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Publication: Conservative Review
Disobeying the Pope

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                   April 29, 2008

Disobeying the Pope
By Robert D. Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In the aftermath of the visit by Pope 
Benedict XVI, a troublesome question is asked by traditional
Catholics: Did American pro-choice politicians receiving 
Communion at the papal masses indicate a softening on the 
abortion question by the pope? The answer is that it did 
not. On the contrary, it reflected disobedience to Benedict 
by the archbishops of New York and Washington. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sens. John Kerry, Christopher
Dodd and Edward M. Kennedy received Communion at Nationals 
Park in Washington, as did Rudolph Giuliani at Yankee 
Stadium in New York. They were present because they were 
invited to the masses by Archbishop Donald Wuerl of 
Washington and Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop of New 
York. Given choice seats, they took Communion hosts as a 
matter of course. 

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Vatican sources say the pope has not retreated from his 
long-held position that pro-choice politicians should be 
deprived of Communion, but the decisions in Washington and 
New York were not his. The effect was to dull messages of 
faith, obligation and compassion conveyed by Benedict. In 
his Yankee Stadium homily, he talked of "authority" and 
"obedience" -- acknowledging that "these are not easy words 
to speak nowadays." They surely are not for four former 
presidential candidates and two princes of the church, 
representing Catholics who defy their faith's doctrine on 

Benedict's position was unequivocal when he was Cardinal 
Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine 
of the Faith. Asked in 2004 whether Kerry as Democratic 
presidential nominee should be allowed to take Communion, 
he replied, "The minister of Holy Communion must refuse 
to distribute it." 

Ratzinger's demeanor necessarily has changed in his 
elevation from doctrinal enforcer to global pastor, but he 
has not altered his position on abortion-communion. When 
as Benedict he arrived in Brazil a year ago, he declared: 
"The killing of an innocent human child is incompatible 
with going into Communion in the body of Christ." 

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Benedict did not reiterate that position in Washington and 
New York, because a pope traveling abroad is influenced by 
the stance of local church authorities. American bishops 
are divided. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis leads 
those who believe pro-choice politicians cannot receive 
Communion. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Wuerl's predecessor 
as archbishop of Washington, took a position opposite to 
Burke's. Blessed with charm and political finesse, 
McCarrick was not about to clash with his archdiocese's 
most famous parishioners. 

Wuerl is considered less political than McCarrick, but he 
is hardly less averse to colliding with powerful laymen. 
He could have avoided any confrontation at Nationals Park 
by simply not inviting the pro-choice politicians to a 
mass where there was no room for the vast majority of 
Catholics who wanted to attend. The five pro-choice 
Catholics took Communion from the hand of Archbishop 
Pietro Sambi, the pope's representative to the United 
States as apostolic delegate. 


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In New York, Giuliani receiving Communion was even more 
remarkable. Unlike Pelosi and Kennedy, who are regular 
Mass attendees, the former mayor of New York says he goes 
to church only "occasionally," usually for holidays or 
funerals. Abortion aside, Giuliani's third marriage would 
make him ineligible for Communion because his second 
marriage was not annulled by the church. But in New York, 
Cardinal Egan is no more apt than Cardinal McCarrick was 
to offend the powerful, and Giuliani was invited to the 

There are devout pro-life Catholics who oppose rejection 
of any worshiper at the Communion rail, but they believe 
bishops should publicly manifest disapproval of Catholic 
politicians who support abortion rights. The bishops of 
Washington and New York do not. During Wuerl's installation 
mass as archbishop of Washington in 2006, he shook hands 
with Kerry and Kennedy, seated side by side. 

At Yankee Stadium, Benedict spoke of the "inalienable 
dignity and rights" of "the most defenseless of all human 
beings, the unborn child in the mother's womb." In parishes 
across the country, the faithful hear their priests echo 
the Holy Father's words. Those professions ring hollow when 
pro-choice politicians are honored as they were during the 
pope's visit. 

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