should or should not refuse communion to a politician who voted for the legalisation of abortion, but whether he had the right to refuse communion to anyone who publically persists in obstinate grave sin. Whatever the pastoral judgement in particular cases, I should hope that it is now more than clear enough that Cardinal Rodriguez (and any local ordinary, priest, and even extraordinary minister of the Eucharist) has not only the right but also the duty to refuse to communion those whose public way of life is at odds with the faith and morals of the Catholic Church.

As to the question of when such an application of this apostolic right and duty should be made, I leave that to the judgement of our pastors, trusting that they, like Cardinal Oscar, will be open to guidance in the matter from the Holy See.

 
At Tuesday, May 29, 2007 11:04:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

No worries, David, I wan’t offended at all; I am made of sterner stuff than that.

I agree that Cardinal Rodriguez was wrong, but I have some difficulty reconciling the rule that communion can or should be withheld for “obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin” with what (then) Cardinal Ratzinger says in his letter, that a minister withholding communion from a pro-choice politician is not “passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt”. Surely he has to, in order to form the view that he is obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin? Is Ratzinger actually widening the rule here, and saying that if a situation appears to be sinful then communion can be withheld even if the person concerned is not, subjectively, guilty of sin? That can’t be right.

Clearly I need to think a bit more about this. I may come back to the subject, but it needs a longer treatment than I think will be indulged in comments in reply to a blog post.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the “private letter” nature of the Ratzinger document reflects any hesitation or uncertainty on his part as to the correctness of what he was saying. I suspect that it relates to the fact that he felt this question is one for bishops to decide, not for the CDF. Having been asked for his view, and having a view to offer, he was happy to offer it. But he didn’t think Cardinal McCarrick needed to ask his view, and possibly he felt that he shouldn’t have. This ties in with his attitude to the question raised earlier this month about the Mexican situation. Clearly, as I see it, he was going to support the Mexican bishops whichever way they moved on this one, because he felt it was there business, not his.

 

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