By CINDY WOODEN, CNS | Published April 29, 2004
Denying Communion to a politician such as Sen. John F. Kerry, who supports legalized abortion, must be the last resort in a process to convince the politician to uphold moral truths when voting, said the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
“In the nature of the church, the imposition of sanctions is always the final response, not the first response, nor the second nor maybe even the 10th,” the conference president, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., told Catholic News Service.
The bishop spoke to CNS in Rome April 23, the same day the bishops’ conference in Washington released a statement he made regarding Catholics in political life.
The statement came in response to remarks Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments, made at an April 23 press conference on a new Vatican document about abuses associated with the liturgy and the Eucharist.
The document reaffirmed church teaching that a Catholic, in a situation of serious sin, must go to confession before approaching the Eucharist.
Cardinal Arinze was asked explicitly whether that meant Kerry, the probable Democratic nominee for U.S. president and a supporter of legalized abortion, should be denied Communion unless he goes to confession and repents for his position.
“The norm of the church is clear,” Cardinal Arinze answered. “The church exists in the United States. There are bishops there, let them interpret it.”
However, when asked more generally if a priest should refuse Communion to a politician who is “unambiguously pro-abortion,” Cardinal Arinze said, “Yes.”
“If the person should not receive Communion, then he should not be given it,” the cardinal said.
Citing Cardinal Arinze’s response to the specific question about Kerry, Bishop Gregory’s statement said, “Each diocesan bishop has the right and duty to address such issues of serious pastoral concern as he judges best in his local church, in accord with pastoral and canonical norms.”
At the same time, he wrote, the U.S. bishops have established a task force “to discuss issues with regard to the participation of Catholics in political life, including reception of the sacraments, in the cases of those whose political advocacy is in direct contradiction to church teaching.”
In the CNS interview, Bishop Gregory said it would be difficult to answer the hypothetical question of what he would do in the unlikely event that Kerry showed up at a Mass he was celebrating.
“One thing I would do,” he said, “would be to preach on the integrity and sanctity of human life because it would be a great opportunity to proclaim clearly and in a public way what the church teaches.”
When asked if he would give Kerry Communion, Bishop Gregory said, “as a bishop, the first thing I have to do is teach. I have to teach the truth.”
Bishop Gregory said the U.S. bishops’ task force studying the question of Catholics in political life would try “to offer some options and perspective to bishops so that we can respond with a certain degree of unanimity.”
However, he said, individual bishops still will need to determine how to handle particular cases in their own dioceses.
“Teaching the doctrine of the church faithfully and truthfully is not an option. Bishops must do it,” he said.
“But we must do it—as St. Augustine says—we must ‘abhor the sin but not the sinner,’” Bishop Gregory said.