Are the bishops backing off
&nbsp   on denying communion
    to pro-choice politicians?

Looks that way. If so, good.

When John Kerry ran for President in 2004, several of the more reactionary American Catholic Bishops banned him from taking Communion in churches in their dioceses on the grounds that his pro-abortion-rights stance cut him off from the Church.

I’m not sure how much damage (if any) this did to Kerry’s immortal soul (assuming him to have one), but it certainly put a crimp in his campaigning, and helped explain his extraordinarily poor performance among Catholics. Without violating their tax-exempt status, those Bishops managed to mount a very public demonstration about which candidate they expected their flocks to vote for.

If Kerry had gotten the same share of the Catholic vote in 2004 as the Baptist Al Gore got in 2000, he’d be President today. (And the Democrats probably would control neither House of Congress, but that’s another story.) Being seen to be out of step with his own Church may well have cost him Protestant votes, too.

The Catholic Bishops, now meeting in Baltimore, plan to issue a statement on who should take Communion. It appears &#8212 I can’t be sure about this &#8212 they intend to set out a set of principles for individual Catholics to use in deciding for themselves, but back off from the practice of ordering individuals to stay away, short of formal excommunication. At least, that’s what the loony-toons at the American Life League seem to be worried about, according to full-page ads they took out in today’s papers.

Again, I’m not sure I’m reading the tea-leaves correctly. But if that’s in fact in the works, it would be extraordinarily good news for Democrats. I’d resigned myself to believing that we could never run a Catholic for President again.

Of course, this also benefits Rudy Giuliani; perhaps that is the underlying motivation. Even so, I’d count it as very good news.

Footnote Readers who understand this better than I do are invited to let me know if I’ve gotten this wrong.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

7 thoughts on “Are the bishops backing off
&nbsp   on denying communion
    to pro-choice politicians?”

  1. I saw the booklet being handed out at Catholic churches a couple weeks ago as a Catholic's Voter Guide. The booklet said something along the lines that some candidates talk a good line on critical issues like abortion and stem cell research but don't deliver. It is therefore appropriate for Catholics to evaluate candidates based on other issues as well including caring for the poor, the death penalty (against) and various other issues that we would applaud as Christian issues.
    My recollection is that the booklet indicated that local bishops would have to determine whether to give Communion to Catholics who do not support critical Catholic issues. It did cite to a web site of the American Catholic Conference or a similar organization that had detailed positions including amicus briefs on it. The site did indicate that abortion continued to be a critical issue but at least opened the door for the consideration of other issues which struck me an improvement over a similar brochure issued in 2004

  2. My understanding of the official Catholic position—of what it has been historically, at least—is that it's gravely immoral to vote for a pro-choice politician because of his pro-choice views, but it's morally acceptable to vote for him despite his pro-choice views and because of his other positions (an application of the Principle of Double Effect, I believe). So (according to the Church) one couldn't ethically vote for a Democratic politician because he was pro-choice, but could vote for him because the benefits of his other positions have benefits that outweigh the harms of his position on abortion. Whether these benefits do in fact outweigh the harms is [supposed to be] left up to the voters' individual consciences.

  3. The AP story linked below I guess is saying the same thing, but putting a distinctly different spin on it – saying that the bishops are telling Catholics not to receive communion if they disagree with the Church on birth control or abortion.

  4. According to published reports, the document is addressing to Catholics generally, so it would of course apply to Catholic politicos. Importantly, the document apparently notes that it isn't intended to offer specific guidance on when a Catholic should be refused Communion, a matter which is governed by canon law. In other words, this is a teaching document, not a legal one, and thus it leaves the existing terrain unchanged.

  5. As a lay non-Catholic with no dog in this hunt, I can freely speculate that if the bishops' conference intends any particular statement by this, it would be that they think the more activist among their brethren did not do good for the church by making those public proclamations about denying Kerry the sacraments.
    That was an overtly political interjection and was very clearly understood to be so at the time. I don't remember that the bishops as a group are that interested in playing at nakedly partisan politics and I seem to recall that some said so at the time.
    My impression of the current pope is that he, too, doesn't particularly care for partisan bomb-throwers in his hierarchy, though I don't know whether that cuts any ice with the bishops.
    If their statement essentially affirms extant doctrine, I think that would tend to affirm this reading of it.

  6. Actually, what the U.S. Bishops do is probably less important than what the Pope does. It was widely understood that some of the most vocal Bishops on the communion issue were trying to curry favor with the Vatican for the purpose of elevating their own career prospects. If those kinds of antics are not rewarded, presumably, they will taper off or take place more in private than public.

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