June 19, 2004
Fiorenza opposes politicizing Communion

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."

Maybe we can finally put this issue to rest now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 19, 2004 to The making of the President | TrackBack

Not while you have Gloria Borger on Washington Week last night implying that there was a minority (not a "small" minority) of bishops considering this threat.

Posted by: Linkmeister on June 19, 2004 2:58 PM

That's one opinion. Why should one opinion "put the issue to rest?"

Did I miss something?

Posted by: kevin whited on June 19, 2004 5:57 PM

Charles, I wish we could put this issue to rest, but for once Kevin is right: anti-choice (as distinct from merely anti-abortion) Catholics have staked too much on the re-criminalization of abortion to let common sense get in the way at this late date.

The Catholic Church is well within their rights to declare that abortion is a sin. Where I think they go wrong is to conclude that it therefore must also be a crime: something you expect to go to prison for. Those who would deny communion to pro-choice politicians go further astray when they declare that not believing abortion should be a crime is not only a sin, but a sin so serious that extraordinary sanctions are called for.

After all, the Church also teaches that masturbation is not only a sin, but a mortal sin, right up there with murder and (theoretically, if not in practice) pedophilia. But I don't see any Catholic bishops calling for the criminalization of masturbation, let alone denying communion to "pro-masturbation" politicians who rightly believe such legislation would be ridiculous.

Posted by: Mathwiz on June 21, 2004 10:14 AM

As I often do, I wish to point out the inherent media bias in naming a pro-choice Catholic politician, John Kerry, as an example of religion-politics conflict, without also naming a pro-death penalty Catholic politician to demonstrate that this kind of conflict occurs on both sides of the aisle. By naming only one politician, Kerry, and only one policy, abortion, the media give a false impression of the true scope of the debate if it were practiced by honest people, and thereby play according to the rules of dishonest people.

Posted by: Greg Morrow on June 21, 2004 1:56 PM

Abortion is defined by the Catholic Church as intrinsically evil; an act of killing.

The death penalty has never been and is not now defined by the Church in those terms, but rather is to be used rarely if ever.

Abortion and the death penalty are not at all the same ... But there are priests, Bishops and others who are weaving a seamless garment of protection against taking a stand in defense of the sanctity of innocent human life. How sad!

No preborn baby has ever had a trial with a jury and then received a sentence prior to his execution.

Judie Brown

Posted by: Judie Brown on June 25, 2004 10:04 AM