Communion politics issue boils up after U.S. papal visit

April 29, 2008

Papal Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, 19 April 2008/Shannon StapletonA papal visit, with its weeks of build-up and intense media coverage, often seems to end with an afterglow — but very little news — once the pope and his party fly back to the Eternal City. Not so with Pope Benedict’s recent U.S. visit where, more than a week after it ended, the volatile issue of public figures, the abortion & Communion issue is making headlines.

While journalists reported that prominent Catholic politicians who support abortion rights stepped up to receive the Eucharist during Masses in Washington and New York (here’s our story and blog post), the development was little more than a footnote in the wave of coverage that washed over the visit. It was notable, however, in view of a controversy that began in 2004 when some U.S. bishops said they would deny Communion to John Kerry, then the Democratic presidential nominee, because he supported abortion rights

But during the U.S. papal Masses, not only did Kerry receive Communion but so did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani and Senators Edward Kennedy and Christopher Dodd. The conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote in the Washington Post on Monday that this “reflected disobedience to Benedict by the archbishops of New York and Washington” and did not indicate any softening of the pope’s anti-abortion position.

Nancy Pelosi kisses Pope Benedict’s ring as President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, 16 April/Larry Downing“The effect was to dull messages of faith, obligation and compassion conveyed by Benedict,” Novak wrote. “In his Yankee Stadium homily, he talked of ‘authority’ and ‘obedience’ — acknowledging these are not easy words to speak nowadays. They surely are not for four former presidential candidates and two princes of the church, represending Catholics who defy heir faith’s doctrine on abortion.”

On the day Novak’s column appeared, one of those two princes — New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan — posted a statement on the archdiocese website saying Giuliani had violated an “understanding” he had with him not to receive Communion because of his views on abortion rights and that he — the cardinal — deeply regretted it had happened. What Egan did not mention is that Giuliani has also been married three times — his first marriage was annulled but the second ended in divorce, which should bar him from the sacrament according to church law. Some bloggers have criticised him for this and Beliefnet’s David Gibson wondered if he ignored the divorce issue because so many Catholics are getting divorced these days but remain faithful and want to take Communion.

Cardinal Egan greets Pope Benedict at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 19 April 2008/poolIn reply, Giuliani’s spokeswoman said he is willing to meet with Egan but that his faith “is a deeply personal matter and should remain confidential.”

None of the public figures involved received Communion directly from the pope, but from other clergy as the Masses. But before becoming Pope, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was reported as saying he backed denying communion to Kerry. His statement was more nuanced than that, but it has been presented in the U.S. (mostly by conservative bishops) as a refusal.

The issue of public figures and the sacrament has not surfaced in this year’s presidential nomination derby, probably because none of the remaining candidates is Catholic. But it simmers still in some places, notably St. Louis, where Archbishop Raymond Burke has raised it in various ways. When he headed a Wisconsin diocese before taking the St. Louis post, Burke said Communion should be denied some state lawmakers there who supported abortion rights. More recently he suggested Communion might be denied to basketball coach Rick Majerus at St. Louis University — a Catholic institution — who attended a rally for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and said he was “personally” pro-choice.

Should Giuliani not have come forward for Communion? Or are he and the cardinal making a political football out of this? And why do you think Egan avoided the divorce issue?


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When a politician who is ostensiby Catholic, yet pro-abort receives Communion, it is a public act. Guliani’s claim that this is personal is hypocritical.
I’d go farther; excommunicate all pro-abort “Catholic” politicians.

Posted by Helen Westover | Report as abusive

This issue ultimately goes beyond church discipline. People who receive communion and are living a life of public sinfulness (e.g., adultery, support of murderous practices such as abortion, etc.) are “eating and drinking judgment to themselves” (1 Corinthians 11:29). This issue transcends denominational or political alignments and is not without precedent (e.g., look up the story of Ambrose and the Roman Emperor Theodosius, who was excommunicated in 390 AD).

Posted by Ken Boyer | Report as abusive

“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Posted by Judy Kaiser | Report as abusive

Being Catholic is like being pregnant, you either are or you are not. There is no such thing as being a little bit Catholic. There are non-negotiable Catholic teachings against abortion, homosexuality, contraception, and euthanasia. Supporting these in any form, including voting for someone who does, is grounds for denial of communion. However this should be a noble decision by the person not to follow the churches teaching and not to present themselves for communion, ever. They should not have to have to be scolded by a church leader for their actions. The arrogance of these people and those who vote for them is enough to warrant condemnation. Pride is one of the greatest sins against the Holy Spirit.

Posted by Dennis S | Report as abusive

Those of the Red or Purple whom tolerate the practice either implicitly deny the Real Presence or explicitly condone Sacrilige.Those whom tolerate them are cpmplicit.

Posted by J.F. Lundy | Report as abusive

How about the sin of scandal? Not the sort of thing priests talk about from the pulpit these days, but Holy Church has set down some pretty serious admonitions for this grave sin. We’re talking about the act of giving bad example here, not spreading rumors. These politicians are very visable in the public eye; what they do and say holds great sway. When they set bad example, they deserve public condemnation. Publically desecrating the Blessed Sacrament as they have done leaves the egregious bad example to their fellow Catholics that it is perfectly okay to do so. Somewhere in Sacred Scripture there is mention of mill-stone neckwear for such people.

Posted by William M | Report as abusive

Helen Westover is absolutely correct. When a Catholic politician openly and very publicly defies Church dogma, particularly when he or she is a figure of national and international prominence, and then presents himself to receive the Eucharist, the bishop of that jurisdiction has an obligation to act. He is charged to do this not only to protect the Sacrament itself, but also the soul of the defiant Catholic and perhaps most of all the Catholic faithful, who will be confused and scandalized if nothing is done. In contrast to Protestants, Catholics believe in the Real Presence – that is, they believe that the Eucharist, the Host, is, in fact, God Himself. It is critical, and explicitly stated in Holy Scripture, that the vessel that receives God Himself should be as pure as possible. The Church provides all the means for this, so that a soul can be properly disposed to receive God, and so to participate in His sacrifice in a most intimate and loving way. When a person notoriously exhibits behavior that openly violates the Deposit of Faith, and then he presents himself to receive the Most Blessed Sacrament, it becomes a scandal – in this case of major proportion. Mr. Giuliani understands this; he received excellent training and foundation in the Faith. Cardinal Egan was obligated to speak out, and I think it took great courage for him to do so, given the anti-Catholic bigotry that is so rampant in today’s society. New York State Governor Paterson also received Holy Communion, and he is even more fanatically pro-abortion than Mr. Giuliani. Gov. Paterson supports the RHAPP act and is doing everything in his power to get it passed. Among other things, RHAPP will force all Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, and will make abortion on demand through nine months gestation in New York State a “civil” right. His reception of the Eucharist at Yankee Stadium was an outright disgrace.

Posted by Katheen Mylott | Report as abusive

I’m with St. Paul and the Catholic Bishops. When a person, not in the state of grace, goes to communion to receive God in a another form, The Eucharist, then that person sins. Surely, as the Catholic Bishops have said many times, a person who flouts God’s law and murders a child directly or indirectly through abortion, even though usually a very small child, then that person should not receive Our Lord in the form of bread. These politicians who have voted for and advocated abortion are not worthy to receive Our Lord. As St. Paul said: If a person receives Our Lord unworthily, that person condemns himself. These said evil politicians are in danger of losing their souls.

Posted by Philip Saenz | Report as abusive

The pro-death politicians who “wear their Catholicism”, presenting themselves for Communion, remind me of rebellious children who challenge authority to discipline them. I do not understand why Bishops and Priests administering the Sacrament don’t discreetly wave these persons on with a blessing but no Host.

Posted by Carole Fox | Report as abusive

A little bit Catholic. If these individuals will not abide by the tenets of the Catholic Church, then they should join a protestant church. This at least would not be hypocritical.
The protestant reformation was because people did not agree with the Catholic Church. Like it or not they at least were honest and joined a different faith.

These CINO are destroying the faith of thousands. Hopefully the rest of us can see what they are.
Catholics only are supposed to receive communion when in a state of grace.

Since these CINO politicians insist on supporting abortion then the priest, cardinal should meet with them and tell them to leave the church. The scandal they are causing the church is unacceptable.
But considering how the CINO’s were invited to the mass I doubt the church hierarchy has the backbone. Since they do not have the courage of their faith to refuse communion to this group, they will not have the courage to excommunicate them. The cardinal’s are more worried about their social position with these politicians.

This scandal will push more of the 20 to 40 year olds out of the church. Why should they care about the church since the clergy do not care.

Posted by Barbara | Report as abusive

It is the painful destiny of all Catholics who become involved in political power that they must act in accordance with their Catholic conscience first, political mores after. In light of the martyrdom of Saint Sir Thomas More, who made a principled stand against his good friend King Henry VIII when he made his claims to headship of the church in england, even unto death, it is sheer cowardice that any politician today can say “I’m a Catholic in my private convictions, but that must give way to my political obligations.” Rather, they ought to take to heart some of Saint Thomas More’s last words as he ascended the scaffold to meet the axeman, “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” The powers of the world may stand ready to pass judgment on them now for daring to have principles greater than their own, but the powers of the world will be standing at our right and left as the powers of the next stand in judgment over us all. There and then, how much wisdom will there be in saying “I’m a Catholic in private, but a politician first and foremost?”

Posted by Bill Doors | Report as abusive

Cardinal Egan is no different than the majority of the American Bishops. They do not obey Rome, so why should the laity? Most have given themselves over to the world and MONEY! Christ’s work of saving souls is an after thought. Giuliani’s life is personel, but his open statements in public life and his public life are contradictory to Roman Catholic Doctrine, Faith and Morals. If I were in the Pope’s position, I would issue a mandate and give these individuals 30 days to change their stance on public moral issues are they would be out of the church, period!!!The bishops who are charged with safe guarding the Holy Eucharist would also recieve a scolding and if it continued, they would join the others outside the church. Better to have a small, faithful Roman Catholic Church than to have all of Christ’s enemies in the church giving scandal and doing harm by their examples!!
It will be interesting watching these people at Final Judgement tell God how they had to seperate their religion from their work.

Posted by steve | Report as abusive

I am a Catholic who has read the Bible many times and believes devoutly in what our Lord and Saviour died for: our sins. I do not believe any body should be denied Communion as Jesus accepted all sinners and therefore the Church should not deny anyone the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is therefore up to the person receiving our Lord if he or she is right with Him. Jesus has been made Lord of all and he alone will judge according to the Law and Scriptures. If someone knowingly receives Communion without being right with Jesus then Jesus will judge. “Vengenance is mine and I will repay” says the Lord. All we can do is pray and live by example. If we do not like what these people say and do then don’t vote for them; but we should always pray for them. Thank you Jesus.

Posted by Rob | Report as abusive

The position of the Church is clear – a person who, after talking to his priest/bishop, continues to publicly support abortion cannot receive communion. Senators Kerry, Kennedy, Leahy, Durbin, Dodd and House Speaker Pelosi all fall in that category and should not receive communion so long as they continue to lead the pro-abortion democratic party professing to support abortion etc. A priest who recognizes these people should refuse to give them communion.

Posted by Al Wunsch | Report as abusive

This isn’t even a subject of debate. There is no doubt the Catholic Church is against abortion. Anybody, in any way, shape or form, that supports it is in violation of the laws of the Catholic Church and should not, and cannot receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have to many Catholics that are playing the Cafeteria Catholic game. I don’t like this law so I don’t have to follow it, Oh, this one is OK, I will follow it. Pick and choose which laws of the Church they want to follow. Well guess what? The Catholic Church is not a democracy. You are Catholic, you follow all the laws, all the Commandments, you don’t like the rules, then when you die tell God that you disagree with His way, His Commandments, you don’t like His way of doing things.

Posted by Daniel | Report as abusive

I agree with most of the posters here. It is gravely scandalous and immoral for pro-abortion politicians to receive communion.

The problem with Rob’s post is that it assumes a private sinner. Regarding private sinners, he is absolutely correct. St. Paul says that we must “examine ourselves” and “discern the body” in order to receive, for if we do not, we “eat and drink damnation upon ourselves.” A careful reading of 1 Cor. clearly puts the onus on the sinner…. not the presbyter.

HOWEVER, when we have prominent Catholics publicly and scandalously contradicting Christ’s truth, then that is another matter, for they put the other laity at risk by their example. “Rudy received… he’s a pro-abort who has been married three times… why can’t I?”

In matters like this, where public scandal can well lead others to the gates of Hell, it is IMPERATIVE that the Church speak up. It is IMPERATIVE that the Bishops take the sinner aside and inform of them of Church teaching and demand they repent.

There was a time when Christian Roman Emperors who had sinned grievously were made to perform public penance for their sins, for their sins were so public. I do not call for public penance, but I do call on our Bishops to hold those who are public sinners to account, not for any political purpose, but rather for the salvation of their souls.

Posted by Viva Benedict | Report as abusive

It’s not just these worthless politicians who are at fault and deserve punishment,but also the priests,bishops and archbishops who make it possible for these lost souls to commit their sins.I find it very difficult to follow these charlatans who profess to be our shepherds. If they are not faithful to God in this one thing, why should I believe they are faithful in any other?

Posted by John70 | Report as abusive

To answer your three questions:

1) Obviously not.

2) Egan is not making this a political football. He is a pastor who has a member of his flock who is going astray. He addressed it in private with Giuliani, but then Giuliani very publicly went against the agreement he had made with Egan in private. So Giuliani is playing the political football with his comment about it being a private affair. Sorry, Rudy — you receive in public, it’s now a public affair.

3) Phil Lawler at answered this one — it’s because Egan didn’t want Giuliani’s divorce to get in the way of his message to other bishops. If Egan had mentioned anything in his statement about Giuliani’s divorce and remarriage situation, that would apply only to Giuliani, not to the other politicians like Pelosi, Kerry and Kennedy. Hence, Egan wanted to make it clear that this was not something strictly related to Giuliani’s particular marital situation but applicable to all politicians who call themselves Catholic.

But Egan also told his brother bishops how he went about this – in private. Remember all the speculation about Giuliani receiving Communion and how when reporters asked he also said it was a private affair? Well, now we know that he wasn’t receiving and why he wasn’t. Egan is signaling to other bishops that this how to go about dealing with these folks.

Now it’s going to be up to bishops like Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, Archbishop Niederauer of San Francisco and Bishop Michael Cote of Norwich, Connecticut to take care of the straying members of their flocks.

Posted by Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz | Report as abusive

As for Rudy Giuliani, his marriages are only one part of the problem. His pro-abortion status means he removes HIMSELF from this sacrament. The reception of Communion by a Catholic who is pro-abortion is a mortal sin as it against the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
Someone once asked a priest friend of mine if he(the priest) really believed that a person HAD to go to confession at least once a year. The priest replied, “No, not at all…(a pause followed) – unless he/she is Catholic. So, this means that if Catholicism or Jewish or whatever is your faith, then LOGICALLY one must follow the tenets of that faith and its disciplines.
The burden upon the bishops/cardinals involved is awesomely GREAT. They failed to “step up to the plate” for Jesus (as it applies to Catholicism). Politics at all cost, eh, boys? How pathetic.

Posted by Lucia A. Bartoli | Report as abusive

Here in the Greater Boston area we are still waiting to hear something, anything from Cardinal O’Malley about the Papal Mass Catholics like Senators Kerry and Kennedy who, despite their votes for the death of the unborn, proceeded to take The Blessed Sacrament as if they were members of a religious order. They are only the most recognizable names of a slew of Massachusetts politicians who profess to be Roman Catholic, piously take Holy Communion and then lobby and vote for homosexual marriage, adoptions by homosexuals and, of course, abortion.

Posted by Jack Francis | Report as abusive

It’s uplifting to read these comments of the Catholics who realize the beauty, depth and the mystery of the Eucharist (Holy Communion). I was shocked that it was the secular media AP, and in this article Reuters had mentioned about the scandal which was caused by the so called catholic politicians during the Pope’s visit to the US last April. It seems that there is only few lay faithful who remember what it takes to receive Holy Communion. Somehow the church hierarchy doesn’t feel obliged to talk about it, there however exceptions. I consider a scandal in itself that we must read about it on the news that public sinners come to Communion at the masses offered by the Holy Father. Why are we so complaisant with the world? Tomorrow is the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, and I am preparing the sermon on the Eucharist for my parish. Thank you to all the faithful for your help in this, for your witness to what it means to be Catholic today. Speak up more, I need to hear it, I need to be reminded of it, if they keep silence, the stones will speak.

Posted by Behati | Report as abusive

Your hatefull comments make me believe you all are not true catholics, but you follow the republican religion. None of you have mentioned word of the death penalty. Is one life more valuable than another? If we withhold communion from those that are pro-choice then we must equally withhold from those that support the death penalty. I would like to think that God is neither a democrat or a republican. If I join in with the chime that you can’t be catholic and pro-choice, I would also say that you can’t be catholic and be pro death penalty and pro war.

Posted by Reasonable | Report as abusive