In case you haven’t noticed, Catholic bishops have stopped denying communion to politicians in this 2008 political campaign. The new approach is to invoke spiritual counseling and then publish a press release.
Such was the path chosen by Cardinal Egan in New York, who counseled former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani not to take communion; and by Archbishop Naumann, of Kansas City who did the same to Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.
Why is this indirect spiritual counseling invoked instead of canon law’s provision? I suspect that the U.S. Bishops and the Vatican have decided that the harshness of the former approach was counterproductive. I also note that St. Louis Archbishop Burke, the architect of the ban-John-Kerry-from-Communion edict of 2004, has been “kicked upstairs” to a Vatican Commission in far away Rome.
I don’t think bishops are any less concerned about legalized abortion, but it seems to me they want to avoid a hodge-podge approach wherein some prelates issue bans and others do not, thus confusing the faithful about how to vote. I think the new approach is the right one, although it presents some questions.
For instance, Cardinal Egan indicated in his public statement that the reason that Giuliani should refrain from communion is the former mayor’s opinion about pro-choice legislation. There are many more Catholics who have been counseled to refrain from communion because of a divorce and remarriage like that of Giuliani. Moreover, the mayor scandalized the City of New York – not easy to do! – by his flagrant affair while still married. So it is strange that he would be publicly criticized for his pro-choice politics, especially since he is neither holding or running for office.
Archbishop Naumann published a similar missive, indicating that his counsel to Governor Sibelius was long-standing. Here was a Catholic governor whose social programs had been intentionally and successfully targeted upon reducing the need for abortion by providing services, education and counseling. Her approach has been consonant with the bishops’ teaching in Faithful Citizenship. This archbishop, however, denied the Governor credit for having reduced abortions in Kansas and published the conditions he imposed upon her before return to the sacrament. These include acknowledging her error, Confession, and “a public repudiation of her previous efforts and actions in support of laws and policies sanctioning abortion.”
I have no problem with such requirements for a public sinner, but I’m not convinced that Governor Sibelius deserves this categorization. And even if she did, it seems to me that publishing the list of her obligations is one sure way of making sure she doesn’t follow them. An office holder can scarcely be seen as substituting public duty to the people for obedience to a Catholic bishop. Such an act would return Catholics to the days of Al Smith who was trounced in the presidential election because the public supposed he would abandon the constitution to kowtow to ecclesiastical dictates.
I am not against Catholics in office following the moral teachings of the Church: but I question the wisdom of a bishop publishing his “spiritual” advice. There are better ways of counseling Catholics than issuing press releases. Is the Archbishop so focused on Catholic values that he has misunderstood politics? Or is he so focused on politics that he has misunderstood Catholic values? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between.
Catholic prelates offering spiritual counseling to politicians, I think, should forestall being seen as politicians themselves. Archbishop Naumann, for instance, is a registered Republican, and has given invocations at public events designed to feature speeches by (only) Republican politicians. For the sake of the purity of the Catholic message, I think all bishops should register only as “independents” and avoid giving invocations at events such as power breakfasts for groups like Catholics for McCain or for Obama. Simply put, I don’t believe that spiritual counseling should be sullied by a political twist.