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Catholic coherence, Catholic integrity

The Aparecida Document and the CDF Doctrinal Note demonstrate that concern for the Church’s eucharistic coherence in situations in which Catholic public officials facilitate grave evils yet insist on receiving Holy Communion is not the personal crotchet of certain American bishops.

(Image: stefania57 |

In 2007, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean completed their fifth general conference with a final report, known from the Brazilian city where they met as the “Aparecida Document.”  Its principal authors included Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires. Thanks to the efforts of the future pope and others, the Aparecida Document remains an exemplary description of what it means to be the Church of the New Evangelization – and not only in Latin America. Paragraph 436 of the Aparecida Document is of particular interest in the United States today:

We hope that legislators, heads of government, and health professionals, conscious of the dignity of human life and of the rootedness of the family in our peoples, will defend and protect it from the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia; that is their responsibility…. We must adhere to “eucharistic coherence,” that is, be conscious that they [ i.e., legislators, heads of government, and health professionals] cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and the family are encouraged.

This unambiguous teaching by the bishops of Latin America was not – and should not be – a surprise. Three years earlier, in 2004, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a letter to the bishops of the United States, quoting and reaffirming a 2002 declaration by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts that addressed the issue of eucharistic coherence with specific reference to Catholic public officials:

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 persistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), 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 “the precautionary measures have not had their effect or in [circumstances in] which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it”…This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

In 2002 as well, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life” (signed by Cardinal Ratzinger and published by order of Pope John Paul II), which complemented the Church’s ancient and settled understanding of “eucharistic coherence” with a plea for Catholic public officials to be “morally coherent:”

It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church….It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. [As the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Lay Apostolate taught], “There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life,’ with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular life,’ that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture.”

As the Aparecida Document and the CDF Doctrinal Note demonstrate, concern for the Church’s eucharistic coherence in situations in which Catholic public officials facilitate grave evils yet insist on receiving Holy Communion is not the personal crotchet of certain American bishops; it is the universal Church’s concern, because it involves the integrity of the sacramental sources of the Church’s life. Aparecida and CDF underscore that bishops who maintain the Church’s eucharistic integrity and coherence are not acting politically or punitively; those bishops are calling the entire Church to deeper conversion while expressing appropriate, indeed necessary, concern for the spiritual well-being and moral coherence of those under their pastoral care. Both Aparecida and CDF stress that the moral gravity of the life issues is distinctive, such that appeals to Catholic officials’ positions on other contested matters of public policy (e.g., climate change, immigration policy) are unwarranted.

Serious Catholics – public officials and ordinary citizens – will understand these things and conduct themselves accordingly in the challenging months ahead.  

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About George Weigel 490 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Face it. The New Evangelization has failed and is dead. You’re looking back to 2007 and 2002 to assess the situation in the Church today? Why did you omit Amoris Laetitia and the Argentinian bishops’ “interpretation” that received papal sanction, according to which manifest, obstinate grave sinners are approved to receive Communion? Even though those more recent documents aren’t about politicians, they reveal better the current mind of the Church on receiving the Eucharist while not in full communion with the Church. Seems to me the current attitude of the church’s prelates is “who cares?” or “come on down!” when it comes to whether someone is properly disposed to receive the Eucharist.

  2. In Illinois, where I know live, Catholic Democratic Party politicians openly vote for pro abortion bills, from Senator Durbin down to the state level. Except on rare occasion is anything said by the Cardinal or other bishops. They abortion catholics go on and on receiving communion without admonition. Frankly it is an in your face insult to Christ, but nothing happens. Just another result of the overall post Vatican II desantification of the Eucharist through: 1) taking of eucharistic in the hands; 2) essentially eliminating the fast time period before receiving communion; 3) elimination of communion rails, which require kneeling down before receiving Christ; 4) lack of teaching of the need for confession in order to receive communion etc.

  3. George Weigel’s essay is well argued, documented. Lack of coherence in practice for hierarchy, clergy, [perhaps not poorly educated lay ministers] in implementation is not due to ignorance, rather it’s a matter of moral integrity. That is the apparent point of this essay. Although Aparecida 2007 Amoris Laetitia 2016 are theologically aeons apart. Clergy whether hierarchy or presbyter aware of both contradictory documents, and if not Aparecida the others cited except for the few with integrity follow the suggestion of Amoris for D&R in footnote 351. Later confirmed obliquely in the Argentine Papal exchange. Clearly it’s Amoris that’s at issue not simply awareness of the documentation cited. Conscience is at stake in this decision in dispensing the Holy Eucharist to unjust politicians. If Pope Francis actually wishes to make the Eucharist available for those living in a manifest state of adultery, then he must make it black and white clear in a universal Magisterial promulgation as required for any doctrine directly related to the Deposit of Faith. But he won’t. Consequently giving Holy Communion to the Bidens and Pelosis is more the undue influence of Amoris Laetitia. And is immoral. Was it Maritain who said in Le Paysan that we must call a spade a spade?

    • There is much evidence that what Francis “believes” depends on the year, month, or day, time of day, or mood of the moment, and this includes his past expressed sympathy for Kasperian process theology where it is possible for God to change His mind. Francis has also been indisputably clear that he believes morality can change over time. He is not a believer in immutable truth. Some might say this makes him a de facto atheist. But I won’t say it. For now.
      What is tiresome is that after all this time, George Weigel has been so slow on the uptake to recognize the theological incoherence of Francis.

      • Edward the Pontiff in Amoris Laetitia argues the conditions, mitigation, conscience, a false notion of inevitable defects then shirks his papal responsibility by suggesting in footnote 351, that the priest discern whether the divorced remarried person may receive the Holy Eucharist. Later, by introduction of the Argentine Papal exchange of letters on this matter into the Acta Apostolicae Sedis he implies a mandate – Vat Secretary of State Parolin falsely proclaiming that the oblique references in the letters suffice as Authentic Magisterial doctrine – on the entire Catholic priesthood to make that discernment. Consequently we have the Church in Malta, Sicily, Philippines, Germany advising Catholics particularly D&R to receive communion in accord with their conscience. Discernment or no discernment. Obviously clergy realized that discernment for some and not for others would cause turmoil. Solution? Do as you please. Repentance and reconciliation required by Christ’s teaching on divorce and adultery discarded. From the apex of clerical authority the Blind now lead the blind into the same woeful pit.

  4. Gosh! You people who comment! You always say too much and lessen your credibility. You just need to focus on the article. It was a great article. It makes a very concise and irrefutable point. But then you muck it up with all your extreme views on communion in the hand, communion rails, claims like “Francis does not believe in immutable truth”, he’s an atheist, footnote 351, etc., etc. Some of you need to just button up and listen for a change.

    • I will not listen to the written word until it has been spoken. So zip it, unlock it, or say something with substance. Until then, I’ll downvote what you’ve said just here.

      The traditional extraordinary form of the Mass with its rubrics emphasize the transcendent holiness of the Eucharistic sacrifice and the humility of the Son of God obeying the will of His Father. Inasmuch as Christ took great pains to offer His sacrifice pleasing and acceptable to God His Father, the NO ought do the same.

      Instead, the rubrics of the NO ludicrously exalt the congregation’s participation while belittling the Body of Christ–female ‘ministers’ scantily clad, a flinging of the wafer into the hand with a smile and a “God Bless You” said out loud, a sanitizing of hands prior to touching the Body of our Lord, the inane singing, the hand-clapping, the hugging and kissing and back-slapping? What worship is given to God through such things? All these actions reflect the self rather than the omnipotent and holy God.

  5. Mr. Weigel’s careful documentation is most welcome.
    However, a teaching is only as effective as the willingness of teachers to uphold it. Unfortunately, in the U.S. we have had precious few faithful bishops or cardinals. Numerous politicians, mostly Democrats, have trumpeted their Catholic identity while strenuously supporting abortion year after year and presenting themselves for Holy Communion- Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo, John Kerry, Tim Kaine, Andrew Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi, and not most persistent and lasting is Joe Biden (who was refused Communion most recently by a humble priest (in South Carolina. The Archbishops of Washington, as far as I can tell, have never disciplined this behavior though it happens right in front of them. Mr. Biden is intent on pushing abortion to the utmost limit, including repeal of the Hyde Amendment. All indications are that Cardinal Gregory will continue to indulge Mr. Biden’s conduct, complete with access to Holy Communion. And, of course, when abortion Catholics die, they receive a lavish Catholic funeral – Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo, etc.
    The lack of leadership, of fidelity to Church teaching among the hierarchy is a scandal, but sadly one likely to continue. Truly, we are “sheep without a shepherd.”

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