Bishop Vasa - a shepherd for our time

Barbara Kralis
Reproduced with Permission

A faithful and courageous prelate, Bishop Robert Francis Vasa, M.Div., J.C.L.,1 Bishop of Baker, Oregon, kindly granted this writer a recent interview.

During this conversation, Bishop Vasa (pronounced Va´.sha) helped reinforce Church teachings regarding the scandal of the sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion by persons who obstinately persist in their manifest grave sin.

In answer to the question, 'If the pro-abortion 'Catholic' Senator John Kerry came up to you for Holy Communion, would you deny him,' Bishop Vasa quickly replied:

"Absolutely. I would agree, certainly, with Archbishop Burke and Bishop Bruskewitz in their own actions in this matter. I literally could not give Holy Communion to a professed and actively committed pro-choice politician."

It is well known that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, recently wrote an instructive memorandum.

It was addressed to Cardinal McCarrick, chairman of the USCCB 'Task Force,' and to Bishop Wilton Gregory, President of the USCCB.

The Vatican memo was written in English expressly for the USCCB's use as a guideline of the Church's teachings, to be used at their 'closed door' plenary Conference in Denver, June 14-19, 2004.

Cardinal Ratzinger, in his memorandum entitled, "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion - General Principles," said without ambiguity:

"The minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it" when warning and counsel given to the manifest sinner "have not had their effect."

McCarrick, chair of the 'Task Force' committee, apparently withheld the memorandum from the USCCB, and even perhaps from the 'Task Force' committee.

Were all of the bishops informed of Cardinal Ratzinger's clear supportive directive citing why the bishops must deny manifest, obstinate, persistent persons in grave sin?

Bishop Vasa replied that the June memorandum from Cardinal Ratzinger was not given to the Conference of Bishops in Denver.

"As I recall, Cardinal McCarrick made reference to some letter, but I did not see a copy of the letter at the meeting. I don't know if the committee writing the 'Statement,' entitled "Catholics in Political Life," was given a copy of the letter."

Bishop Vasa was not sure when the memorandum was delivered to Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Gregory.

It is well known that Cardinal McCarrick presented to the Conference his 'Interim Report', which instead warned against denying anyone the Eucharist.

"Our consultations with moral theologians and canonists warned us that such steps could raise serious questions about Catholic teaching and the application of canon law," McCarrick said in a presentation delivered at a closed bishops' meeting June 15 and made public June 23.

"Vatican officials offeredÉprinciples and advised caution and pastoral prudence in the use of sanctions," McCarrick advised the bishops.

McCarrick said his "Task Force does not advocate the denial of Communion from Catholic Politicians or Catholic voters."2

He said that dialogue and teachings must be used instead "in the public square, in hearts and minds, in our pulpits and public advocacy, in our consciences and communities."3

Why would McCarrick give information to the USCCB directly in opposition to what Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum actually recommended?

Upon further discussion with Bishop Vasa regarding the wording of the USCCB's Denver 'Statement,' this writer asked for a clarification.

Do the U.S. bishops now teach that it is correct for one Bishop to deny John Kerry the Eucharist while another Bishop, perhaps in a diocese just 10 miles away, mandates his 'ministers of Holy Communion' to give Kerry the Eucharist?

"I answer to the Holy See, I don't answer to the USCCB," replied Bishop Vasa.

"The June memorandum of Cardinal Ratzinger should have a greater impact on the decision of individual bishops in their own dioceses than the 'Statement' of the USCCB, which seems to give broader latitude to the judgment of the bishops."

In response to further correspondence to Cardinal Ratzinger, McCarrick received a letter dated July 9 from Cd. Ratzinger, saying:4

"The 'statement' is very much in harmony with the general principles 'Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,' sent as a fraternal service - to clarify the doctrine of the church on this specific issue - in order to assist the American bishops in their related discussion and determinations."

The question was asked Bishop Vasa if it was his understanding that Cd. Ratzinger agrees with the USCCB's 'Statement' that some 'ministers of Holy Communion' should admit John Kerry and that some should not admit him. This did not sound like being 'very much in harmony' with Church teachings.

Bishop Vasa replied:

"When the Holy See issues a statement like Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum, he was speaking of a broad range of politicians that individual bishops have to make prudential, pastoral judgments upon.

"I do not know that in the mind of Cardinal Ratzinger he was specifically targeting the Presidential Candidate. He was looking at the whole gamut of manifest sinners.

"If the bishops and Cd. Ratzinger were dealing exclusively with John Kerry, then probably the USCCB 'Statement' is not in harmony with Cardinal Ratzinger's memo.

"Denying Holy Communion to a pro-abortion Catholic politician may seem like effective action, I wish it were an effective method of achieving conversion and change of heart, but unless there is a change of heart that politician continues to act in a way which supports and cooperates with the evil of abortion.

"Thus while denial of Holy Communion, and the preceding dialogue, is an action I would prefer, I must recognize that there are other, perhaps even more effective, ways of achieving a suitable protection of pre-born human life in our country.

"It seems to me that the most effective way to end abortion is to vote for Pro-Life candidates."

Bishop Vasa said his understanding was that the Task Force chaired by Cardinal McCarrick has not been dissolved but that there was still much work to be done.

"It is my understanding that the Task Force has completed only its interim work and a fuller document is to be issued in November."

Catholic News Service, a division of the USCCB, reported the task force would continue to consult with the Holy See, other Episcopal conferences, the bishops of the United States and others as it develops its final report.5

Bishop Vasa is no stranger to controversy nor does he shy away from defending Church teachings.

Earlier this year, he published an important pastoral letter, possibly the first of its kind in the U.S.

The Church requires the making of a Profession of Faith by various persons when they undertake specific duties related to Church administration and teaching, according to Canon Law c. 833.6 Sadly, this oath of fidelity is rarely implemented in U.S. dioceses.

Bishop Vasa understands clearly that lay people working within the Church be of 'outstanding moral character,' and must give their full assent to all the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Therefore, on April 23, 2004, Bishop Robert F. Vasa, published a 40 paragraph document entitled, "Giving Testimony to the Truth" addressed to the lay ministers of his diocese.

Following this pastoral, Bishop Vasa attached an oath of fidelity, which he titled 'Affirmation of Personal Faith.'

In the Diocese of Baker, this has been expanded to include those who take on the ecclesial duties of Catechist, Teacher, Liturgical Reader, Cantor, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, Directors of Youth Activities and other Church positions, which entail a presumption of orthodoxy.

The Church teaches that anyone commissioned to lay apostolate in the Church should be fully accepting of all Catholic teachings.7

Bishop Vasa points out that it is ultimately the Bishop, as chief shepherd of a Diocese, who commissions persons to exercise these works. It is also the Bishop's responsibility to establish clear qualifying or disqualifying criteria of who may serve.

Bishop Vasa asked that everyone serving the Church in some official capacity, in all parishes, attest their acceptance of each of the Affirmation's parts.

"You would be very angry at me if I permitted someone to teach your child who had been fired from a teaching job for inappropriate actions with children. Your anger would be justified.

"You would likewise have cause to be angry with me if I permitted a person lacking all faith in the Eucharistic Presence to serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion or to serve as a Catechist for First Communion.

"A failure on my part to verify a person's suitability for ministry would be judged as seriously negligent. While I may want to 'presume' a person's appropriateness for ministry such presumptions are not sufficient."

All of the statements, which Bishop Vasa has incorporated in the 'Affirmation of Personal Faith', are taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Bishop Vasa explains:

"They represent the authentic and authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church and acceptance of these tenets is expected of every Catholic. While it is sufficient for me to 'presume' that Catholics who attend Mass and receive communion adhere to these teachings (unless the contrary is clearly evident) such a presumption is not sufficient for those whom I commission to teach and act in some official capacity."

To contact Bishop Robert F. Vasa with your words of encouragement and support for his good leadership, he may be reached via email at:


1 Master of Divinity; Licentiatus Juris Canonici or Licentiate of Canon Law. Every bishop must be a doctor of theology or canon law, or at least a licentiate. [Back]

2 USCCB, 6/15/04, "Interim Reflections: Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians," by Cardinal McCarrick. [Back]

3 CNS, 6/12/04, "Task force on politics: Battle in public square, not at Communion," by Jerry Filteau. [Back]

4 USCCB, 7/12/04, "Cardinal Ratzinger Says U.S. Bishops' Statement on Catholics In Political Life 'Very Much in Harmony' With General Principles Sent by Congregation." [Back]

5 Ibid.n.3 [Back]

6 See "Canon Law c. 833". [Back]

7 Pope John Paul II 'Ad Tuendam Fidem,' June 29, 1998, "These doctrines require the assent of theological faith by all members of the faithful. Thus, whoever obstinately places them in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy, as indicated by the respective canons of the Codes of Canon Law." (c.750; c.751; c. 1364; c.598; c.1436); Cf. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of The Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith "Commentary on Profession of Faith.' [Back]