The Vatican’s unread newspaper and the U.S. bishops

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, gets it wrong on what the U.S. bishops actually said about Catholic politicians, Communion, and abortion.

Bishops attending Mass Nov. 15, 2021, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

When I began working with some regularity in Rome thirty years ago, my elders and betters taught me that no one paid much attention to the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. The exception to that rule was the daily section with the charming title Nostre Informazioni (“Our Information”), in which papal audiences, episcopal appointments, and other tidbits of interest to those obsessed with Who’s Up and Who’s Down are recorded. (The most famous of these nuggets was the brief line, “The Rev. Louis Billot, SJ, was received in audience today by His Holiness.” Billot had entered a 1927 meeting with Pope Pius XI a cardinal and emerged a lowly Jesuit priest, the pontiff having blown his stack over Billot’s tacit criticism of Pius’s smackdown of the extreme right-wing French movement, Action Française.) L’Osservatore Romano has improved its appearance over the past three decades, but insofar as I can tell, no serious person inside or outside the Vatican pays it much attention.

The reason why was demonstrated by the paper’s November 18 edition. There, on p. 8, we find a story about the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in which this sentence appears (I translate from the original Italian): “In it [i.e., the bishops’ teaching document on the Eucharist] there is no mention of the prohibition of Communion to Catholic politicians, nor is there any explicit mention of abortion.”

That is simply not true. The bishops cited the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and its description of abortion as an infamy. The bishops also cited Pope Francis’s encyclical Fratelli Tutti, which sharply criticizes treating anyone as “disposable,” including “the unborn.”

As for politicians who facilitate elective abortions, the bishops reiterated their teaching in 2006:

If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to reject the defined doctrines of the Church, or knowingly and obstinately to repudiate her definitive teaching on moral issues…he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church. Reception of Holy Communion in such a situation would not accord with the nature of the Eucharistic celebration, so that he or she should refrain.

Correctly distinguishing between one’s subjective moral condition and one’s public actions in the matter of receiving Holy Communion, the bishops also cited St. John Paul II’s teaching in the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience. However, in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who ‘obstinately persist in manifest grave sin’ are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion.

Finally, the bishops underscored their own responsibility for the Church’s eucharistic discipline:

It is the special responsibility of the diocesan bishop to work to remedy situations that involve public actions at variance with the visible communion of the Church and the moral law. Indeed, he must guard the integrity of the sacrament, the visible communion of the Church, and the salvation of souls.

So, for the sake of L’Osservatore Romano correspondent Salvatore Cernuzio, his editors, and other confused brethren, let’s try this one more time: in “The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church,” adopted by a vote of 222 to 8, the U.S. bishops taught the following –

1) Facilitating the grave moral evil of abortion is a public act that fractures one’s communion with Christ and estranges one from the Church.

2) Those who are not in full communion with the Church because of their public actions should not present themselves for Holy Communion. To present oneself for Holy Communion is to state, publicly, that one is in full communion with the Church. If that is not the case, then the lie of presenting oneself for Holy Communion compounds the evil of the public acts that estrange one from the Church.

3) The bishops have a solemn obligation to inform estranged Catholics of their situation and work to catechize them in the truth. If that catechesis fails and the estranged Catholic obstinately continues to facilitate grave evil, then he or she must be told not to present himself or herself for Holy Communion.

Clear enough?

• Related at CWR: “What the bishops really said at Baltimore” (Nov 18, 2021) by George Weigel


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About George Weigel 372 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), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

37 Comments

    • I agree with much of what Mr. Weigel states, but he is wasting his energy. The Catholic Church is a lost cause, as far as I’m concerned. The damage done by the Popes, bishops, and theologians over the past 55 years to Christian truth, Catholic identity, and ecclesial unity is permanent and irreversible.

  1. No “the teaching” of “the US Bishops” in their Eucharist document is NOT clear.

    It is purposely evasive. It continues their evasive and deceitful policy crafted for them by McCarrick at their conference in summer of 2004, when they disobeyed the CDF and lied about it.

    As mire informed Catholics know, point 3, mentioned at the close of GW’s article, is a false statement of the duty of the Bishops, undermining Canon Law 915.

    Canon Law 915 states that, in the situation posited by point 3, the Bishops have a duty to withold Holy Communion. It does NOT let Bishops off the hook by allowing them to merely remind the obstinate layman of his duty under Canon 916.

    Clarity consists of something like this: When craven, equivocating Bishops refuse to do their duty and enforce Canon 915, obstinate abortion promoting Catholics feel free in turn to imitate the Bishops, and refuse to do their duty under Canon 916.

    This topic shows the pretentiousness of the Bishops about law and authority, and reveals a contempt for the law and the truth. all the way around.

    • I totally agree. GW lets the bishops off easily. They clearly evaded their duties but do enjoy looking as though they relish them – all the while spending millions to get it done. Try again Mr. Weigel!

  2. Clear enough? Absolutely. The bishops are saying that if the laity are guilty of serious (mortal) sin, they should obey canon 916 and not present themselves for communion. What the bishops are not saying is that if someone is guilty of objective serious sin, and still presents himself for communion, that the bishops should obey canon 915 and refuse communion to that individual.
    Absolutely clear.

  3. That’s all fine and dandy George, but guess what? There is nothing in the document that states Bishops have a responsibility to deny communion to these wicked politicians. And they wont.

  4. The Bishops will allow so called Catholic politicians to receive our Lord in the state of mortal sin, while I, a true devout Catholic, am being denied my Lord in my own parish, because I receive on the tongue. Where is their faith? Where is their trust in God? I do not believe for one second that God would allow anyone to get Covid because of giving or receiving Him in Holy Communion. I long for the days when all clergy had the courage to stand up for Jesus and not be afraid of what people think. No wonder people don’t take the Catholic Church seriously. Our own Shepherds don’t. May God have mercy on their souls.

  5. Weigel is right about the Vatican newspaper, and I am very happy that someone of his prominence is willing to speak out like this, but I am with “Chris in Maryland” in thinking the US document a weak-tea statement, perhaps a compromise to get the overwhelming numerical vote, and that the lack of forceful action implementing what has always been the law remains a crime of negligence.

  6. How is the USCCB going to deal with U.S. bishops who continue to allow politicians well known for advocating and/or facilitating “legal” baby murder to receive the Eucharist?

    According to Mr. Weigel it’s not the USCCB’s job to deal with it. An excerpt from his Nov. 18th editorial, What the bishops really said at Baltimore:

    … it was never within the competence of the USCCB to “ban” pro-abortion Catholic politicians from the reception of holy communion. Dealing with estranged Catholic public officials is the responsibility of local bishops.

    He does acknowledge that

    Bishops who decline to carry out that pastoral duty should be fraternally corrected by their brother bishops.

    So the USCCB won’t do anything about it, and we are to assume that U.S. bishops are privately, behind the scenes, “fraternally correcting” the daylights out of local bishops who continue the scandalous and idolatrous practice of publicly rendering unto Caesar authority over innocent human life that belongs only to God. Allowing politicians well known for advocating and/or facilitating the “legal” murder of God’s innocent children by the millions to receive the Eucharist signals to Caesar the Church’s approval. It assures Caesar that next election season the bishops will once again engage in strained theological gymnastics in order to give Catholic voters some way to rationalize voting for these same politicians.

    That the bishops do this election cycle after election cycle is why I find it hard to believe that they are going to fraternally correct (or do anything else about) local bishops who continue to loudly proclaim to their flocks, by their actions and inaction, that our primary allegiance has been transferred from Christ to Caesar, who does indeed have the god-like authority to legalize the murder of innocent humanity.

    That the state has no such authority was established at the Nuremberg Trials, the prosecutors of which treated “legal” abortion as a crime against humanity.

  7. The entire topic is a Babelous Hill of Beans.

    JESUS said, at Matthew 12:36, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”

    This article simply stirs the topic of ‘he said, she said, they say he did not say what the pope says no Canon says they should not do or should say what the L’Osservatore Romano says the USCCB said what one bishop said about another bishop who said it all by saying nothing.’

    In these days of Advent shouldn’t we do better and take St. Joseph’s silence as example?

  8. Nobody cares any more about this stuff. The pewsitter understands the bishop and the politician are corrupt to the core.
    The pope and bishops prefer to focus on this corrupt, expensive event called the Synod on Synodality. Yes, it is called by that title. I have no more use for any of the crap. It makes no sense. I’m gone.

    • Many of us are indeed skeptical of the ability or will of our shepherds to care for their sheep, but where should we go? The Eucharist is the presence of the Lord given to us here on earth, so how is going outside the Church an option? We can perform spiritual works of mercy for hireling or betrayer shepherds, and we can materially support the faithful shepherds and apostolates. Confirmed, we have the ability to act as soldiers of Christ. No one but Christ ought stop our/His work on behalf of His Body.

  9. At their meeting, the bishops took the position of Bishop (later Cardinal) Wuerl of Pittsburgh rather than that of Archbishop (later Cardinal) Burke, head of the of the Signatura.

    Canon 916 only. No mention of Canon 915.

    Silence on truth is not golden.

    Here’s how Wuerl won in the Vatican:

    https://www.pop.org/catholic-bishops-set-to-debate-the-worthy-reception-of-the-eucharist/

    Here’s why he won politically (Catholic Senator Leahy threatens indictments – and he is senior Dem on the Judiciary Committee. And the Judiciary Committee swears in all its witnesses. So lying is perjury, penalty, five years in jail.

    Bishops’ only alternative is taking the Fifth. They don’t want to do that in a public forum, do they?

    No.

    In fact, they have always avoided giving sworn testimony and public court on the scandals, and have paid 4 to $5 billion of our money to do it.

    That’s why Wuerl won. Too bad the author glossed over that sad reality.

    https://www.pop.org/the-bishops-the-eucharist-and-politics/

    • “No mention of Canon 915.”

      From the USCCB document:

      St. John Paul II explained:

      The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since
      it is a question of examining one’s conscience. However, in cases of outward conduct
      which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her
      pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament,
      cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a
      manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who ‘obstinately persist
      in manifest grave sin’ are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion. [71]

      And the footnote (71) states:

      Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 37; see Code of Canon Law, can. 915: “Those who have been
      excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering
      in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” Likewise, the Code of Canons of the Eastern
      Churches states that “those who are publicly unworthy are forbidden from receiving the Divine Eucharist” (c. 712).

      • Correct – I should have described a “passive” mention. According to the document, Canon 915 exists, and means that the Church “cannot fail to feel directly involved.”

        So our shepherds “feel” – Mission Accomplished!

        Feelings rule, and the American hierarchy (which, deo gratias, is not the “Church”) feels involved but immediately sticks Canon 915 in a footnote and follows Wuerl, and Leahy, into profound silence.

        Apparently, they feel fine about that failure. Well enough. One cannot argue with a feeling. But we can identify its cause – and in this case the cause is clear: the hierarchy is profoundly afraid (see Leahy, above) and so takes the escape hatch offered by Wuerl (above).

        Should we applaud? No. Apologize for them (because they won’t)? Perhaps. But if nothing else, our task is to understand – and to pray, always.

  10. One day, two people went into Church to pray. One was a “devout, religious guy”. He prayed long prayers, lit candles, praised God and also himself for not being like the other guy, a sinner.
    The other guy, quietly admitted his faults and humbly asked God to forgive him and to bless him.
    Which one would have pleased the Lord who came, not to condemn sinners, but to lovingly save them?
    However, I do believe that anyone who, by his words and actions, persists in expressing hatred, anger, and encourages others to revolt against or protest Catholic teaching needs to be dealt with appropriately.

  11. Technically correct, Mr. Olson. But what is missing is any kind of statement, such as, “We strongly recommend that all bishops obey canon 915, especially with regard to prominent individuals who give scandal by receiving communion when they promote the killing of the unborn.”

  12. Like other documents, this one’s ESSENTIAL points (besides a full-throated, frontal assault on the ERROR of obstinate, publicly manifest, nature of lack of communion) seem weak. Perhaps a 1-page bullet point summary like Weigel attempts would help.

    It seems the document could succinctly explain WHY the Body of Christ is the Word of Christ, and HOW those facts condemn the soul which receives sacrilegiously. The Body of Christ is Bread which conveys the Spiritual-Divine Christ. Those whose actions do not perceive the REAL PRESENCE OF the divine Lord do in essence perform a Crucifixion against the WILL OF THE CHRIST WHO HAS ONLY IN HIS HUMANITY DIED TO SAVE HUMANITY. Abortion denies not only a human his body; it denies a physical existence to the soul – the image of God in another human. The human soul is God’s gift of spirit to man.

    The Catholic is not excused from his actions; his sin is not lessened by ‘structures of sin embodied in the U.S. Executive or Legislative branches of sin’ which oppose Catholic belief in principle.

    Some basic explanation of classical theology (undoubtedly difficult for bishops educated in contemporary seminaries overblown with modernist teaching) needs to be hammered home. Error needs to be crucified in order to save the soul of the grave, manifest, obstinate ‘political’ sinner.

  13. When it comes to controversy over interpretation there’s always the bottom line. Weigel’s on 3 is “Clear enough?”. Although, what does clear enough amount to when so many Catholic politicians not only disregard all the canons and documents included in Weigel’s article, and flaunt that disregard? Yes, the canons and doctrine are clear, citing them is clear. What clearly reduces this alleged clarity to meaningless rhetoric are the facts. How many bishops apart from Paprocki, Tobin [Providence], cardinal Naumann have followed the decrees of the Church on obstinate error? Fact: Cardinal Cupich lauded the letter from aberrant politicians for reasonable compromise, arguing they are faithfully serving the Church, as wonderful. The reality of what exists does not at all correspond to George Weigel’s standing in for the bishops in this article.

  14. And added, I appreciate Weigel’s defense of Church and the USCCB, although he certainly doesn’t approve of aberrant politicians, our real issue is the scandal this causes laity, and also presbyters, who become conditioned to accepting an apparent status quo of implicit approbation of abortion and the other major moral sins.
    If the bishops right up to the Vatican hierarchy do not stand by doctrine and the canons going back to Trent on faithful observance, how do we expect the vast majority of Catholics to practice the opposite of this hierarchical accommodation?

  15. Funny. Weigel must be regularly reading L’Osservatore Romano just to hunt for cracks in the current papacy so as to preserve his legacy of the image he created of Saint Pope John II (the monicker, “the Great” and the title, “Apostle of Liberty, Democracy, and Capitalism”) which most Americans have uncritically absorbed through the hagiographies he wrote. This way Weigel can keep hoisting the Polish pope as way much better than the German or Argentinian ones. BTW, a close reading of JPII’s 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, exposes the deception and dishonesty of Weigel’s portrayal of the pro-American capitalist pope when it says: “The Church’s social doctrine adopts a critical attitude towards both liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism” (SRS 21).

    • Josephine, the quote with which you ended your post clearly shows that we should trust the original sources rather than the opinions of agenda-driven columnists.

      • What agenda driven columnist? What agenda? Are you talking about authors who wrote literally millions of words honestly examining the distinctions JPII made regarding the moral components of social structures resulting from all manner of human ideologies in contrast to smug know-it-alls who snottily insult them with baseless characterizations and reductionisms of these discussions and books they never read?

          • So you believe that authors who point out that Catholicism points out that ideologies premised in its moral justification of mass murder are not the slightest bit different that ideologies that condemn mass murder? Do you take pleasure in aiding and abetting mass murder?

    • L’Osservatore Romano did not represent a true picture of what the bishops did and decided. It’s only natural that given the substance and the moment, the thing should be made up for, i.e., corrected. I really do not see that Weigel has a bad motive. Instead what I see is a good concern for clarity; and respect for where those issues and the bishops, stand, in his own country and the way its perceived abroad. The newspaper in question is internationally circulated and the article would mislead readers there and in the US. So yes, it would have mattered to JPII to put it right.

  16. For some years I have gone to library used books sales I scored George’s biography of JPII, and John Paul II’s CROSSING THE THRESHOLD OF HOPE. After procuring this latter book (or text, really), I was at another book sale, and was explaining to someone there that I had found a copy of this interesting book that John Paul II penned. Just then, I glanced down at a book-covered table next to me, and right there next to me was another copy of the same book that John Paul II had written, that I had just been describing. Oh, it could have been merely a “coincidence,” but personally, I wouldn’t bet on it involving “chance.” I have great respect for the pontiff who traveled to 129 nations, spoke eleven languages fluently, and quite a few more than that phonetically, and who taught theology on the university level for twenty-five years (if I remember correctly), and who held doctorates in philosophy and sacred theology.

  17. Calumny occurs in sustaining denials of scandal, not in expressions of honest revulsion.
    Catholic politicians have not merely been unrepentant passive agents of the mass slaughter but architects of facilitating and advancing the process of mass slaughter throughout the entire world for decades, and our bishops have done nothing at all. Through their cowardice, they have aided and abetted the process. Lip service “strongly worded letters” has always been outweighed by “voter guides” that preach the seamless garment nonsense to the laity.
    What stupid reasoning can such an otherwise articulate man like George Weigel employ in order to seriously promote the notion that our bishops recent decision to kick the can down the road, by not imposing an emphatic Communion ban NOW, enabling their continuation of moral sloth, represents some form of noble resolution to finally take action when, to any morally sane observer, it is clearly the exact opposite, nothing more that the same do nothing talk they’ve exercised for decades while tens of millions of babies have had their skulls crushed?
    Obviously the bishops expressed defense of the Eucharist is reverential, but it becomes outright hypocritical when used as a pretext of pretending to care about the victims of slaughter.

    • Weigel offering a redress on a news report hardly makes for a wicked politician, I think. I mean to say, what is the connection? I don’t see any. Plus he chose to deal with only the particular issue, which, to me, reflects a sense of balance in doing what he can for the moment and not charging through with too much more, all at once.

      Two ways to be jealous of Weigel, a bad way and a good way! Choose your way!

      May the Lord continue to sustain George Weigel and bring him one day to be reuinted with his friend in heaven JPII and the rest of them besides. Amen.

      • I clearly did not infer that Weigel was a politician. His polemic was to suggest that the action of the bishops towards murdering “Catholic” politicians was not the inaction that it clearly is, while smugly calling his faulty misrepresentation of reality, clarity. Clear enough?

        • The USCCB is not preventing the individual bishop to be responsible rightfully in his personal capacity and do what is right. We should continue to encourage the USCCB to get to things it can still address. It mustn’t lead with an example of unjustifiable and/or inexplicable delay.

          • It is not a matter of what an individual bishop can do. It is what they are all morally obliged by God to do. They’ve had half a century of hearing the pro-life laity begging them to finally take action collectively while tens of millions of babies continue to be slaughtered, and they’ve done nothing. And this latest is more of the same do-nothingism that is decades old but more urgent than ever since it has been compounded by Francis’ evil indifference to the grave sins of Catholic politicians. And the establishmentarian George Weigel is being completely phony to pretend this recent collective cowardice is somehow a bold resolution. And anyone else who pretends anything has changed is also actively involved in a charade that aids and abets the continuation of mass murder.
            The late Father Neuhaus lamented the culture of moral entropy among all levels of vocational life and status, including that which penetrates the Church, when he observed, “We should be afraid, very afraid, to join the company of those who professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on its way to becoming the justifiable until it is finally established as the unexceptionable.”

          • Nonetheless the individual bishop remains personally responsible and must seek the Lord in bearing it – Prov. 21:15, Prov. 22:5.

            Meantime I don’t think Weigel is establishment-arian phony pretending about the bishops’ “somehow-bold” resolutions, etc.

            A good soldier doesn’t fight bitterly. We learned that about Saul.

            If I had to convince an individual bishop on the weighty seriousness about the organized procuring of abortion through his parishes, I wouldn’t do it by launching out on Weigel. He speaks sensibly. He has followed JPII faithfully. He professes the faith. He argues well. He’s pro-life.

            What can I say to a bishop? The battle is the Lord’s.

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