Ad Assails D.C. Cardinal for Stance on Communion
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2004; Page A03
A Roman Catholic antiabortion group launched an advertising campaign against Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington yesterday, attacking him for saying he is not comfortable denying Communion to Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and other Catholic members of Congress who support abortion rights.
The Virginia-based American Life League said the advertisements are the beginning of a $500,000 print ad campaign targeting bishops who are reluctant to punish Catholic politicians for taking policy positions that defy the church. The first ad shows Jesus in agony on the cross and asks: "Cardinal McCarrick: Are you comfortable now?"
Under pressure from such groups and from the Vatican, a small but growing number of U.S. bishops have said they would deny the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the body and blood of Christ, to elected officials such as Democratic presidential candidate Kerry and the governor of New Jersey.
But the increasingly aggressive, personal criticism of bishops and politicians is running into opposition from Catholics across the political spectrum. Some conservatives fear the tactics may backfire and raise sympathy for Kerry. Some liberals say the church is opening itself to charges of partisanship and could revive the charge that haunted John F. Kennedy, that Catholic politicians take orders from Rome.
Many in both camps question where those who begin denying Communion to elected officials will draw the line.
Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, said her organization believes that all priests and lay Eucharistic ministers who hand out Communion are obligated -- with or without instructions from their bishops -- to refuse Communion to any federal, state or local official who is known to disagree with church teaching on abortion, contraception, stem cell research, euthanasia or in vitro fertilization.
Karl Maurer, vice president of Catholic Citizens of Illinois, a conservative grass-roots group, said he would add sodomy and gay marriage to that list. Some liberal grass-roots groups have said they believe the church's teachings against war and the death penalty are worthy of equal treatment.
"Once you open this door, what's going to come rolling through it?" asked Deal W. Hudson, editor of the magazine Crisis and a key Catholic ally of the Bush administration. "Pretty soon, no one would be taking Communion."
Hudson said he believes the denial of Communion should begin, and end, with Kerry. Even better, he said, would be if priests would read letters from the pulpit denouncing the senator from Massachusetts "whenever and wherever he campaigns as a Catholic."
But the debate within the church has already moved beyond Kerry. On Wednesday, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, a Democrat, said he would voluntarily refrain from taking Communion. Three of New Jersey's bishops have said in recent days that politicians who support abortion rights should not take Communion, and two of them mentioned McGreevey by name.
Last year, Bishop Robert J. Carlson of Sioux Falls, S.D., reportedly warned Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle not to call himself a Catholic because of his stand in favor of abortion. Sacramento Bishop William K. Weigand made a similar remonstrance to Gray Davis, the former Democratic governor of California. And Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, of St. Louis and formerly of Wisconsin, went the furthest in January, instructing all churches in his former diocese to deny the Eucharist to three local politicians, including Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), because of their voting records on abortion.
The American Life League's ad campaign targets McCarrick partly because he heads a task force of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that is charged with developing guidelines on when to sanction Catholics who hold public office.
The cardinal's spokeswoman, Susan Gibbs, said he had not seen the full-page advertisement that began running yesterday in the Washington Times, the Catholic weekly the Wanderer and the conservative journal Human Events because he was in Italy following meetings with Pope John Paul II last week. But Gibbs responded to the campaign's rhetorical question about McCarrick's comfort by saying that he "is very comfortably in communion with the church on this issue."
"In our teaching, the primary responsibility is on the individual whether to receive Communion after serious reflection on whether they are in the proper state," she said. "The cardinal has been clear that he would be very reluctant to use the Eucharist as a political sanction."
David O'Brien, a professor of Roman Catholic studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said McCarrick appears to be trying to find a middle road between punishing politicians and remaining silent. He said all bishops must "protect the integrity of the church's teaching" by speaking out against the "grave scandal" that results from high-profile Catholics flouting church doctrine.
But, he said, "if they push this too hard, it could easily backfire on them. People are going to say, 'Where is their moral leadership on a whole lot of issues? How many bishops have resigned because of their mishandling of sexual abuse? Why didn't they speak on the war in Iraq? What effort did they make to bring to the attention of their own people the positions they've taken on war, capital punishment and poverty?"
In short, O'Brien said, "when they come down personally on [particular politicians], people are going to say they have political motives -- and maybe some of them do."