Wafer wars, wedge issues and the pope’s visit
Remember 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.”
What 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?