By JOSEPHINE HEARN & RYAN GRIM | 4/15/08 4:47 AM EST
In June 2004, as prominent Catholics in the United States debated whether Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry should be allowed to receive Communion, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger weighed in with what appeared to be an unequivocal opinion: No.
If a politician who supports abortion rights attempts to receive Communion, Ratzinger wrote, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.”
Ratzinger is to arrive in Washington on Tuesday as Pope Benedict XVI, and his visit to the nation’s capital is already pitting anti-abortion-rights activists against Roman Catholic lawmakers who support abortion rights, reviving an issue that has received scant attention in Congress or on the campaign trail in recent months.
The conflict could come to a head Thursday, when the pope is scheduled to celebrate a Mass at the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark. The Vatican has invited all Catholic lawmakers, and many abortion-rights-supporting Catholics — including Kerry and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — are expected to attend.
In ads placed in The Washington Times and Politico this week, the anti-abortion-rights American Life League is urging the pontiff to “protect the body of Christ from the bloodstained hands of pro-abortion ‘Catholics’” by denying Communion to politicians who support abortion rights.
Michael Hichborn, ALL’s media director, said his group is the largest anti-abortion advocacy organization in the U.S. “What we expect is that there will be pro-abortion Catholics who are going to try to receive Communion when the pope holds Mass,” he said. “We’re also hoping that his advisers have fully briefed him on those politicians who may attempt to receive Communion. I don’t know how well-prepared he’ll be.”
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she knows of no plan to deny Communion to particular lawmakers Thursday.
“You presume that everyone there knows the rules of the church and follows them,” she said. “No one is policing that. People go to church and people go to Communion if they feel in their heart they are prepared to receive Communion.”
Abortion-rights-supporting Catholic lawmakers on the Hill seemed reluctant Monday to discuss the issues raised by the pope’s visit. Representatives for several members said their bosses were traveling and couldn’t be reached or were otherwise unavailable for comment.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, offered a one-line statement: “The speaker receives Communion regularly and expects to receive it on Thursday.”
Kerry spokesman David Wade said his boss also intends to take Communion on Thursday.
A spokesman for Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the lawmakers singled out for attention in ALL’s ads, said that Durbin won’t be attending Mass because of floor and committee schedules but that he will go to a papal reception at the Italian Embassy on Wednesday.
“Sen. Durbin’s religion is a private matter, and we’re not going to comment beyond giving scheduling information,” said spokesman Joe Shoemaker.
Ratzinger’s 2004 opinion appeared in a memo that was sent to then-Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and first reported in the Italian magazine L’Espresso. In the memo, which did not mention Kerry by name, Ratzinger said: “The church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion, even among Catholics, about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not, however, with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”
McCarrick later told Catholic News Service that the memo didn’t reflect “the full message I received,” but he refused to release what more there might have been.
Benedict has not softened the position expressed in the memo. Aboard the papal plane in 2007, he discussed a threat by Mexican Catholic leaders to excommunicate politicians who supported abortion.
According to a Reuters report, the pope supported the proposed excommunication.
“Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon law, which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving Communion, which is receiving the body of Christ,” he said.
The Mexican church leaders “did nothing new, surprising or arbitrary. They simply announced publicly what is contained in the law of the church,” he went on.
Walsh said that while the pope supported the Mexican church leaders’ right to excommunicate lawmakers who support abortion rights, they eventually chose not to do so.
Catholic lawmakers in the United States have periodically come under attack for failing to follow all of the Vatican’s teachings in their politics, particularly on abortion rights.
When the pontiff made his comments about Communion and abortion in the context of the Mexican political debate last year, some Catholic House Democrats, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), responded by issuing a statement in which they stressed their efforts to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
“Advancing respect for life and for the dignity of every human being is, as our church has taught us, our own life’s mission,” the lawmakers said in a May 2007 statement. “Each of us is committed to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term.”
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Click on the post title above to see the original on-line article. Thanks to ALL for alerting us to the article.