The National Catholic Review
Robert Novak, famous for publishing the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame, has decided to use his morning column to pose as the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He notes that several pro-choice politicians received communion at the papal Masses in Washington and New York but assures us that this shows no softening of Benedict’s presumed hard-line stance. Novak instead says the culprit is the "disobedience to Benedict by the archbishops of New York and Washington." Really? Who told him this? I watched Benedict and Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl chatting in the popemobile after the papal Mass here, and I did not notice any frigidness or hostility. But, Novak knows better. He not only knows the pope’s mind, he claims to know the motives of Archbishop Wuerl whom he recklessly charges with being afraid of clashing with the movers and shakers of D.C.’s political class. Wuerl even shook hands with Senators Kerry and Kennedy at his installation Mass in 2006. Horror! Shaking hands! The Washington Post’s news pages distinguished themselves with intelligent reporting on Benedict’s visit. The reporters noted that so far from the pre-conceived image of Benedict as "God’s Rottweiler" the pope was exceedingly gentle and encouraging during his visit to America. He is a pastor, and a Christian pastor, called to love his flock, especially those who stray. Engaging in public humiliation is rarely an effective pastoral strategy. It may work for a pundit, but it does not become a priest, still less a pope. Novak also rehashes the canard that then-Cardinal Ratzinger made his opposition to giving communion to certain politicians crystal clear in a memo to Washington’s former archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, in 2004. (Conservatives have long used McCarrick as a whipping boy on this and other issues. He was an outstanding archbishop.) Parts of that memo were leaked to the press and certainly did suggest that pro-abortion politicians should absent themselves from taking Communion. But, the memo was more nuanced than Novak suggests, it was never an authoritative theological statement on the issue, and if Cardinal McCarrick had so thoroughly ignored its reasoning, as Novak suggests, there would have been repercussions. There were none. The pope has been supportive of local pastors as they seek to address this issue. He has shown no desire to turn the altar rail into a frontline in the culture wars. He has not removed any bishop for taking one side or the other in the debate. And, Benedict realizes, as many conservatives do not, that simply denying communion to pro-choice politicians will hardly advance the pro-life cause. Wuerl, who had clearly indicated he would not support any effort to issue blanket prohibitions, was Benedict’s first major appointment to an American see. The first Americans raised to the cardinalate by Benedict, Cardinals Levada and O’Malley, also declined to join the conservative culture war at the altar rail. I am tired of conservative laymen denouncing our bishops when they fail to follow the talking points from the Republican National Committee. Benedict is not dumb. He knows what he is doing. If he wanted to have a showdown at the altar rail in Washington or New York, he could have done so. The archbishops of Washington and New York are not "disobedient." What a shame that the editors of the Washington Post allow so many column inches for such nonsense. Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 5/3/2008 - 3:14pm
"Benedict is not dumb. He knows what he is doing." How true! This is why, Michael, you need to stop working so hard at distorting Pope Benedict's clear meaning when he speaks on matters bearing on salvation. Communion is not a right. Receiving the Holy Eucharist implies the recipient accepts Church teachings. Your lack of understanding regarding this simple fact is the clearest evidence of the damage done to the faithful when pro-abortion politicians routinely receive the Eucharist while in open rebellion to the Church.
Anonymous | 4/29/2008 - 7:11am
Michael Sean Winters: «I am tired of conservative laymen denouncing our bishops when they fail to follow the talking points from the Republican National Committee. Benedict is not dumb. He knows what he is doing.» Edward Cardinal Egan (statement April 28, 2008): «The Catholic Church clearly teaches that abortion is a grave offense against the will of God. Throughout my years as Archbishop of New York, I have repeated this teaching in sermons, articles, addresses, and interviews without hesitation or compromise of any kind. Thus it was that I had an understanding with Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion. I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the Papal visit here in New York, and I will be seeking a meeting with him to insist that he abide by our understanding.» As we say in Germany: «Kommentar überflüssig.»
Anonymous | 5/3/2008 - 10:39pm
A disobedient Catholic may still be at Liturgy of the Word; he can get a blessing from the priest during Communion. He misses only the Eucharist. No small thing! ...but it's the same thing denied a PROTESTANT who is visiting Mass. I note this, so as to ask this question: Is denying Rudy (or Kerry, Pelosi, et alia) the Eucharist really SUCH a "slam" on them? Is it? If so, I'd like to know what that means the Church is saying about ME. I am an Evangelical Christian. I'm considering becoming a Catholic (but I'm not one yet; I'm still working my way through history and theology questions). I'm seriously discussing NFP with my wife; she and I are each others' first spouses (and we were virgins when we married, to boot); we're pro-life; we tithe, and we give beyond tithing to missionaries and the poor despite our non-plentiful income; we believe the Creed; we read C.S.Lewis and Kreeft and Chesterton; we pray seriously if imperfectly. It seems perfectly reasonable to ME that my wife and I not receive the Eucharist at Mass. I didn't feel wounded by it, once the reasons were explained to me. Perhaps, then, the left-leaning Catholics (Mr. Winters) would like to explain why it's so harsh, so over-the-top, to deny the Eucharist to disobedient Catholics? Or to call for clergy to be convincingly Catholic in this way? I mean, if it's not a sign of disrespect toward those of us who aren't yet Catholic tho' we already respect Church teaching, how can it be such a bad thing for those who *are* Catholic, oughta know better, and are disobeying? Mr. Winters, are you saying that denial of Eucharist ACTUALLY IS a big "slam," a sign of disrespect? Do you thereby calling me, not a "separated brother" whom you view with respect and love, but a heathen heretic, a lesser being? Is THAT why it's too harsh a judgment to be imposed on Kerry, Kennedy, and such?
Anonymous | 4/28/2008 - 1:23pm
Conservative culture war? Michael can we please get real? This is simply a matter of whether or not a Catholic politician is publicly pro-choice or publicly pro-life. One cannot be both a Catholic in full communion with the Church and a pro-choice politician. One cannot receive only part of the Gospel or apply it only to one's private life. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a complete and coherent whole to which one either submits their life, publicly and privately, in the obedience of faith or one chooses to follow the way of the world. It is clear, from their public statements and positions, that the pro-choice politicians have chosen only part of the Gospel. To receive the sacraments without receiving the Gospel is superstition- it is not living faith. The positions that a number of bishops have taken on this issue are intended to prevent public scandal and to assist these politicians (who claim by the "Catholic" moniker religious assent to the authority of the bishops) in submitting their lives to the teaching of Christ and the Church, and to prevent them from eating and drinking the body and blood of the Lord unto damnation. This issue has everything to do with the episcopal responsibility to teach, sanctify, and govern. Perhaps Archbishop Wuerl and even Cardinal Egan failed to properly to address the Gospel to these politicians before the arrival of the Pope, but Mr Novak is well within his rights, even as a layman and, I am sure, independently of the Republican National Committee, to constructively criticize the bishops for their perceived public failure to meet their responsibilities to the Gospel.
Anonymous | 4/29/2008 - 2:43pm
Michael- Good commentary. I wrote on this at Vox Nova, interested in your reaction. http://vox-nova.com/2008/04/29/communion-wars-again/
Anonymous | 4/28/2008 - 7:06pm
What I want to know is why we never have this debate about pro Iraq War and pro-death penalty Catholic politicians such as the former Senator Rick Santorum. All of the self-righteous protestations of conservative shills like Novak ring hollow in the absence of any corresponding calls for official censure of pro-war or pro-death penalty Catholic public leaders. It seems to me that Mr. Winters is correct - this is a purely partisan gambit that has very little to do with being pro-life and very much to do with being pro- conservative Republican. If conservative laymen who protest so stridently about pro-choice politicians in the name of the sanctity of life were equally as forceful about Catholics who violate the Church's teachings on capital punishment and just war - which are also issues which concern the sanctity of life - then I would respect them and entertain their arguments seriously. As it is, they are merely using the Church to advance their political agenda, which should appall all serious Catholics.
Anonymous | 4/28/2008 - 2:19pm
P.S. Many of us wonder if money as well as power plays a roll in the bishops' actions or inactions. In New York, Rudy Giuliani and his wife paid for a full-page ad in the archdiocesan newspaper welcoming the pope before his arrival. Considering the high cost to a diocese, of a papal visit, one can only assume that Rudy’s ad represented welcome cash. How else does he (or any of the others) get such a prominent seat in the cathedral for a mass that was for invited priests and religious only?
Anonymous | 4/28/2008 - 2:16pm
Mr. Winters, you said "Engaging in public humiliation is rarely an effective pastoral strategy. It may work for a pundit, but it does not become a priest, still less a pope." I say: Oh really???? Tell that to the many communicants who, in the eighties and nineties before a Vatican ruling on the matter, often had Holy Communion denied to them for committing the terrible sin of kneeling to receive Our Lord by arrogant priests who were determined to force standing and receiving in the hand on everyone. And we wonder why some people cling to the Latin Mass. There is so much wrong with what you have posited in your column that one could write a book in response. The fact that you refer to Catholics who are outraged by a public flouting of Church teaching as “conservative laymen” reveals so much about your own proclivities and how they may be shading your own view of things. Do not get mad at Mr. Novak because two bishops put themselves in a very avoidable situation. Mr. Novak has every right, as a member of the faithful (he is a convert from Judaism), to be outraged by bishops appearing to coddle thrice-married and pro-abortion politicians who commit a SACRILIGE by receiving communion. A bishop should make every effort to prevent such a scandal in front of the faithful, many of whom are already confused about what is sin. Not inviting these public cafeteria Catholics to a papal mass would eliminate at least one opportunity to offend Our Lord, embarrass the bishop and anger the faithful. The let’s-not-publicly-humiliate-let’s-look-away attitude that you are encouraging is exactly what got the bishops in hot water when they protected child-molesting priests.
Anonymous | 4/28/2008 - 2:32pm
Here in Italy both JPII and BVI themselves gave Communion to Italian politicians pro-choice. When will American conservative catholics stop to be more catholic than the Pope?????