NEW YORK – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (search), facing pressure to aggressively sanction Roman Catholic politicians who break from church policy, said Monday that a top Vatican cardinal approves of their approach.
The conference released brief comments from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, saying the American bishops' statement last month on Catholics in public life was "very much in harmony" with what his office had advised.
The U.S. bishops said last month that lawmakers who consistently support abortion rights or euthanasia were "cooperating in evil," but that individual bishops could decide whether the politicians should be denied Holy Communion.
Ratzinger is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (search), the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, which released guidelines two years ago on the obligations of Catholic policy-makers to support church teaching.
He also sent a confidential letter to a closed-door meeting of U.S. bishops in June, where they formulated their own statement on the issue.
The Italian magazine L'Espresso published what it said was the text of Ratzinger's letter, and interpreted the note as a directive that bishops should withhold the sacrament across the board from lawmakers who consistently support abortion rights. Some Catholic conservatives responded to the news report by accusing American bishops of defying Ratzinger.
But Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (search), head of a U.S. bishops' task force on Catholic politicians, rejected that view.
He said the Vatican cardinal's latest comments, which were sent in a letter to McCarrick last Friday, "affirms the harmony between the principles he (Ratzinger) had provided" to the bishops and their statement last month.