Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pope Did Not Prevent Pro-Choice Politicians from Sharing in Communion

National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen Jr. notes that during two of the eucharistic liturgies Pope Benedict XVI led last week in Washington D.C. and New York City there was no effort to prevent three prominent pro-choice politicians from sharing in the communion service. In an article posted April 20th, Allen reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator John Kerry went to communion at Nationals Stadium and Rudy Giuliani at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

This is significant for a couple reasons. First, as Allen reminds us, several of the most conservative U.S. bishops have threatened to deny communion to Catholic politicans who do not work to make the right-to-life position law. He writes:

"During the 2004 elections, several American bishops announced that they would deny communion to Kerry because of his stance in favor of abortion rights. A majority of bishops, however, shrunk from that stance, worrying that it could politicize the Eucharist.

"Eventually, a commission of the bishops’ conference led by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick reached the conclusion that a uniform policy on the question could not be reached, and that it would be up to each bishop to set policy in his own diocese.

"Since that time debate has continued, with both sides citing broad statements of principle from the Vatican in order to bolster their case."

Pelosi even made a point of announcing the day before the liturgy that she planned to share in communion. So it is significant that when the pope had very public opportunities to adopt the conservative bishops' policy at his own liturgies, he declined.

These developments are also significant for interpreting what the pope meant April 16th when he asked the U.S. bishops: "Is it consistent for practicing Catholics...to adopt positions that contradict the right to life of every human being from conception to natural death?" While the pope obviously disagrees with pro-choice politicians, evidently he does not mean to push his position to the point of denying them communion.

That at least is much more in keeping with the dialogue approach that Vatican II favored. As I noted in my post yesterday, the pope would gain from using that model across the board, rather than berating Catholics who have not been convinced by some of Rome's official positions.

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