Good for Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, archbishop of the Houston/Galveston diocese, for stating that he does not favor making the Eucharist a political football.
Wading into a national debate that has entwined presidential politics with religion, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston said he does not favor denying Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.
In a column published in diocesan newspaper the Texas Catholic Herald, Fiorenza wrote that denying someone Communion would, in effect, excommunicate the person — a "very serious sanction" that requires "strict criteria before it can be imposed.
"The tradition of the church does not make a public judgment on those who wish to receive Holy Communion," Fiorenza wrote in the June 11 letter. "The burden for judging one to be free of serious sin and worthy to receive the Eucharist is each person's own conscience."
He also said that denying Communion "would be counterproductive and, at the end of the day, would harm the pro-life movement."
Catholic politicians with positions that differ from church teaching have become a hot topic in churches and on the campaign trail in recent months. Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry is Catholic and supports abortion rights. Some church leaders, most notably Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, have said they would deny Communion to him and other politicians with similar views.
"The reality is that it has only been in the current election year where there has been serious discussion of denying people Communion by some bishops," said John Francis Burke, professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas. "You notice it is a few isolated bishops. It is not the majority."
This week, Fiorenza was in Englewood, Colo., at a closed meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that ends today. At the meeting, the Task Force on Catholics in Public Life presented a progress report on its work on this issue. The task force, headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington state, is scheduled to make its recommendations at the bishops' annual November meeting after the presidential election.
In his letter, Fiorenza said he wished church leaders had waited for the task force report before speaking out. Fiorenza spoke out because Houston-area Catholics had asked him about his position, said Monsignor Frank H. Rossi, area diocese chancellor.
"What is significant about (Fiorenza) weighing in on the issue is that he is the past president of the (bishops) conference, so he has some stature nationally," said Burke, who is also chairman of St. Thomas' Social Justice Committee.
Fiorenza outlined church teaching on Communion in his letter. He also mentioned Pope John Paul II's January 2003 "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life," which "emphasized the grave moral evil of abortion and legislation which supports it."
The bishop said he hopes the current debate "will greatly influence Catholic politicians who support abortion to rethink their political position on this most serious of human-rights issues."