National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  January 23, 2004

Bishop Raymond L. Burke
-- CNS photo courtesy Catholic Times
Bishop denies Communion to politicians who support abortion and euthanasia

By NCR Staff

Bishop Raymond Burke has directed priests of the La Crosse, Wis., diocese not to give Communion to politicians who openly support “procured abortion or euthanasia.”

Burke, who will be installed as archbishop of St. Louis Jan. 26, issued the decree on Nov. 23 but did not publicize it until Jan. 8. “Catholic legislators who are members of the faithful of the diocese of La Crosse and who continue to support procured abortion or euthanasia may not present themselves to receive Holy Communion,” Burke’s order stated.

“They are not to be admitted to Holy Communion, should they present themselves, until such a time as they publicly renounce their support of these unjust practices,” it said.

Support of abortion and euthanasia “is a grave public sin and gives scandal to all the faithful,” Burke wrote.

Burke released the same day a pastoral letter, “On the Dignity of Human Life and Civic Responsibility,” in which he said, “As Catholics, we face a special and critical challenge when the moral law demands something different from what society sanctions.”

The two documents followed reports in the secular press in December that Burke had sent private letters to three Catholic legislators in the diocese, warning them of the spiritual dangers of their votes against human life.

According to Burke, the notification became necessary as an outcome of his correspondence with Catholic legislators. None of the three lawmakers to whom he wrote accepted his invitation for a private meeting to discuss their voting records, and in letters to the bishop indicated they were not open to changing their positions.

“After several exchanges of letters, it became clear in all three cases that there was no willingness to conform to the teaching of the church,” he said. “So the notification became a necessity in order that the faithful in the diocese not be scandalized, thinking that it is acceptable for a devout Catholic to also be pro-abortion.”

Burke has declined to name the three politicians but secular news reports have identified two of them as state Sen. Julie Lassa and U.S. Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis.

In a statement released Jan. 9, Obey said: “Bishop Burke has a right to instruct me on matters of faith and morals in my private life” and “like any other citizen” to lobby for any public matter.

“But, when he attempts to use his ecclesiastical position to dictate to American public officials how the power of law should be brought to bear against Americans who do not necessarily share our religious beliefs, on abortion or any other public issue, he crosses the line into unacceptable territory,” Obey said.

The pastoral letter and the notification are posted on the Web site of the La Crosse diocese at

In the pastoral letter, Burke told Catholics to resist the urge “to conform to societal standards, to ‘follow the crowd.’ ”

“Our consistent stance on the dignity of all human life is not understood by some. Many understand our care for the poor and the marginalized, but they part company with us in our defense of innocent and defenseless life in the womb. They will stand with us against capital punishment, but not against procured abortion or euthanasia,” he wrote.

Last January, the Vatican issued a similar statement, the doctrinal note “On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” that said “those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose’ any law that attacks human life.” That statement stopped short of denying politicians the sacrament.

Catholic News Service and Religion News Service contributed to this story.

National Catholic Reporter, January 23, 2004

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