Remember when several American Catholic Bishops said they would refuse John Kerry communion because he was pro-choice and Bishop Henry of Calgary threatened Prime Minister Paul Martin with the same penalty.
Well the drums are beating again. Rudy Guiliani is a Catholic who supports the pro-choice side. Presumably Guiliani will stay well away from the Archdiocese of St. Louis where Archbishop Raymond Burke is again threatening to use the Eucharist as a political sledgehammer.
In Scotland Cardinal Keith O’Brien recently told Catholic politicians that support for abortion was incompatible with the reception of Holy Communion. In Australia, Cardinal George Pell warned Catholic MPs they faced excommunication if they voted to allow embryonic stem-cell research. The Cardinal’s warnings were described by a Catholic cabinet minister as “a clear and arguably contemptuous incursion into the deliberations of of the elected members of this parliament.”
Does a Catholic prelate have the right to threatent democractically elected members of legislatures with severe penalties if they do not follow the Church’s moral teachings on such issues as abortion, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research?
The principle behind the above position seems to be that on certain issues Catholic politicians have a duty to be the voice of the Church in the lawmaking process, and to repeat what the Church tells them to. But that is not the politician’s duty as contained in the theory of parliamentary democracy as outlined by Edmund Burke. Poliiticians, in that theory, stand for election making clear what moral principles they embrace e.g. Catholics can vote against Guiliani if they disagree with his pro-choice position.
But in the legislature the elected Catholic member takes part in the debate and makes an honest judgement. That has to include the possibility, in such issues as abortion and gay marriage, that the politician might see reasons why the application of Catholic teaching might be ill advised in the circumstances. For example, the politician might conclude that to press for an extension of the criminal law, in a way that the great majority in the country might object to, risks undermining the consent of the public on which the legitimacy of the criminal law ultimately rests. The movement from “sin” to “crime” must involve judgements of practicality, expediecy and the common good.
Put another way, if a Catholic MP fails to oppose legislation that permits abortion or samesex marriage, then the MP will have been persuaded that there are perfectly good reasons, such as the wish to reflect the views of their constituents, their judgement of what serves the common good, or their fears of reviving back-street abortions. In all these cases, if the Catholic members are in good faith, they should not be denied Communion.
In other words, an MP, in Edmund Burke’s terms, is not, and can never be, simply a delegate of the Pope or a Cardinal Archbishop.
No clearer answer on this issue has ever been given than the one John Kennedy gave to the Protestant ministers in Huston in the 1960 campaign.
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President – should he be a Catholic – how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners how to vote .. I do not speak for my church on public matters and the church does not speak for me.”
Finally, wherever we come down on the above issue, I presume no one thinks the Eucharist should be tossed around like a political football.