Publication:Colo Spgs Gazette; Date:Jun 4, 2004; Section:Section A; Page Number:1

Vatican joins political debate

Catholic official tells bishops to use caution in denying Communion


    A powerful Vatican cardinal urged U.S. bishops to use caution in threatening to withhold Communion over political views, the Catholic News Service reported Thursday.

    Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger addressed the weeks-long controversy during a meeting Wednesday in Rome with 15 bishops, including Bishop Michael Sheridan, the head of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

    Sheridan set off a national debate with a pastoral letter May 1, in which he wrote that Catholics who vote for politicians who support abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research should not receive Communion.

    It was reported widely that Sheridan meant to deny the sacrament to Catholic voters who didn’t follow church doctrine, but Sheridan denied that in Wednesday’s Catholic Herald.

    Bishop Donald Pelotte of the Diocese of Gallup, N.M., told the Catholic News Service that he had asked Ratzinger for clarification on the Communion issue.

    Ratzinger, the pope’s prefect of doctrine and described in a profile by the British Broadcasting Corp., as his “enforcer” against church liberalization, did not offer clarification. Instead, he reportedly reviewed Catholic teaching, stressed caution and suggested Vatican officials meet with a task force of American bishops to study the issue.

    Sheridan attended the meeting with Ratzinger. Sheridan, Pelotte and the other bishops were in Rome for ad limina visits, a mandatory pilgrimage bishops make every five years.

    Although a handful of U.S. bishops who
have said they would withhold communion from politicians who support abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Sheridan took it a step further with the May 1 pastoral letter that said Catholics who vote for those politicians should abstain from receiving the sacrament.

    Sheridan and Peter Howard, executive assistant to the bishop, could not be reached Thursday for comment about the Vatican meeting.

    Sheridan’s pastoral letter attracted national attention and divided Catholics. Some parishioners have been disappointed that other bishops have not followed Sheridan’s example. Others say Sheridan was out of line in trying to make Catholics’ behavior in the voting booth conform to church teachings.

    One congregation in Oregon has “rejected” Sheridan’s pastoral letter and sent a petition with more than 250 signatures.

    Sergio Gutierrez, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Denver, would not comment on Ratzinger’s remarks, saying he has not confirmed them.

    Gutierrez said the Vatican is “certainly . . . interested in meeting with the task force and (finding out) what the bishops are doing with those issues.”

    The Task Force on Catholics and Public Life was formed last fall by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in part, to determine what the church should do about what it considers wayward Catholic politicians, according to conference spokesman David Early.

    Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C., heads the task force. McCarrick has said he will allow prochoice Catholic politicians to receive Communion while the task force studies the question.

    The task force will offer a progress report at a special assembly of the bishops’ conference June 14-19 in Denver, which could give bishops official guidance on whether it’s proper to withhold Communion from politicians.

    “Obviously, more guidance before the election will be more helpful,” Gutierrez said.


MICHAEL SHERIDAN: The bishop of the Diocese of Colorado Springs is in Rome on a mandatory pilgrimage.