Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Ratzinger vs. McCarrick 

Over the weekend Christopher broke the news on CKW regarding the supposed publication of Cardinal Ratzinger's communication to Cardinal McCarrick, which was purportedly summarized last week in McCarrick's 'Interim Reflections' to the bishops in Denver. Though I've seen quite a few commentaries on the letter, I have yet to see a line-by-line comparison of Ratzinger's letter with McCarrick's alleged summary of it, which - at the risk of excessive verbiage - I hope to provide here.

Three caveats: (1) We have no proof or confirmation that this indeed is the text of Ratzinger's letter, even if it bears more than a few characteristic markings of it; (2) We have even less proof that this is the full content of the letter in question; and (3) the jury is still out as to the canonical authority of this letter, which, if anything, seems quite minimal (even if it does seem to convey the mens ecclesiae on this matter). Lastly, I am always cautious to offer the benefit of the doubt to our bishops, in addition to the general loyalty and fidelity we owe them: they are the vicars of the apostles and of Christ, whether we love them or hate them. Perhaps I err too much in this direction, but I have to admit I would prefer to find out - in the end, I mean - that I had erred too much in the direction of loyalty to our shepherds than disloyalty. The following, then, is intended not as a criticism of our bishops, but rather as an ongoing investigation into the background of the USCCB statement 'Catholics in Political Life' issued last month.

Below, 'TM' represents Cardinal Theodore McCarrick; 'JR' represents Josef Ratzinger. The intent, again, is to determine how accurate was Cardinal McCarrick's summary of Ratzinger's letter. All italicized or bold emphases are mine.

TM: "Having said this, 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."

JR: "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, etc . . ."

McCarrick's summary here is not quite accurate. Ratzinger's wording, when restated in the form of a positive statement, implies that a Catholic politician's "consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" is, by definition, the manifestation of formal cooperation in grave sin. McCarrick's summary dulls the statement by phrasing it in such a way that such activities 'could' meet these criteria.

TM: "Cardinal Ratzinger outlines HOW a bishop might deal with these matters, including a series of precautionary measures involving a process of meeting, instruction and warning. This process involves meeting with the person and providing instruction on Catholic moral teaching. Cardinal Ratzinger suggests informing such persons that if they reject Catholic moral teaching in their public actions, they should not present themselves for Holy Communion until their situation has ended. Using the precedent of our teaching and practice in the case of a person in an invalid marriage, the Cardinal recognizes that there are circumstances in which Holy Communion may be denied. He also indicates that in these cases a warning must be provided before the Eucharist can be denied."

JR: ". . . 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.'"

Here is the crux of the disagreement, with regard to the bishop's course of action once 'precautionary measures' with said Catholic politicians have proven ineffective. McCarrick paraphrases Ratzinger as suggesting a warning that "they should not present themselves for Holy Communion." Ratzinger, in fact, after stating this, went further and advised "warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist," with the consequent statement that, if he again presents himself, the minister "must refuse to distribute it." The proposals are as different as night and day. Although McCarrick adds, almost as an afterthought, that "there are circumstances in which Holy Communion may be denied," this is posited only as a theoretical possibility, apart from the concrete situation of the bishops' admonishment of the Catholic politician. Ratzinger does not suggest this as a theoretical possibility; for him it is the normative course of action for a bishop who is put in this situation. Another difference: McCarrick states that, in this situation, "a warning must be provided." Ratzinger, however, explicitly allows for a situation in which precautionary measures "[are] not possible." What sort of situation this would be is difficult to imagine, but it is notable that McCarrick leaves it out entirely.

TM: "I would emphasize that Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders WHETHER to pursue this path. The Holy See has repeatedly expressed its confidence in our roles as bishops and pastors. The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent. 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."

Although it is almost undeniable that Ratzinger would agree to the above statement, I cannot find anything approximating it in the text of his letter. Perhaps it was stated in another context - in a cover letter or accompanying documentation. But the fact that McCarrick makes this the dominant motif, whereas the substance of Ratzinger's letter does not even mention it, may be telling. If anything, the substance of Ratzinger's communication leans in the other direction. Rather than simply maintaining absolute neutrality and delegating this entirely to the bishops, Ratzinger pronounces what is, incidentally, my favorite line in the text: "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." And Ratzinger does not seem to posit the denial of communion as simply one option among others, but as a necessary corollary of a politician's obstinate refusal to submit to episcopal correction: "When . . .the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it." This position can hardly be summarized adequately in the simple statement that "Ratzinger clearly leaves to us . . . whether to pursue this path."

TM: "It is important to note that Cardinal Ratzinger makes a clear distinction between public officials and voters, explaining that a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil only if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion. However, when a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted if there are proportionate reasons."

JR: "[N.B. A 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 favor 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 reasons.]"

Ratzinger's closing statement here has raised some furor among more conservative Catholics, but it is in fact quite uncontroversial, as it only reflects traditional Catholic teaching. Also, I see no difference between Ratzinger and McCarrick here; the quote is almost verbatim, with the exception that Ratzinger explicitly underlines the conclusion that the culpable voter in question "is unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion," whereas McCarrick simply states that he is "guilty of formal cooperation in evil," and leaves the conclusion implicit.

Lastly, it is worth noting one other point of Ratzinger's letter which McCarrick neglects to summarize, which is particularly relevant to the American debate. Ratzinger has some very helpful observations regarding the 'weight' of abortion/euthanasia vis-a-vis other moral issues, which McCarrick neglects entirely: "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."

An addition to the above: Some new outlets are trumping this up along the lines of "U.S. Bishops Rejected Ratzinger's Advice,' etc. It is not clear to me that the bishops 'rejected' Ratzinger's advice, because it is not clear to me that the U.S. bishops ever received it. Let's be honest and say we don't know whose hands the letter ever ended up in. Magister, who possesses the letter, claims it was it "was sent as a confidential letter, during the first half of June, to cardinal McCarrick and to the president of the bishops' conference, Wilton Gregory." I'm under the impression that, due to its confidential nature and McCarrick's apparent desperation that it stay as confidential as possible, he never would have turned it over to 500 bishops willy-nilly. I'm quite certain that the most the bishops ever got was Ratzinger's 'summary,' which we've already demonstrated was far from accurate. Thus, if the bishops never received Ratzinger's advice, except in the form of a partial and inaccurate paraphrase, they hardly can be said to have 'rejected' it.

UPDATE: The Vatican has confirmed the authenticity of the letter in question, with the qualification that it, as I speculated, it was accompanied by a cover letter which remains unpublished. McCarrick has finally responded to the publication, continuing to insist on the accuracy of his summary, and claiming that the published information "did not reflect Cardinal Ratzinger's full advice to the U.S. bishops."

UPDATE: An article in the Washington Times, linked by Oswald at Catholic Analysis, gives a surprisingly good analysis of the situation.

# posted by Jamie : 3:22 PM


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