The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has urged the US bishops to be cautious about any national policy regarding the reception of Communion by prominent Catholics who promote abortion and euthanasia.

But the CDF prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, made a distinction between a national policy — which would require near unanimity among the American bishops — and policies set by individual diocesan bishops.

Citing Apostolos Suos, the 1998 apostolic letter in which Pope John Paul II defined the authority of bishops’ conferences, Cardinal Ladaria noted that an episcopal conference can only issue doctrinal statements if the members of that conference are unanimous in supporting it. However, he also observed that the conference does not limit an individual bishop’s authority to set policies within his own diocese.

Prominent American prelates have issued conflicting statement in recent weeks about whether pro-choice politicians to receive Communion. The question has troubled the US bishops’ conference for more than a decade.

The American bishops are scheduled to discuss the contentious issue in June, and possibly vote on a statement about the reception of Communion by prominent politicians who oppose Church teachings on the dignity of human life.

In a May 7 letter to Archbishop José Gomez, the president of the US bishops’ conference, Cardinal Ladaria called for caution because of the “possibly contentious nature” of the discussion. He observed that a call for a national policy could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger Church in the United States.”

Cardinal Ladaria said that a nationwide policy on the reception of Communion should be approved only after an “extensive and serene dialogue,” and only if the American bishops could reach strong consensus on the issue.

The cardinal recommended that the American bishops should consult with bishops in other countries before issuing any doctrinal statement.

Cardinal Ladaria suggested that it would be wrong for the US episcopal conference to approve a policy that would suggest “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest level of accountability” are abortion and euthanasia.

However no American bishop has ever suggested that abortion and euthanasia are the only moral issues to be included in an appraisal of politicians. Rather, the US bishops’ conference has stated that the right to life is the “pre-eminent” public issue of our time. Also, while political issues such as racism and nuclear war obviously involve serious moral issues, no prominent Catholic politicians endorse racism and nuclear war.

The above comes from a May 10 story on Catholic Culture.