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For Pro-Choice Politicians, a Pass With the Pope

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By Robert D. Novak
Monday, April 28, 2008

In the aftermath of the U.S. visit by Pope Benedict XVI, traditional Catholics are asking a troublesome question: Did pro-choice politicians receiving Communion at the papal Masses indicate the pope had softened on the abortion question? The answer is no. 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 former mayor Rudolph Giuliani at Yankee Stadium in New York. Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington and Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New York, invited them. Given choice seats, they took Communion as a matter of course.

Vatican sources say the pope has not retreated from his long-held 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 the pope's messages of faith, obligation and compassion. 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 Kerry, as the Democratic presidential nominee, should be allowed to take Communion, he replied, "The minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it."

Ratzinger's demeanor necessarily has changed with his elevation from doctrinal enforcer to global pastor, but he has not altered his position. When the pope 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, Wuerl's predecessor as archbishop of Washington, took the opposite position. Blessed with charm and political finesse, McCarrick was not about to clash with his archdiocese's most famous parishioners.

Wuerl is considered less political than McCarrick, but he is hardly less averse to colliding with powerful laymen. He could have simply not invited the pro-choice politicians to a Mass where there was no room for the vast majority of Catholics who wanted to attend. The five pro-choice Catholics took Communion from the hand of Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope's representative to the United States as apostolic delegate.

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

There are devout pro-life Catholics who oppose rejection of any worshiper at the Communion rail but believe bishops should publicly manifest disapproval of Catholic pro-choice politicians. The bishops of Washington and New York do not. During the Mass at which Wuerl was installed as archbishop of Washington in 2006, he shook hands with 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.

© 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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