Refusing Communion Is Left

Up to Individual Bishops

Roman Catholic bishops said from a private retreat yesterday that U.S. Catholics should not honor or give awards to politicians who defy "our fundamental moral principles" on abortion and other issues.

But church leaders refrained from making a definitive statement on whether Holy Communion should be withheld from dissenting Catholic lawmakers. The bishops had entered the meeting badly divided over the issue and, after their closed-door discussion, affirmed that under church law each bishop can decide how to apply teachings in his diocese.

"Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. Nevertheless, we all share an unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity and to preach the Gospel in difficult times," the bishops said in a statement from their Denver assembly, which is to end today.

Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis sparked a national debate over Communion and politics in January by saying he would deny the sacrament to Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, a Catholic. Kerry's support for abortion rights and positions on other issues are against church teachings.

Vatican officials noted the discord. They privately sent documents to the bishops' assembly to guide their discussion.

* MIDVALE, Utah -- The FBI seized a fax machine from a University of Utah health clinic that it says was used to send a claim of responsibility for a lumberyard fire under investigation as possible ecoterrorism. A radical environmental group, the Earth Liberation Front, asserted in a fax to a Salt Lake City radio station Tuesday that it set Monday's fire in West Jordan, which caused $1.5 million in damage.

* LOUISVILLE -- An Iranian refugee holding a sign that read "Who's responsible" doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze in front of the county courthouse, officials said. Morteza Mehrpou, 48, was hospitalized with minor burns.

* GRAND PRAIRIE, Tex. -- A gunman in a van in a Wal-Mart parking lot killed one police officer and critically wounded another, prompting a standoff that trapped customers in the store for hours before the attacker was found dead. Police Sgt. Gregory Hunter, 54, was fatally shot as he and another officer, Bruce Seix, checked on a camper-style van that had been parked all night with its engine running, a police spokesman said. Seix, 44, was critically injured. The gunman was not identified.

* CAPE CANAVERAL -- Space station astronaut Mike Fincke was listening in from orbit when he got the good news: It's a girl, Tarali Paulina Fincke. Renita Fincke gave birth to the couple's second child at a Houston area hospital as the astronaut orbited Earth. NASA officials said they believe it was the first time a U.S. astronaut was in space during the birth of his child.

* LITTLE ROCK -- A divided Arkansas Supreme Court ended its oversight of the state's public schools, saying legislators have made changes adequate to end unconstitutional conditions. The oversight stemmed from a 1992 suit by the poor, majority-black Lake View district in the Mississippi River Delta, alleging that Arkansas failed to fund school districts evenly.

-- From News Services