HHS nom­i­nee Se­be­lius caught be­tween her pol­i­tics and faith

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JU­LIA DUIN

Pres­i­dent Obama’s nom­i­nee to head the agency that guides fed­eral abor­tion pol­icy is the lat­est Ro­man Catholic politi­cian to find her­self torn be­tween her po­lit­i­cal be­liefs and her faith.

Al­ready ad­mon­ished against re­ceiv­ing Com­mu­nion be­cause of stands she has taken on abor­tion as gov­er­nor of Kansas, Kath­leen Se­be­lius now faces even closer scru­tiny from the church since she was nom­i­nated to serve as sec­re­tary of health and hu­man ser­vices ear­lier this month.

What be­gan as a lo­cal mat­ter be­tween Mrs. Se­be­lius and Arch­bishop Joseph Nau­mann, the arch­bishop of Kansas City, Kan., has taken on larger di­men­sions with the prospect that Mrs. Se­be­lius could re­side in Wash­ing­ton.

Ear­lier this month, Arch­bishop Ray­mond F. Burke — for­merly the arch­bishop of St. Louis but now pre­fect for the Apos­tolic Sig­natura, the Vat­i­can’s high­est court — de­clared that Mrs. Se­be­lius should not ap­proach the al­tar for Com­mu­nion in the United States.

“Af­ter pas­toral ad­mo­ni­tion, she ob­sti­nately per­sists in se­ri­ous sin,” he told CatholicAc­tion.org, a con­ser­va­tive Web site.

Arch­bishop Nau­mann, mean­while, has been in con­tact with Arch­bishop Don­ald W. Wuerl of the Wash­ing­ton Dio­cese to in­form him of the Kansas City prelate’s dis­cus­sions with Mrs. Se­be­lius.

A spokesman for Arch­bishop Wuerl said church of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton would act in ac­cor­dance with the ad­mo­ni­tion from Kansas City. A church of­fi­cial in Wash­ing­ton said the ad­mo­ni­tion does not pro­hibit priests from serv­ing Mrs. Se­be­lius if she does present her­self, but de­clined to spec­u­late on what would hap­pen in that event.

Bap­tist the­olo­gian and Mercer Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor David P. Gushee said the sit­u­a­tion be­tween Mrs. Se­be­lius and the Catholic bish­ops “is a very un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion for those of us who are con­cerned about the role of faith in the pub­lic square. I take se­ri­ously the con­cerns of Catholic leaders about one of their own flock. It’s not in­trin­si­cally dis­qual­i­fy­ing but it is a con­cern.

“Who­ever gets named HHS sec­re­tary will have to be some­body who will move ahead with con­crete abor­tion-re­duc­tion poli­cies. I hope she’ll be asked about that.”

Mrs. Se­be­lius has ve­toed bills re­strict­ing abor­tion and re­ceived con­sid­er­able sup­port from Dr. Ge­orge Tiller, a Wi­chita, Kan., abor­tion­ist who spe­cial­izes in third-trimester abor­tions. That dis­turbs Lou En­gle, the evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tant founder of the Call, a youth prayer move­ment based across the state line in Kansas City, Mo.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the Catholics say­ing she can­not al­low the killing of the un­born and re­main in good stand­ing with their church,” he said. “That is a na­tional sin. Any­one who holds an ide­ol­ogy that you can legally abort 6-to 9-month-olds in the womb has dis­qual­i­fied her­self from the top po­si­tion of health in the na­tion.”

Mrs. Se­be­lius’ of­fice in Topeka, Kan., did not re­turn a call ask­ing for com­ment. But in a 2006 speech, the gov­er­nor ac­knowl­edged that her Catholic faith teaches “that all life is sa­cred.”

“Per­son­ally, I be­lieve abor­tion is wrong,” she said. “How­ever, I dis­agree with the sug­ges­tion that crim­i­nal­iz­ing women and their doc­tors is an ef­fec­tive means of achiev­ing the goal of re­duc­ing the num­ber of abor­tions in our na­tion.”

Arch­bishop Nau­mann said nor­mally he would re­joice at a Catholic hav­ing such a pres­ti­gious po­si­tion, but not in this case. “Now she is join­ing Vice Pres­i­dent [Joseph] Bi­den, [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and a whole raft of oth­ers in the Se­nate and Congress, which I think are send­ing very con­fus­ing mes­sages,” he told CatholicAc­tion.org.

The is­sue of pro-choice politi­cians tak­ing Com­mu­nion af­ter be­ing in­structed to ab­stain was high­lighted dur­ing Pope Bene­dict XVI’s visit to the United States last year. Sen. John Kerry, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, was pho­tographed tak­ing Com­mu­nion dur­ing the pa­pal Mass with 46,000 in at­ten­dance at Na­tion­als Park. Dur­ing the 2004 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, sev­eral bish­ops — in­clud­ing Arch­bishop Burke, who was then sta­tioned in St. Louis — told him not to do so in their re­spec­tive dio­ce­ses.

Sen. Christo­pher J. Dodd, Con­necti­cut Demo­crat, and Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, also took Com­mu­nion, ac­cord­ing to pub­lished pho­tos or eye­wit­nesses. Nei­ther pro-choice se­na­tor had re­ceived pub­lic in­struc­tion to ab­stain.

Car­di­nal Ed­ward Egan of New York re­vealed in April that he had asked Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani not to take Com­mu­nion af­ter the Repub­li­can for­mer New York mayor did so dur­ing a pa­pal Mass in Man­hat­tan.

The na­tion’s bish­ops are split over how far to go in en­forc­ing Canon 915, the church law that deals with who may take Com­mu­nion. It says: “Those who have been ex­com­mu­ni­cated or in­ter­dicted af­ter the im­po­si­tion or dec­la­ra­tion of the penalty and oth­ers ob­sti­nately per­se­ver­ing in man­i­fest grave sin, are not to be ad­mit­ted to Holy Com­mu­nion.”

The first part con­cerns Catholics who have been ex­com­mu­ni­cated or placed un­der in­ter­dict — both for­mal pro­ce­dures that are rare but con­sid­ered a legally bind­ing “ban” on a per­son.

The sec­ond men­tions those who “pub­licly and ob­sti­nately re­main in man­i­fest grave sin.” In that case, the pri­mary bur­den is on the per­son to ab­stain from the sacra­ment.

The Rev. Lawrence Di­Nardo, who served as Arch­bishop Wuerl’s chief canon at­tor­ney dur­ing the arch­bishop’s 18-year ten­ure in Pittsburgh be­fore be­ing trans­ferred to Wash­ing­ton in 2006, said he ex­pects his for­mer boss to wait un­til Mrs. Se­be­lius is con­firmed as HHS sec­re­tary be­fore do­ing any­thing.

“I am sure this crossed his mind, but the is­sue has not yet arisen, so any­thing said is spec­u­la­tive,” he said.

Arch­bishop Wuerl “is a very loyal per­son to the church, very thought­ful, very pas­toral,” he added. “He’ll take all dif­fer­ent is­sues into con­sid­er­a­tion as he makes a judg­ment. He al­ways tries to make ev­ery­thing a teach­able mo­ment.”

GETTY IM­AGES

SCRU­TINY: Kath­leen Se­be­lius, Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tar y-des­ig­nate, has been ad­mon­ished against re­ceiv­ing Com­mu­nion be­cause of her pro-choice views.

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