Catholic World News News Feature
Lay Catholics weigh in on Communion for politicians November 07, 2007
A bipartisan group of American Catholics has issued a call for "civility in political debate," arguing strongly that lay people should not press Church leaders to denounce politicians whose views conflict with Church teaching.
In a statement released on November 6, a group of prominent Catholic public figures lamented the "divisively partisan" tone of political debates, and the "attacks on private conduct and recriminations."
The statement was critical of Catholic politicians who challenge Church teachings on important moral questions. But it was equally critical of those who "seek the public embarrassment of politicians whose public positions differ with Church teachings through the public refusal of the sacrament of Holy Communion or public admonition by the bishops." The statement indicates that the signatories are speaking out "to right this wrong."
The effort was coordinated by Thomas Melady, a former US ambassador to the Holy See, and Timothy May, a partner of the powerful Washington law firm Patton Boggs. The political affiliations of the organizers reflect the bipartisan character of the initiative; Melady has been active in Republican political circles for years; May has been an equally influential Democrat.
Arguing that Catholics should not seek to enlist the support of their bishops for partisan political stands, the statement focuses on the debate over denying Communion to political figures who defy Church teachings. "An individual's fitness to receive Communion is his or her personal responsibility," the statement argues.
Although the statement calls upon lay Catholics to respect the leadership of their bishops, the "Catholic Call to Observe Civility in Political Debate" contains an implicit criticism of the argument put forward by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, who has explained that canon law places an obligation upon Eucharistic ministers to withhold the Eucharist from individuals whose flagrant public rejection of Church teaching could give rise to scandal. The statement supports the opposing view championed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whose public calls for civility in discourse prompted the lay initiative.
The call for civility goes on to say that "it is a bishop's responsibility to set for his diocese the guidelines for administering Communion." That statement reflects the policy adopted by the US bishops' conference, which chose not to implement a national policy on the topic.
"American Catholics know who their Church leaders are: their bishops, archbishops, and cardinals," the statement read. The Pope was not mentioned in the text.
Among the 47 people who signed the document were a former national chairman of the Republican Party (Frank Fahrenkopf) and two former Democratic chairmen (Terry McAuliffe and Charles Manatt). Also among the signatories were several former ambassadors and public officials, including former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, the first chairman of the US bishops' National Review Board. Melady and May said that they deliberately avoided soliciting support from Catholics currently holding public office.