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A most unfortunate Roman intervention

The strategy Cardinal Ladaria urges in his letter to the USCCB replicates key elements in the McCarrick approach to pro-abortion American politicians.

Then-Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, arrives for a meeting with Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican in this May 11, 2018, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

On May 7, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, SJ, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent a letter to Archbishop José Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. To all appearances, that letter was aimed at forestalling indefinitely a joint statement by the U.S. bishops on eucharistic coherence in the Church, with particular reference to the reception of holy communion by Catholic public officials complicit in the grave moral evil of abortion: an issue eloquently addressed recently by Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco.

Cardinal Ladaria’s letter includes statements that are not self-evidently clear, in part because they seem inconsistent with what the congregation he heads taught in its 2002 “Doctrinal Note,” entitled The Participation of Catholics in Political Life.

For example, the cardinal’s letter to Archbishop Gomez urges that the bishops of the U.S. undertake a “dialogue” so that “they could agree as a Conference that support of pro-choice legislation is not compatible with Catholic teaching.” Why is such a dialogue necessary? At their ordination, bishops swear a solemn oath to uphold the teaching of the Church. And as the 2002 Doctrinal Note states, quoting John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), “those who are directly involved in lawmaking have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose’ any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”

Yet the cardinal writes that the bishops should “discuss and agree” to that teaching. What is there to “discuss”? And if, God forbid, some bishops actually disagree with that teaching, why should their rejection of it – or even their muddled understanding of its implications – prevent the overwhelming majority of bishops who accept that teaching from restating it and then applying it? The First Council of Nicaea didn’t wait for the episcopal supporters of Arius to “agree” before it taught the truth about the divinity of Christ. The Council of Ephesus didn’t wait for the agreement of Nestorius and the Nestorian bishops before teaching the truth that Mary can rightly be called Theotokos, Mother of God. Unanimity can never be at the expense of truth, can it?

Once “agreement” among the bishops on what is an elementary truth of Catholic faith has been achieved, the cardinal urges that local bishops “engage in dialogue with Catholic politicians within their jurisdictions” as a “means of understanding the nature of their positions and their comprehension of Catholic teaching.” Perhaps the cardinal is unaware that this has been done. Perhaps the cardinal is unaware that the issue, typically, is not that “pro-choice” politicians misunderstand what the Church teaches but that they reject it – and still insist on presenting themselves as serious Catholics in full communion with the Church. (Such claims are now a regular feature of White House press briefings.) There is little that is unclear here, and further “dialogue” is not going to clarify much of anything.

The cardinal was also concerned that any “national policy on worthiness for communion” must express a “true consensus of the bishops on the matter.” But that is to say, once again, that the bishops with the least sense of urgency about defending the truth, applying it, and thereby recovering the eucharistic coherence of the Church call the tune for the rest of the bishops. This is not the kind of “consensus” that Pope Paul VI sought when he worked to have Vatican II adopt its Declaration on Religious Freedom by the largest margin possible. Pope Paul knew that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and other intransigents would never accept such a declaration, but he was not prepared to grant them veto power over it in the name of “consensus.” Why should such veto power be granted to the few intransigents in the U.S. bishops’ conference today?

The prefect’s call that “every effort …be made” to “dialogue” with “other episcopal conferences as this policy is formulated” is also puzzling. Does Cardinal Ladaria really believe that a “dialogue” with a German episcopal conference unconcerned about apostasy and careening into schism is going to produce fruitful results in the United States? If so, it would be instructive to know how that’s going to happen.

The strategy Cardinal Ladaria urges in his letter replicates key elements in the McCarrick approach to pro-abortion American politicians. I trust Cardinal Ladaria was unaware of that, but in any event the sluggish, tepid approach to a crisis that he urges on the U.S. bishops is badly misconceived.

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About George Weigel 478 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. “Why is such a dialogue necessary? At their ordination, bishops swear a solemn oath to uphold the teaching of the Church” (Weigel). Precisely. As said earlier a hopeful consensus among bishops absent of direct exclamation by the pope on the obligation of all members of the Church to oppose abortion is virtually impossible. George Weigel is correct, CDF prefect Ladaria’s approach to the quandary is McCarrickistic duplicity [an apparent lingering disease]. “The prefect’s call that every effort be made to dialogue with “other episcopal conferences as this policy is formulated is puzzling” (Weigel). Germany’s Synodal process is actually Cardinal Ladaria’s dialogue model. If I may add to this in depth analysis, it shouldn’t be puzzling if we take account the larger picture, the distressing sidling direction of the Church engineered from Casa Santa Marta.

  2. Cupich and Tobin ran to Rome and got the CDF to effectively preempt any action by the US Bishops. Recall the same thing happened when they wanted to act on the McCarrick scandal.

  3. Probably the best essay by George Weigel that I have read. But, I would have used stronger language for the title than ‘Unfortunate Roman Intervention.”

    • Exactly. One can only blame bad luck for so much. At some point it becomes necessary to admit that the waters are being deliberately muddied.

      • What the Church publicly maintains and teaches and what a Bishop at the communion rail with God in his hand may do are (and well may be) two separate things.

  4. How much “serene dialogue” do bishops need, so that they can ALL agree? Bishops should dialogue with politicians and after that they need to dialogue more on what the next step should be. How many more dialogues, how many next steps are necessary to admonish sinners flaunting their support of grave evil verbally, financially or politically? Bishops must take care to frame this glaring evil in a “broad context” in order to mitigate the transgressions of public figures.

    Vaticanistas indicate bishops should not employ divisiveness, yet the Vatican letter is in essence divisive, as my comment above points to the spinning in the mud construction of their advisory. After fifty seven years of dialogue, next-stepping and broad-scoping, the agenda is still the same, by design.

    In 1964 at the Kennedy compound at Hyannisport, Mass. certain clerical figures met, working for a day and a half to help redefine support for abortion.

    Anne Hendershott, Jan. 2, 2009, at writes:

    “The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book “The Birth of Bioethics” (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion.”

    Ted Kennedy was rabidly anti-life as are several politicians in our present day, also being supported by uncatholic clergy and the Vaticanistas are only to eager to lend the pen.

    Forty eight years and 63 million abortions latter, the light of day is still being eclipsed by “serene dialogue” also known as “smoke-screening”, next-stepping and broad-scoping. Where is their defense of our Eucharistic Lord, Christ the King?

  5. I am happy to see that the author is stating the glaring fact that the Ladaria appeal for “dialogue” with pro-abortionists, and the implied rejection of Canon 915, is what I would call “the McCarrick policy.”

    The grand-scale problem is that the US and global Church episcopal superstructure continues to carry out the will of the sociopath sex-abusing fraud McCArrick.

    As usual, Mr. Weigel treads so softly and quietly onto this battle-ground, after so many years of this conflict, that his article sounds like “an uncertain trumpet.”

    Other authors are clear and candid and straightforward that that this problem was caused by the sociopath sex-abusing fraud McCarrick.

    Fr. Jerry Pokorsky calls the US Bishops’ neglect of their duty “The McCarrick Doctrine.” See the article below.

    In 2004 Mr. Weigel’s former boss Fr. Richard Neuhaus, editor of First Things, outright called McCarrick a liar in print in First Things, and exposed McCarrick and then-Bishop Gregory for deceitfully witholding then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter (which in fact advised US Bishops to enforce Canon 915, and withhold Communion from “Catholic” pro-abortionists, etc), and who publicly lied to the entire US Church, declaring that Ratzinger agreed with them to “let each Bishop decide.”

    So here we are now, 17 years later, and Ladaria speaking for the Pontiff Francis etc, is still urging the US Bishops to maintain “the McCarrick DOctrine.”

    2000 years ago, the apostle Paul, who defended the sanctity of the Eucharist against unworthy reception, as a matter of divine revelation, declared that Christians “have the mind of Christ.”

    What is replulsive and patently obvious is that most Church Bishops, including McCarrick’s 2004 accomplice in deceit (now-Cardinal) Gregory, and Cardinal Ladaria, and the Pontiff Francis, etc etc etc, “have the mind of McCarrick.”

  6. If Thomas Becket had been subject to these kinds of strictures, he would still be dithering around about whether to excommunicate Henry II.

  7. Dialogue? Dialogue? My late father, who was a Marine Corps Raider who served in the Pacific Theatre and who saw many of his fellow marines die at Guadalcanal and Okiniwa, and who later, who by the grace of God, celebrated 55 years of the “Good Life in AA”, when he heard of this thing called dialogue, he would simply say one thing about the issue of dialogue: You CANNOT dialogue with the Devil! My father, God rest his eternal soul, was spot on about this so called “dialogue” crap. They’ve have for 50 years been in dialogue about this murderous behavior and the gig is up! The Bishops either man up for Christ or the Holy Spirit will raise up from stones ferocious and courageous souls who are willing to do battle for Jesus and die for Jesus as Jesus did for us. Yes, the time for this politically correct dialogue BS is over with. 60 million dead babies blood have been crying from the earth to Heaven for Justice. What is there to dialogue about with men who say killing babies in the womb is okay? Our beloved Jesus said, and I paraphrase, that if a town (of dissident catholic(?) politicians souls) does not accept you and the truth you bring to it, then leave that town and shake the dust off your feet. Better judgement will be given to Sodom and Gomorrah than that town because who rejects you (and what you teach) also rejects me.

  8. Thank you, George, for this illuminating article. Very, very helpful in understanding how insupportable and misguided this Vatican communication is, counseling delay and inaction.

  9. ‘ –

    ‘ With Thy Love , we love Thee , adore Thee ..’- would this be the kind of dialogue that The Church is expecting more .. our Lord sending The Spirit for the wisdom that is being exercised , in ways that are ? needed through the dialogue and all
    too , for the sake of those who have hardened the hearts , refusing to acknowledge at what Price the needed trust is granted and that hardness itself said to follow such a choice !

    Thus , unwilling to see that the the little ones too love with the same Love ..
    and the need for that foundational truth to sink in such that , even in places like China , the echoes of the dialogue would be heard , in a more explicit manner ,
    not just as an authoritarian exercise , which they have had enough of but to get to know the Heart of The Father and thus to ever rejoice in the Holy Name !

    ‘ In Thy Will , with Thy Love, we beg pardon , for every thought of pride ..
    for those who conduct themselves badly , causing the ruin of people ..’ – Would the Texas news be one sign that the dialogues are being heard where it really matters , through the efforts and leadership of the Holy Father too who knows the role of The Mother – whose few words help to bring forth the New Wine , in New Wine skins as the Reign of His Holy Will in more hearts !
    Glory be !

  10. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre referred to Rome, “Rome sweet Rome, The Mistress of Truth”. Rome is still the Mistress of Truth, but there a lot of men in it that are in the way, they must be removed. The Church has harsh penalties for such evil men.

  11. I guess it could be said that Jesus had a brief dialogue with the Devil but I think his final answer should be ours as American Catholics as well, “Away with you Satan, for it is written that you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only you shall you serve”. Matt. 4:1-11. I think Spinoza said it best – The biggest problem with religion is that {Sometimes} those who claim to be speaking on behalf of God are actually speaking on behalf of themselves.

  12. Considering these same ‘thoughtful bishops’ that George so dutifully sucks up to were almost uniformly silent over other moral abuses and imperatives over the last 15 or so years – as outlined in “Doctrinal Note” II.4*, what makes this big chest-puffing show so important and imperative now? It’s just another shot in the culture wars that replaces religious practice with endless bickering about American politics.

    Sorry George, at least the old folks reading this article will give you some props!

    *some of the document now reads as funnily dated considering the out-and-out loss on many of these issues (Defense of Marriage Act, anyone?), but this quote stuck out to me:
    “The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good.”

    How quickly we forget!

    • Bishops were silent about clerical sexual abuse in the past, and allowed moral abuses to be swept under the rug. Giving public figures who create scandal a pass, is part of the same pattern. So, your argument is: since bishops swept moral abuses under the rug in the past, they should not be allowed to reverse their behavior now? I’m sick of worshipping at the “Church of Just-be-Nice.” It’s destroying lives.

  13. To form an opinion about Ladaria’s letter as head of the CDF all one needs to do is to compare it to Ratzinger’s letter when he was head of the CDF regarding the same issue of communion to so called “devout” Catholic politicians. Why did Gomez bother to communicate with Ladaria when Ratzinger’s letter is available?

  14. Is it too early to consider how a schism would actually play out in the Catholic Church? Many of the ingredients are already in place. Widespread disagreement about foundational Catholic doctrine, heretical bishops caught up in the spirit of the age rather than in the Holy Spirit, unrest and confusion among the laity. (It is looking more and more like the Episcopal Church of which I used to be a member.) And with the two (or more) sides in the Church constantly at war, is one of the core missions of the Church being neglected or nearly so? That is, evangelization. And who, come to think of it, would want to join such a dysfunctional organization anyway? That some still do is a miracle in and of itself.

  15. Why not read Ladaria’s letter this way: discuss what the Church teaches on this, and then see if all the American bishops “agree.” Then, for the bishops who don’t agree with the Church’s teaching, ask for their removal. I know that bishops are good at obfuscating in order to cover up the fact that they don’t believe what the Church teaches, but use Ladaria’s letter to put pressure on the fence-sitters.

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