...without talking about Kerry and Catholicism?
Nonetheless, most bishops are still reluctant to respond publicly to Catholic politicians whose views contradict church teaching -- for all kinds of reasons. One is that Canon 915 of church law makes clear that public denial of Communion is a punishment of last resort, to be invoked only against those who "obstinately persist in manifest grave sin." Those words suggest that the bishop should contact the offender privately first. Moreover, the word "manifest" implies that such a form of ostracism is an inappropriate sanction against mere private citizens who disobey church teachings in their private lives. Then there is the perception that the recent sex scandals have robbed U.S. bishops of their moral authority. Another reason may be that many politicians who support abortion rights are politically liberal on other issues, such as welfare and the death penalty, and thus perhaps acceptable to an episcopate whose members tend to be politically liberal themselves.
But the most likely reason is that excommunication so far has proved to be a two-edged sword. In 1989, Bishop Leo T. Maher of San Diego, Calif., forbade Lucy Killea, a former California Democratic assembly member who was a Catholic and was running for the state Senate, to receive Communion in Maher's diocese because of her opposition to abortion restrictions. Killea cast herself as a martyr of conscience and flew to Sacramento, whose ultraliberal bishop at the time, Francis A. Quinn, assured her that she would not be denied the Eucharist in his diocese.
Killea won that election -- and after the trouncing of Maher, few bishops until recently have considered following his example.
...and...to keep track on a daily basis, we now have the Catholic Kerry Watch Blog , not started by me, but I might contribute now and again.
To restate, once again, why this is important, at least in my mind. It's not important because any one of us, least of all me, are "judging" John Kerry as a worse Catholic than ourselves. Some might have that mindset, but I try very hard not to. I try to see all of us as basically in the same boat. That boat, in case you're wondering, is the Good Ship Catholic, and what that means is that as a passenger on that boat, I'm oriented, not towards what my conscience tells me a good Catholic is all about, but how I can form my conscience so that it reflects more clearly the Mind of Christ.
So the Kerry case reflects the fissure between the modern mindset, which puts self first, and the ancient, traditional stance, which puts what God has revealed at the center of my journey. The basic point here, is that as individual with power, John Kerry is an enabler of legalized, easily-obtainable abortion. He seeks and values the support of abortion advocates and providers. We're not just talking about ideas, although that is not unimportant. We're talking about a person who, when given a choice to support the abortion industry and abortion advocacy groups or not, chooses, by his votes and his stated positions, to support it. He doesn't have to. No one is forcing him to. But he does. This active support of abortion is incompatible with the life of a disciple of Jesus. That's not me talking, by the way. That's the ancient Christian witness to the preciousness of life.
So, the question is, not how do I judge John Kerry on this issue, but how does he stand in relationship to the consistent stance of the Catholic faith on the matter? It's really hard to articulate this problem without sounding like we are putting ourselves in the place of God, or holding Kerry up to unique standards. I think that's why always setting this in a broader context is so important. It's a moment of judgment, if you will, for all of us.
(And, incidentally, this also prompts me to wonder about the inconsistency of various contemporary Catholics who like to appeal to the "early Church" as some sort of ideal standard for the modern Church. Well, the "early Church" had terrifically strict standards for who would be admitted to eucharist and who wouldn't. Yes, we can be reasonably certain that anyone who was in attendance at Eucharist in those early centuries shared in the Lord's Body and Blood. Why? Because those who weren't Christians weren't allowed to be present, and the baptized who had committed serious sins were probably sitting outside the gathering, ashes on their heads, in the middle of their 3-year penances. You want to go back to that? Okay. Let's. That would fix this problem, and quick.)
Further, this is a moment of education as to the nature of Eucharist. What is it? What's interesting is that in these post-Conciliar days, we are constantly reminded that Eucharist is not a private devotion - it is an effective sign of the unity of God's people in Christ.
That's why, in the end, the weight of criticism is not at Kerry, as opportunistic and cynical as his use of this issue may be. It is, once again, on those charged with helping all of us understand and live by it. I wonder, really, if anyone at all, any bishop has yet taken it upon himself to insist - not just suggest - but insist on private meetings with Kerry on this issue. I'll try not to be cynical myself on that issue.