The Political Abuse of Communion, Continued
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon May 19, 2008 at 08:56:30 PM EST
The Catholic Right, Part Fifty-seven
Recently, I described  how the Catholic Right has abused Holy Communion by using it as political tool, doing so by denying the Sacrament to pro-choice (i.e., liberal) elected officials. Now, according to Catholic Democrats certain Church hierarchs with close GOP connections have begun using this debasing tactic to target a potential Democratic running mate.
As I noted in Part Fifty-six of this series:

For Roman Catholics, Holy Communion is the height of the Mass. It is when the bread and wine, consecrated in the Eucharist, become the body and blood of Christ. This holiest of sacraments further serves as a reminder of the Passover Seder that became the Last Supper.

But this most sacred of Catholic rites is increasingly being used by the Catholic Right as a political tool against dissent on issues such as stem cell research and abortion. This profane practice is no longer limited to scientists and politicians but now extended to college basketball coaches.

The Catholic Right perpetrators of this modern day Inquisition are becoming increasingly familiar as well: "The Bully in St. Louie," Archbishop Raymond Burke -- infamous for his one-man war against embryonic stem cell research; Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput -- whose diocesan publications give a platform for orthodox hardliner George Weigel; and of course, neocon icon, Rev John Richard Neuhaus, who, the Vatican view not withstanding, openly supported invading Iraq in 2003.

Enter the Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, Joseph F. Naumann. His target: the Democratic Governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius.

Recently Governor Sebelius vetoed The Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act (HS SB 389), legislation that would have severely restricted late term abortions - a procedure that almost always concerns either a severely disabled fetus (having no brain, for example) or where childbirth would endanger the mother's life. As The Kansas City Star reported, "The bill would have empowered siblings, parents, grandparents and spouses of pregnant women to seek court orders to stop abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy, and made it easier for county prosecutors to gain access to women's medical records."

The Star also observed that in her statement in vetoing the bill, the Kansas governor noted that the legislation "allows a variety of individuals to seek a court order preventing a woman from obtaining an abortion, even where it may be necessary to save her life."

There may be another consideration at play: Governor Sebelius is a rising star within the Democratic Party. In November 2006 Time named her one of the five best governors, citing her ability to eliminate a massive inherited debt without raising taxes. More importantly, her name is being mentioned as a potential running mate for apparently presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama.  And as Catholic Democrats has pointed out, Archbishop Naumann has strong ties to the Republican National Committee.

Archbishop Naumann is no stranger to Republican political circles. He was a keynote speaker at a Denver conference in the fall of 2007 at which all the Republican presidential candidates appeared. In an essay printed last fall in the conservative journal First Things, he belittled efforts on the part of progressive office holders to address abortion constructively rather than through criminal law, writing, "Why do so many of the pro-choice politicians even say that they want to make abortion rare? Why want to make something rare if it is truly a valid choice?" In 1996, as an official of the St Louis Archdiocese, then-Msgr. Naumann tried to discourage attendance by Catholic school children at an event featuring President Bill Clinton because he disagreed with Clinton's veto of a Republican abortion bill.

Catholic Democrats also noted:

The Archbishop is part of a small circle of conservatives that includes the bishop of the neighboring diocese of Kansas City MO, Robert Finn, who was the keynote speaker for an annual Republican political event last month in Washington DC called the "National Catholic Prayer Breakfast," organized largely by the leadership of Catholics for McCain. Archbishop Charles Chaput, another champion of using Communion for political purposes, wrote in the Denver Catholic Register in January, "So can a Catholic in good conscience support a 'pro-choice' candidate? The answer is: I can't and I won't." But are these pro-Republican bishops on firm ground theologically with their arguments that criminalization of abortion is the sine qua non of morality on this issue?

Again, the Kansas City Star's Barbara Shelly nutshelled what the Archbishop seems to be up to:

Naumann told The Kansas City Star that atonement for Sebelius would involve a confession, an apology and a promise to repair the damage caused by her "scandalous behavior that has misled people into dangerous behavior." Until then, he has requested that she not receive Communion.

"I pray this pastoral action on my part will help alert other Catholics to the moral gravity of participating in and/or cooperating with the performance of abortions," he wrote.

Perhaps. But Naumann's harsh request is more likely to alert the public to an uncompromising stance that forces Catholic politicians to choose between ethical public service and participation in their church.

But beyond that, Archbishop Naumann is invading the conscience of every Catholic who might opt  to vote for the Democratic ticket if Governor Sebelius is on it. Essentially, he is using the anxiety of damnation to influence an election as well as estrangement from the holiest of sacraments.

Such behavior is disgraceful and unworthy of any prince of the Catholic Church. But then again, we do not have princes in our constitutional democracy. And sometimes, there's the rub.

Kathy Hughes  contributed research to this piece.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli :

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen   Part Eighteen   Part Eighteen   Part Nineteen   Part Twenty   Part Twenty-one   Part Twenty-two   Part Twenty-three   Part Twenty-four   Part Twenty-five   Part Twenty-six   Part Twenty-seven   Part Twenty-eight   Part Twenty-nine   Part Thirty   Part Thirty-one   Part Thirty-two   Part Thirty-three   Part Thirty-four   Part Thirty-five   Part Thirty-six   Part Thirty-seven   Part Thirty-eight   Part Thirty-nine   Part Forty   Part Forty-one   Part Forty-two   Part Forty-three   Part Forty-four   Part Forty-five   Part Forty-six   Part Forty-seven   Part Forty-eight   Part Forty-nine   Part Fifty   Part Fifty-one   Part Fifty-two   Part Fifty-three   Part Fifty-four   Part Fifty-five   Part Fifty-six

Because of her commitment to issues such as housing, education, distributive justice economics and other social justice matters, Governor Sebelius is probably more in line with Catholic teachings than most of Archbishop Naumann's GOP friends.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon May 19, 2008 at 08:57:57 PM EST

Catholic Democrats has been tracking this issue, and Naumann behaves just the way Ray Burke did when as bishop in Milwaukee, he denied communion to Catholic Rep. David Obey. My own diocesan paper included an article on Naumann's criticism of Governor Sebelius, although I had the impression it was more favorable to the Archbishop. Kathleen Sebelius's late father, John Gilligan, was a Democratic governor of Ohio. In 2004, John D'Arcy, bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, didn't allow then Indiana governor Joe Kernan to speak at St. Joseph's High School because Kernan disagreed with the hierarchy about abortion. Kernan is an alumnus of the school. There have been a number of incidents in which the hierarchy's members have refused to allow Catholic politicians to speak at Catholic colleges, universities, and schools if they don't tow the church line. I remember going to my sister's commencement at the University of Dallas, a very conservative Catholic school, and seeing Henry Hyde lauded for his commitment to human life. My youngest brother couldn't resist the temptation to snark about Hyde's well-known affair with another man's wife, which Hyde called a "youthful indiscretion."

I also received a message today from Voice of the Faithful. Roger Mahony, the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles, is not allowing retired Australian Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson to speak on church property or facilities due to controversy over Robinson's latest book Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus.

The bishops have a few people who would follow every directive they issue, no matter how difficult or problematic it makes life for the faithful. This isn't something Jesus would have done, nor would he have used the Eucharist as a political tool to keep the proles in line. I am concerned as to how this might play out with the increasing tendency in the curia and hierarchy to turn the church back to a time when the laity questioned nothing. There are changes coming to stiffen liturgical language and prayer and an increasing push to return to more Latin Mass parishes. The problem is that the blatant hypocrisy isn't working any more to get the messages across. The hierarchy still thinks there are enough quiet Catholics not willing to make waves so they can go on as always.

by khughes1963 on Mon May 19, 2008 at 09:36:56 PM EST

Someone needs to ask these bishops if they've ever considered how they appear to the general public, much less to other Christians.

It's actions like this that are driving me further and further from the church.  I think I'd rather face damnation than go to any heaven that they espouse.

Of course, not being Roman Catholic, they probably consider me damned anyway.  (As if membership in a somewhat coercive -as this demonstrates, hierarchical top-down controlling structure could guarantee heaven anyway.)

by ArchaeoBob on Tue May 20, 2008 at 10:38:52 AM EST

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