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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Who else should the Catholic Church ban from taking Communion? 

Some Catholic bishops have made news of late by stating that they would refuse communion to Catholic politicians who are pro-choice. But why single out politicians for such treatment? Why not ensure that every communion-goer is on the doctrinal straight and narrow? To this end, churchgoers who want to receive the sacrament could sign a statement avowing that they follow (and agree with) doctrine.

Agreement with the doctrine would seem to be the sticking point here. It's not as if John Kerry, Gov. Jim McGreevey (NJ) or others are actually going around performing abortions (or having them). The most they have done is advocated policies that would allow other individuals the right to make the choice for themselves -- which, perhaps, is moral abrogation enough for the Church. So, agreement with the doctrine must be required for the Church to contend that the person is sufficiently impure to withhold communion.

But, what about Catholic politicians or non-VIP laity who support the death penalty? Have any bishops suggested using fidelity to Catholic doctrine on this issue as a litmus test for receiving communion? Or what about Catholic policy with regard to nuclear weapons? Or the "preferential option for the poor", long stressed within papal encyclicals? Not to mention Catholic policy regarding immigrant rights, refugee protection and asylum, human rights, just war, the living wage, etc.? For goodness sake, what about Catholics who use birth control!? Can we be allowed to receive communion?

Apparently, the official Church teaching on receiving the sacrament is that Catholics knowingly living in serious sin or those who reject Church doctrine should abstain from communion. Yet this guidance for the individual adherent is a far cry from the case of bishops making an example of a public figure. The whole event has raised questions of the extent to which the Church should intervene not just in policy but in politics. But in a sense, the current dispute belies the dubiousness of the question: specifically because American Catholics have little problem diverging from the doctrinal values platform of the Church hierarchy, the Church is a less powerful political entity than its numbers might suggest.

The great irony of course is that 40 some odd years ago, JFK took pains to convince a nation largely ill-disposed to Catholics that his presidency would not be ruled by Rome. It now appears some bishops want the opposite from John Kerry.


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