One of the world’s most resolute defenders of the Church’s teaching is Raymond Leo Burke, the Cardinal Prefect of the Vatican’s highest court.
The American Cardinal told an Irish newspaper last week, again, that a person who persists in the “grave sin” of supporting abortion in law must both refrain from presenting himself for reception of Communion, but must be refused when he does so.
In a lengthy interview with the Irish newspaper Catholic Voice, the Cardinal Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, said again that it is not possible to remain in good standing as a Catholic and support the killing of children in the womb as a politician.
“There can be no question that the practice of abortion is among the gravest of manifest sins and therefore once a Catholic politician has been admonished that he should not come forward to receive Holy Communion,” he said.
Not only should he not come forward himself, “as long as he continues to support legislation which fosters abortion or other intrinsic evils, then he should be refused Holy Communion,” the cardinal added.
Burke made it clear that the duty lies ultimately with the bishop to both instruct and, when there is no change in behaviour, to withhold Communion.
“The local Bishop should teach clearly in the matter and also encourage his priests to make sure that the Church’s discipline is observed, in order to avoid the grave sin of sacrilege on the part of the Catholic politician who approaches to receive Holy Communion when he is persisting obstinately in grave moral evil, and to prevent the scandal which is caused when such individuals receive Holy Communion, because their reception of Holy Communion gives the impression that the Church’s teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is not firm,” he stated.
“At a much deeper level of faith and of personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said, a person’s love of Christ ought to be enough to compel him to refrain from reception of Communion, that the Church teaches is literally the body and blood of Jesus, if he cannot give up his sins," he added. “A person obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin will refrain from approaching to receive Holy Communion because of his love of our Lord and his sorrow for the grave sin which he is committing against our Lord and His Holy Church.”
The controversy continues unabated in the Church as long as many other bishops, including the current and previous archbishops of Washington, D.C., continue to refuse to countenance the idea of refusing Communion to the Catholic political supporters of legalised abortion like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Cardinal Donald Wuerl has frequently said that he will not use the reception of Communion as a “political weapon.”
The so-called Canon 915 controversy came to the fore in the U.S. when the strongly pro-abortion Senator John Kerry was running for leadership of the Democrat party and insisted on campaigning on his credentials as a “devout” Catholic.
Canon 915 refers to the section of the Church’s Code of Canon Law that forbids those who “persist” in “manifest grave sin” to receive Holy Communion.
The issue has become a flash-point in American politics, and Burke has long upheld the Church’s teaching that support of abortion by a politician is well within the canonical definition.
He called it the “duty” of all Catholic politicians to “support all of those measures which will most reduce the evils which attack human life and the integrity of marriage.”
“To decriminalize abortion,” he said, “is a contradiction of the most fundamental principle of the legal system, the principle that human life is to be safeguarded and defended at all times.”
Referring to the now-notorious case of media manipulation by abortion activists in the Savita Halapannavar case, Cardinal Burke said, “The Irish people, and especially the Irish government, should be very alert to the kind of argumentation which will be used by the secular media and by secular ideologues, particularly “claiming that the destruction of the new human life in her womb could have saved the life of Savita Halappanavar and, therefore, would have been justified.”
On an issue that has often divided some in the pro-life movement, the cardinal also appeared to favour the use of graphic abortion images -- "images which portray the horror of abortion" -- in public education campaigns. “One must observe that we have a habit in society today to use language which helps us to avoid the reality about which we are speaking,” he said.
“Certainly one must be careful not to use graphic images for the sake of being graphic,” Cardinal Burke added. “On the other hand, our fellow citizens should know what an abortion actually is. Images of the act of abortion or the results of abortion, when carefully presented to the public, can help the public, in general, to recognize the grave evil which besets us and to take appropriate action.”