Catholic politi­cians dis­obey­ing the Pope

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Robert No­vak

In the af­ter­math of the visit by Pope Bene­dict XVI, a trou­ble­some ques­tion is asked by tra­di­tional Catholics: Did Amer­i­can pro-choice politi­cians re­ceiv­ing Com­mu­nion at the pa­pal masses in­di­cate a soft­en­ing on the abor­tion ques­tion by the pope? The an­swer is that it did not. On the con­trary, it re­flected dis­obe­di­ence to Bene­dict by the arch­bish­ops of New York and Wash­ing­ton.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sens. John Kerry, Christo­pher Dodd and Ed­ward M. Kennedy re­ceived Com­mu­nion at Na­tion­als Park in Wash­ing­ton, as did Ru­dolph Gi­u­liani at Yan­kee Sta­dium in New York. They were present be­cause they were in­vited to the masses by Arch­bishop Don­ald Wuerl of Wash­ing­ton and Car­di­nal Ed­ward Egan, arch­bishop of New York. Given choice seats, they took Com­mu­nion hosts as a mat­ter of course.

Vat­i­can sources say the pope has not re­treated from his longheld po­si­tion that pro-choice politi­cians should be de­prived of Com­mu­nion, but the de­ci­sions in Wash­ing­ton and New York were not his. The ef­fect was to dull mes­sages of faith, obli­ga­tion and com­pas­sion con­veyed by Bene­dict. In his Yan­kee Sta­dium homily, he talked of “author­ity” and “obe­di­ence” — ac­knowl­edg­ing that “th­ese are not easy words to speak nowa­days.” They surely are not for four for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates and two princes of the church, rep­re­sent­ing Catholics who defy their faith’s doc­trine on abor­tion.

Bene­dict’s po­si­tion was un­equiv­o­cal when he was Car­di­nal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith. Asked in 2004 whether Mr. Kerry as Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee should be al­lowed to take Com­mu­nion, he replied, “The min­is­ter of Holy Com­mu­nion must refuse to dis­trib­ute it.”

Mr. Ratzinger’s de­meanor nec­es­sar­ily has changed in his el­e­va­tion from doc­tri­nal en­forcer to global pas­tor, but he has not altered his po­si­tion on abor­tion-com­mu­nion. When as Bene­dict he ar­rived in Brazil a year ago, he de­clared: “The killing of an in­no­cent hu­man child is in­com­pat­i­ble with go­ing into Com­mu­nion in the body of Christ.”

Bene­dict did not re­it­er­ate that po­si­tion in Wash­ing­ton and New York, be­cause a pope trav­el­ing abroad is in­flu­enced by the stance of lo­cal church au­thor­i­ties. Amer­i­can bishops are di­vided. Arch­bishop Ray­mond Burke of St. Louis leads those who be­lieve pro-choice politi­cians can­not re­ceive Com­mu­nion. Car­di­nal Theodore McCar­rick, Mr. Wuerl’s pre­de­ces­sor as arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton, took a po­si­tion op­po­site to Mr. Burke’s. Blessed with charm and po­lit­i­cal fi­nesse, Mr. McCar­rick was not about to clash with his arch­dio­cese’s most fa­mous parish­ioners.

Mr. Wuerl is con­sid­ered less po­lit­i­cal than Mr. McCar­rick, but he is hardly less averse to col­lid­ing with pow­er­ful lay­men. He could have avoided any con­fronta­tion at Na­tion­als Park by sim­ply not invit­ing the prochoice politi­cians to a mass where there was no room for the vast ma­jor­ity of Catholics who wanted to at­tend. The five prochoice Catholics took Com­mu­nion from the hand of Arch- bishop Pi­etro Sambi, the pope’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the United States as apos­tolic del­e­gate.

In New York, Mr. Gi­u­liani re­ceiv­ing Com­mu­nion was even more re­mark­able. Un­like Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Kennedy, who are reg­u­lar Mass at­ten­dees, the for­mer mayor of New York says he goes to church only “oc­ca­sion­ally,” usu­ally for hol­i­days or fu­ner­als. Abor­tion aside, Mr. Gi­u­liani’s third mar­riage would make him in­el­i­gi­ble for Com­mu­nion be­cause his sec­ond mar­riage was not an­nulled by the church. But in New York, Car­di­nal Egan is no more apt than Car­di­nal McCar­rick was to of­fend the pow­er­ful, and Mr. Gi­u­liani was in­vited to the Mass.

There are de­vout pro-life Catholics who op­pose re­jec­tion of any wor­shiper at the Com­mu­nion rail, but they be­lieve bishops should pub­licly man­i­fest dis­ap­proval of Catholic politi­cians who sup­port abor­tion rights. The bishops of Wash­ing­ton and New York do not. Dur­ing Mr. Wuerl’s in­stal­la­tion mass as arch­bishop of Wash­ing­ton in 2006, he shook hands with Messrs. Kerry and Kennedy, seated side by side.

At Yan­kee Sta­dium, Bene­dict spoke of the “in­alien­able dig­nity and rights” of “the most de­fense­less of all hu­man be­ings, the un­born child in the mother’s womb.” In parishes across the coun­try, the faith­ful hear their priests echo the Holy Fa­ther’s words. Those pro­fes­sions ring hollow when pro-choice politi­cians are hon­ored as they were dur­ing the pope’s visit.

Robert No­vak is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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