Communion politics issue boils up after U.S. papal visit
A 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.
“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.
In 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?