Political Hay

Blame the Bishops

If they can’t tell the difference between Catholic and Protestant communion, why shouldn’t Kerry flout canon law?

By 4.6.04

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In America's political theater of the absurd, Protestant politicians receive communion from Catholic priests while Catholic politicians take communion from Protestant ministers. In 1998, Bill Clinton, a Baptist, slipped into the communion line at a Catholic Church in South Africa. John Kerry, a Catholic, took communion this past Palm Sunday at an African Methodist Episcopal Church. Clinton spent Palm Sunday in 1995 soaking up a standing ovation from Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony and his congregation in Los Angeles. Kerry spent this Palm Sunday soaking up an endorsement from pastor Gregory Groover. Normally opposed to the mixing of pastors and politics, Kerry didn't mind receiving Groover's endorsement from the pulpit: "We're thankful that there's going to be a revolution in this country…a new movement…And we say, God, bring him on, the next president of the United States."

Kerry's separation-of-church-and-state scruples don't apply to pastors who endorse him or third-world thugs like "Father Aristide." He reserves them for the head of his own religion. "I think that it's important to not have the Church instructing politicians," he said as he disregarded Pope John Paul II's teaching on abortion.

In early March Kerry stepped into a Protestant church to challenge the Christianity of George Bush. The ironies abounded: a Catholic in a Protestant church was citing James 2:14 (a verse Catholics use to argue against Protestantism) against a Protestant President who has "faith" but no "deeds" even as that Catholic argued in other settings that his own faith shouldn't influence his deeds.

There are two Protestants in the race, an official one and an unofficial one. Kerry is the anti-Papal one, protesting the teachings of the Catholic Church in a manner befitting Martin Luther. Kerry's reception of communion at an African Methodist Episcopal Church is appropriate: he is more in communion with the teachings of that church than his own.

As Kerry brazenly violates Church law -- canon law explicitly forbids Catholics from receiving communion in Protestant churches -- it is not clear if he is actively baiting his own church or just considers its prelates too feckless to pull the plug on his show of Catholicism while disobeying its teachings. It is a measure of his contempt and their carelessness that as the American Catholic bishops (with a few exceptions) sit on their hands -- dithering over whether to ban pro-abortion Catholic politicians from communion -- Kerry takes communion at a Protestant church. Would Kerry need to preside at a Methodist-Episcopalian service before they took action?

Last week the New York Times noticed that Kerry's checkered Catholicism is a problem for the bishops. It didn't notice that this is a problem the bishops made by long indulging pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Kerry's campaign used this defense in the Times story. "It's not once been an issue the campaign has run into in almost two years on the campaign trail," a Kerry spokesman told the paper. "He's given speeches at Georgetown, he's given speeches at Boston College, he's a graduate of Boston College Law School, and he has a long history speaking in Catholic institutions."

Instead of censuring pro-abortion Catholic politicians, the American bishops stigmatized the few of their number who censured pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Nebraska bishop Fabian Bruskewitz and a former bishop of San Diego, Leo Maher, were criticized by their fellow bishops for confronting pro-abortion Catholic politicians. The New York Times story reveals that this attitude amongst the American bishops still exists. Now it is St. Louis archbishop Raymond Burke who is the subject of episcopal whispers for having said that he would withhold communion from Kerry.

"Few bishops followed the example of Archbishop Burke in St. Louis, and two who did were far less direct. A Catholic official familiar with the bishops' thinking, who did not want to be identified, said after Archbishop Burke's sanction: 'Notice the resounding silence. I think many people would not consider that a pastoral way to approach somebody,'" reported the Times.

Here we go again: Whenever the bishops don't want to confront a scandal, they call their passivity "pastoral." For some reason they are proud of this "silence." Haven't they learned by now that passivity in the name of PR only leads to bad PR and silence only leads to scandal?

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.