Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 24, 2004
No communion for John Kerry
U.S. candidate Kerry 'offside' on fundamental Catholic life issues
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
In 1960, the conventional wisdom was that Protestants wouldn't elect a Catholic president out of fears that he would take his orders from the pope rather than the Constitution. John Kennedy, reiterating his belief in the separation of Church and state, attempted to neutralize the effects of anti-Catholic prejudice and assured his fellow Americans that his religion would not interfere with his presidential duties.
By way of contrast, John Kerry, who is favoured by many of the electorate, finds himself challenged by a number of Catholic bishops and members of the flock to prove his Catholic faith.
Kerry, who has consistently voted pro-choice through his political career, was an outspoken critic of the Partial Birth Abortion Act signed last year by President George Bush. He voted against the Defence of Marriage Act in 1996 and has opposed calls for a constitutional amendment to protect the status of marriage between a man and a woman.
Despite repeated admonition from bishops, first private, then public, he adamantly insists that he will continue to receive Communion when he attends Mass no matter what.
To grasp the nature of the controversy, one must understand the distinctive nature of Catholic doctrine regarding the Eucharist. Catholics believe that in receiving Communion, we receive the greatest of gifts: the body of Jesus Christ. St. Paul reminds us: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:27).
By sharing in Communion, Catholics testify that they are in fundamental union of heart and mind. On fundamental life issues, Kerry is clearly offside.
Although Kerry may garner a few votes by exploiting anti-bishop and anti-Catholic sentiments, by reason of his defiant dissent from fundamental Catholic teaching, he should voluntarily abstain from Communion.
John Kerry is not the only Catholic politician in North America who is offside, but he is the only one running for the presidency of the United States, and his situation is something of a test case. The same dilemma and principles would apply to the Clarks, Chretiens and Martins in Canada.
Another related question is: If a dissident Catholic leader obstinately persists in opposing fundamental Church teaching, should he or she be turned away if they present themselves for Communion?
Civil leaders have a duty, says Pope John Paul, "to make courageous choices in support of life, especially through legislative measures. . . . No one can ever renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate which calls that person to answer to God, to his or her own conscience and to the whole of society for choices which may be contrary to the common good" (The Gospel of Life, 90).
It is not so much a question of proposing a Catholic agenda. The goal is to help shape public policy that is in conformity with the law rooted in our nature that governs us all no matter what our religious belief. Thus, politicians are called to try an ensure that the laws that govern us protect human life, respect the human person, preserve the unique nature of marriage, support family, ensure the safety of children, guarantee religious freedom and make it possible for all citizens to share in the conditions that are necessary for humane living.
Obviously, there can be different strategies for realizing these fundamental values. When it comes, for example, to ensuring the rights of the poor, there will inevitably be conflicting strategies.
However, there are some issues that admit of no exceptions: abortion, physician-assisted suicide, homicide, the destruction of human embryos in artificial fertilization, stem cell research and cloning. In each of these, the issues are clear-cut. We cannot do what is wrong even for good purposes.
Sometimes politicians have to make a prudential judgment that at a given time in history, only imperfect legislation is possible. If the intent is to limit the evil as much as possible, no other options are feasible, and the door to a better decision in the future is not being permanently closed, then it is legitimate for public officials to support such legislation.
Nevertheless, there are a whole host of other life issues that also call for prudential judgments, for example, capital punishment and the application of the principles regarding a just war.
Smoke and mirrors
What is unacceptable is political duplicity. All too many politicians try to hide behind, statements such as: "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I will not impose my belief or morality on others" or "Because abortion is so controversial, I must remain neutral and let each person decide on their own."
If someone said: "I'm personally opposed to child abuse and rape, but I will not impose that belief on potential child abusers and rapists," we wouldn't let them hide behind such nonsense. Nor should we let politicians hide behind similar nonsense in the case of abortion.
The U.S. bishops set up a committee to discuss possible disciplinary sanctions for defiant Catholic politicians. I am anxiously awaiting the outcome of their discussions. In the meantime, I believe the question, "If a dissident Catholic leader obstinately persists in opposing fundamental Church teaching, should he or she be turned away if they present themselves for Communion," has to be answered, "Yes."
Letter to the Editor - 06/14/04
Letter to the Editor - 06/28/04
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