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

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.

Abortion debate rages in Britain on 40th anniversary of law

23-week-old foetus in ultrasound scan, 23 April 2008/Create Health Clinic handoutBritain passed its law legalising abortion 40 years ago today. But the controversy has not died down. Parliament is again besieged by two camps of activists, one keen to stop what they say is murder and the other defending what they see as a women’s right. Judging it too difficult to have the law overturned, the anti-abortion camp aims to lower the 24-week limit for the termination of pregnancy to 20, 18 or even fewer weeks.

For more, read Kate Kelland’s feature here. We also have a factbox on abortion laws around the world and the story of a boy born at 22 weeks — probably the most premature baby to have survived in Britain — and now thriving.

The factbox shows a wide spectrum of legal positions, with differing rationales producing different conditions, especially on the time limits. Britain is clearly in a minority with its 24-week limit; many other countries set the bar at 12 weeks, with possible exceptions.

Wafer wars, wedge issues and the pope’s visit

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.”

Move over U.S. Religious Right, here’s the evangelical center

Gushee book/Christa CameronMove over Religious Right: you’re getting squeezed by the evangelical center.

That is one of the central points of a new book by David P. Gushee entitled “The Future of Faith in American Politics”.

To Gushee, the evangelical center combines much of the theology of the Religious Right with the social concerns of the left, give it a broad engagement in many of the pressing issues of our day.

New book charts fresh course for U.S. Religious Right

Tony PerkinsTony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is well known as one of the leading activists of the Religious Right in the United States. Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr, founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, is one of the most influential voices of the black conservative movement.

The two have come together to chart a future course for conservative Christian political activism in a just published book entitled “Personal Faith, Public Policy”. The issues they discuss include the value of life, poverty and justice and rebuilding the traditional family unit.

They argue that conservative Christians need to speak out more on issues like poverty and racial reconciliation while maintaining their opposition to abortion and gay rights. They say no one political party – i.e., the Republican Party – should assume to command evangelical support unless it delivers the goods and that born-again Christians should also woo Democrats.

Catholics, sex, abortion, libel, a cardinal — what a story…

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

UPDATE: The trial ended in stalemate on Feb. 29 and a retrial is due in a few months. Murphy-O’Connor was not called to testify.

The British papers are all over the story of the libel suit brought by former spokesman for London’s Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O’Connor against the Daily Mail. The tabloid wrote in 2006 that Austen Ivereigh, 41, had pressured one former girlfriend into having an abortion and wanted another to abort twins she was carrying (she later miscarried). He flatly denies the charges and accuses the Daily Mail of making him lose his job and his reputation. The story broke at a time when Ivereigh was an active Church campaigner against abortion.

The case opened in court on Monday and Ivereigh has been on the stand giving his side of the story. He admitted he did not always live up to Church teaching (on sex before marriage, for example) but strongly denied that he proposed abortion and insisted that he, as a practising Catholic, opposed it.

Catholic univ. basketball coach rapped over abortion, stem cells

Pope Benedict with professors at Sacro Cuore (Sacred Heart) Catholic University in Rome, 25 Nov. 2005The Vatican has been stressing for years that Catholic universities should have a distinctively Catholic character and follow Church doctrine. Pope John Paul II spelled this out in a 1990 document called Ex corde Ecclesiae and Vatican officials have used this to discipline universities that stray too far from Church teaching. Traditionally, rebellious theologians were the ones who caught their eye. In recent years, bioethical issues have emerged as a flashpoint. Universities researching in vitro fertilisation or embryonic stem cells — both of which the Church opposes — have been threatened with withdrawal of their Catholic status unless they stop.

Now the question has come up whether a basketball coach at a Catholic university can be in favour of abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Mollie Ziegler at GetReligion has picked up a fascinating story about Saint Louis University’s coach Rick Majerus, who expressed his personal views to a local reporter while attending a Hillary Clinton campaign rally. SLU describes itself as “a Jesuit, Catholic university.” It is not legally controlled by the local Catholic diocese. St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke is one of the most outspoken Catholic prelates in the United States — he said in 2004 he would deny communion to John Kerry because of his pro-abortion views, said the same last year about Rudy Giuliani and has now said it about Majerus. And he says SLU should discipline Majerus.

Rick Majerus (when he was still University of Utah coach), 28 March 1998/Mike BlakeIt’s hard to imagine that Burke will just let this drop because of details such as the lay composition of its board or how the state of Missouri views the university’s status. If this document on Ex corde Ecclesiae by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is any guide, he seems to have a moral responsibility for all Catholic universities in his diocese, whether they officially come under his control or not. What he can do is not clear. The Vatican has ways to exert its influence, especially with the Jesuits. Look at the way it pushed Fr. Tom Reese out of the editor’s chair at America magazine.

A Massachusetts Yankee in Pope Benedict’s Court

Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican CityU.S. ambassadors are often chosen not for their expertise but because of the size of their campaign contributions. For his next envoy to the Vatican, however, President George W. Bush seems to have opted for one of the best qualified Americans he could find. Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon probably knows more people in the Vatican than all of her predecessors combined. She is almost certainly better connected there than any of her future colleagues from the other 175 countries with diplomatic relations with the Holy See. She has a resumé no other diplomat could match, including leading a Vatican delegation to a United Nations conference and advising the Catholic Church on three different pontifical organisations.

The Pittsfield, Massachusetts native still has to be confirmed by the Senate. She would not be the first woman U.S. ambassador to the male bastion that is the Vatican. Corrine “Lindy” Boggs served from 1997 to 2001.

Mary Ann GlendonIn 1994, Glendon became the first woman to lead a Vatican delegation to an international conference — a role that usually was assigned to clerics, preferrably archbishops. It was the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 (see her account of the conference here). While Pope John Paul’s choice of Glendon for that role raised some eyebrows in the Vatican, it also greatly enhanced her profile as one of the Church’s leading laywomen and academics.Since 2004 she has been president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which advises the Pope on social issues, and also serves on the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family. She is the author of numerous books , including “Abortion and Divorce in Western Law.”

UK abortion debate grows 40 years after first law allowing it

Over at another Reuters blog, Ask… , my London-based colleague Michael Holden has put the spotlight on a growing debate in Britain about the 40-year-old abortion law there. The law has come under increasing fire in recent years from anti-abortion activists, who say medical advances mean a foetus born before the 24-week limit can survive and the limit should therefore be reduced. At the same time, pro-abortion activists want to change the law to make it easier to obtain an abortion by dropping the requirement that two doctors agree to the procedure.

Michael’s post asks: Abortion – time for a change?

October 24th, 2007, filed by Michael Holden

embryo1.jpgThe highly charged issue of abortion is once again becoming a hot political issue.

Ever since terminations were legalised in1967, there has been heated debate between those who argue that abortions are morally wrong and those who say it is a woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby.