Wafer wars, wedge issues and the pope’s visit

April 20, 2008

Nancy Pelosi kisses Pope Benedict’s ring as President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, 16 April/Larry DowningRemember back in 2004 when some U.S. Catholic bishops declared they would deny communion to the Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry, because he supported abortion rights? Reporters spied on him in church to see if he received or not. Pundits dreamed up terrible catch phrases like “wafer watch” and “wafer war.” The issue became part of the campaign that year.

Now, four years later, Pope Benedict is visiting the U.S. and three prominent pro-choice politicians — Kerry, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani — have stepped up and taken communion at his Masses with a minimum of fuss. Pelosi kissed his ring at the White House as President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice looked on. Apart from his pro-choice stand, Giuliani is also twice divorced and remarried, which according to Church rules should bar him from taking communion. When our Vatican correspondent Phil Pullella asked him if he was uncomfortable with that, he said “No.”

As the National Catholic Reporter‘s John Allen observed, “In none of these cases did the politicians receive communion directly from the pope, but it nonetheless happened during a papal Mass, and it took no one by surprise … While it would be a stretch to say that Benedict XVI authorized what happened, one can at least infer that the pope did not issue strict instructions to the contrary. The cumulative effect of these events will likely be to weaken the case that the Vatican wants the American bishops to take a stricter stance against communion for pro-choice Catholics in public life.”

Protesters urge bishops to deny communion to politicians for abortion rights, 16 June 2004/Jeff ChristensenWhat strikes me is how this is not making too many waves in the media. Sure, it’s getting mentioned and there are Catholics who wanted a firm line and blogs that are lamenting the politicians took communion after all. The Daily News did a short piece on it. But this is not causing that much fuss despite the fact it’s taking place during a papal visit and an election year.

What’s going on here? Benedict has made it clear on a few occasions that he doesn’t agree with giving communion to politicians who support abortion rights. Yet this is happening. It looks like there are four possible explanations:

1. Benedict has told the bishops to stay out of politics, so none are raising their voices as they did in 2004.

2. U.S. bishops felt the issue got turned into a political football in 2004 and don’t want that repeated.

3. The 2004 campaign was a Karl Rove-style “wedge issue” exercise by Republicans who aren’t repeating it because John McCain has a different take on religion and politics.

4. There are no Catholic candidates left running for the presidency.

What do you think?


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I am totally mystified and disappointed. The bishops conduct is totally inconsistant with the Church’s teaching.

Posted by W.W.Bickley | Report as abusive

Pope tells cafeteria Catholics to stuff it, first salvo on US unorthodoxy is excommuniction of Giuliani. See “Dear Rudy” for exclusive coverage. http://michaeljamesh.blogspot.com/2008/0 4/dear-rudy.html

Posted by michael h | Report as abusive

I can see where the Bishops had reason to hold their tongues on this issue. It wasn’t worth getting involved in the scum and fith of politics. As far as they are concerned, the Senators’ indiscretions are between the politicians and God.

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

It is pretty evident to me what is going on here — the focus needs to be on something much bigger than these petty political battles. The politicians doing this are wrong, and it is not “ok”, but it’s also would be terrible wrong to create such a fuss around a papal mass by pointing the figure at a few politicians.

Posted by JS | Report as abusive

These events were commented on by EWTN announcers very briefly today. Fr Newhauser explained. While it seems an opposition to Catholic teachings that those individuals took communion it is considered as a personal responsiblilty – not the whole of the church’s responsibility. (There is support in scripture but I did not note the citation – it was attributed to St Paul’s teachings.) This was a huge public event and no one was instructed to be the communion police ordered to stop or interupt the taking of communion for anyone present. They were allowed and it is a question of if they are “continually obstinate” in taking communion and not revizing their position.

In recent times I have also heard Catholic comments regarding communion and that it is extremely rare when any priest or deacon would refuse anyone. Again this is based on a person’s individual responsbility and conscience if they feel they are cleansed in accordance with teachings and able to recieve.

The very act of receiving communion is itself viewed as an act of reconciliation even when a formal confession had not been observed. This is why it is often allowed even when the individual has blatantly opposed teachings, or has not attended mass for a prolonged period of time. Reconciliation is reccomended but not enforced. If it continued on a local level for a prolonged time it would be up to that person’s local pastor to communicate about it. The idea of communion with Christ is in itself a process which is supposed to bring any individual closer to Christ and therefore these people would only be blessed and strengthened in the transormation of the Holy Spirit.

Posted by subodot | Report as abusive

Whether one should receive communion or not is between God and the believer. Jesus left no instructions to indicate that his passion was to save some and not others. Let’s hope the ultra conservative Catholics start examining their own consciences before pointing fingers at others. All are sinners and fall short of the Law.

Posted by Skyrider | Report as abusive

Of course those who are supporting abortion can not receive Holy Communion. St. Paul warns those who receive unworthily that they eat and drink condemnation to themselves…

It is a mortal sin to do so… Simply has been the teaching of the Church.

But I must add I am offended by REUTERs! such a Title as “Wafer Wars” is a deep offense to Catholics! I ask that you withdraw this article==particularly the title!

Is it the aim of your journalism to offend people and their deepest held faith?

Posted by Kevin | Report as abusive

1. It is not “ultra-conservative Catholics” it is simply Catholics. Read the Catechism.

2. Even St. Paul in his letter to Corenth warned against receiving the Holy Communion unworthily. He talked about “eating and drinking condemnation” to oneself.

3 It is simply the Catholic Faith that one who hold such seriously sinful ideas…can not receive. It is a mortal sin (another one) to do so.

4. REUTERS should pull this article! Particularly the title! Is it your aim to offend Catholics!? “Wafer wars” is very offensive…to what is one of the most central beliefs we profess! Are you going to next refer to Muslims as “towel heads”?? come on! Lets not be offensive in our words! Respect!!! Respect Muslims, Jews, Christians etc! Pull this article!

Posted by Kevin | Report as abusive

Kevin, did you notice I called wafer watch and wafer wars “terrible catch phrases”? Also, you write — “It is not “ultra-conservative Catholics” it is simply Catholics.” I never wrote the phrase “ultra-conservative Catholics,” you did. You say “read the Catechism.” My response is: “read the post carefully and see what it says.”

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

People (like Pelosi, Guilianni and Kerry) that takes communion with a mortal sin (as abortion), should know that they are commiting a sacrilege.

They are clear out of the Catholic Church. Each time that they try to eat the body of Christ without confession and contriccion are in a worst position in front of the Lord. If they were real catholics should know this.

Posted by Roger | Report as abusive

It seems like it doesn’t matter to the Pope that this is happening—or maybe I’ve been reading too many “lives of the Saints” where saintly priests were brave & courageous and who were zealous in their role as shepherd!?

Why can’t the Pope pull these wayward bishops into his “office” and get tough with them? You know, tell them to shape up or else—then follow through??

Is he confused? Does he think “nice” is a virtue?
Or do I expect too much from a Pope who–despite being the Vicar of Christ–is only a mere human–after all ?

Posted by marianne | Report as abusive

I think the American Catholic Church is full of bombast and superficiality. Lots of religiosity instead of true piety and sanctity. Some of the liturgies were way over the top, especially the one at St. Pat’s. And Cardinal Egan was way over the top in calling the Pope, “the Most Holy Father.”
That was absurd and almost blasphemous. Isn’t “Holy Father” enough? Would Egan have addressed the pontiff, “Your Most Holy Holiness”? Yea, maybe he would have!

Posted by Jude Gentile | Report as abusive

After carefully reading the text of both prayers offered by the Pope, I would suggest that he read John 15:16 which tells us that all prayer offered to God be done by directing that prayer through his son Jesus Christ. The Holy Father should attend a Bible Study in the future.

Posted by gene somers | Report as abusive

I am a Catholic and I wasn’t offended by the title of this article.

To me it brings attention to the church and it’s customs. In Fact Pope Benedict instructs all of us Catholics to use our freedom in the public square to make known the teachings of the church. He also would like us to spread the message and teach by example. What better example can we set than tolerance and offering knowledge. (No one was being bashed here as we Catholics often see.) If people do not understand why or why not a Catholic can participate in communion they may be able to realize the church has an ever open invitation to all. No reason to get offended – just an opportunity to correct myths. The “wafer” is a symbol of the body of Christ, and the sacrament is a communion with the divine.

Posted by subodot | Report as abusive

Correction to my previous post:

“Fr Newhauser” should be Father Richard John Neuhaus.

Sorry Father!

Posted by subodot | Report as abusive

i support pope benedict that communion should not being given to anyone that support abortion,cos is killing of soul.

Posted by linda | Report as abusive

communion should not be given to anyone that support abortion.

Posted by linda | Report as abusive

Tomorrow is Corpus Christi… having a blessed one? I wonder, what Mexican Bishops feel like who excommunicated catholic politicians for voting pro-abortion. I guess the schism is visible; there are different rules for different countries; the local churches are scoring high with their enculturation of Catholicism. After all, what is the big deal about not receiving Holy Communion at mass if one is in the state of moral sin? This is ranked to a duty for a catholic and in some places for a non catholic, while at mass to receive the Body of Christ. I dare to call it communism of Communion. You made it to mass, wow; God should jump up and down with joy. In one of the European countries people are still taught that you can’t receive the Eucharist if you are in the state of mortal sin. Skipping Sunday mass is used as an example of a mortal sin. This however may not be a Catholic Church anymore.

Posted by Behati | Report as abusive