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Communion: What does Ratzinger really say?

There are some confusing media reports about this morning reporting a possible intervention by Cardinal Ratzinger into the controversial matter of Communion for US Catholic politicians.

What is clear is that the news has come to light as a result of the present meeting of US Bishops in Denver, Colorado. What is known is that there is a letter in circulation written by Cardinal Ratzinger to at least some US Bishops on the matter of communion. The secular media is generally reporting that the contents of the letter have not been disclosed to the media. Some of the Catholic Bishops though are reported as saying that Cardinal Ratzinger, both in his recent personal conversations during ad limina visits to Rome and in the letter is basically simply restating Church teaching on the general principles involved in the distribution of communion to all the faithful and that Rome is not intervening in the politically difficult US presidential election campaign. He isn't issuing specific directives as to who should and who should not receive communion.

This morning the conservative Catholic World News agency claims to have a copy of the letter and that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is "saying that public figures who openly dissent from Church teachings should not receive Communion". They headline their story: "Ratzinger joins US debate on withholding Eucharist".

In contrast the New York Times, for example, reports: "In a sign of how delicate the issue is for the church, the Vatican office responsible for doctrinal issues sent the bishops' meeting a letter of guidance on how to approach the Communion controversy, the church officials said. The bishops are meeting this week for what they call a special assembly at the Inverness Hotel and Conference Center, a luxury resort in Englewood, Colo. The assembly is closed to the public and the press, and the bishops were asked in advance not to respond to requests for interviews."

"Some bishops have been accused of trying to influence the presidential race after they said they would deny Communion to Senator John Kerry, a Catholic and Democratic presidential candidate who favors abortion rights."

"Church officials at the meeting declined to say what guidance was in the letter, which was sent from the Vatican by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But they suggested that it reiterated church teaching, which holds that Catholics who are aware they are living in serious sin or who reject church doctrine should refrain from receiving Communion."

The news from CWN is also in marked contrast to the information that we alerted you to two days ago on Vatican attitudes in this delicate matter (see link below) from John Thavis, the respected Vatican reporter for Catholic News Service.

CWN - Ratzinger joins US debate on withholding Eucharist
NYT - U.S. Catholic Bishops Approve New Series of Audits on Abuse
CNS - No easy answers: U.S. debate over Communion reverberates at Vatican

Communion Issue Creates Split Among U.S. Bishops (New York Times 6/6/04)
Denial of Eucharist a 'slippery slope,' cardinal tells journalists (Catholic News Service 1/6/04)
Church's Freedom in U.S. Threatened, Says Cardinal George (Zenit 1/6/04)
Cardinal George denies Communion to Rainbow Sash gay activists (Catholic News Service 1/6/04)
Cardinal Stands by Decision on Holy Communion (Zenit 1/6/04)
Questions the Holy See Is Asking About the Eucharist (Zenit 1/6/04)
Steady as she goes (Online Catholics 2/6/04)

18 Jun 2004