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US bishops cautioned on Communion denial

Top cardinal seeks input from panel

NEW YORK -- A top Vatican cardinal told visiting US bishops they should be cautious about denying Communion to Roman Catholic politicians who support policies at odds with church teaching, according to a news report.

Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup, N.M., said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger spoke of proceeding cautiously on the issue, Catholic News Service reported. Ratzinger said he would like Vatican officials to meet soon with a US bishops panel reviewing how church leaders should interact with Catholics in public life.

Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, did not say whether the sacrament should be used as a sanction, said Pelotte, who was among a group of bishops participating in the meeting this week in Rome.

Pelotte was traveling and could not be reached for comment yesterday, his spokesman said. US bishops have been at the Vatican for ''ad limina" visits, which prelates must make every five years.

Several bishops have sparked a national debate on religion and politics with their varied positions on whether Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, who is Catholic and supports abortion rights, should receive Communion. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis has said he would not give the sacrament to Kerry.

Other bishops have said Kerry should not attempt to take Communion, but would not be denied the sacrament if he did. Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs extended a similar warning to those who vote for Catholic politicians who make policy contrary to church teaching.

However, several prelates have said Communion should not be used as a public punishment.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., leader of the bishops task force on the issue, has not spoken with Ratzinger about a meeting, his spokeswoman said. But the cardinal said in a statement, ''I am happy to meet with him on anything."

What Ratzinger ''was suggesting was a meeting as soon as possible between the [bishops] task force and people at the doctrinal congregation, to work out some kind of understanding," Pelotte told Catholic News Service.

The task force is expected to give a progress report on its work at the US bishops' closed-door retreat in Denver starting June 14, but the committee may not finish its work before the November election.

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