Kerry takes Easter Communion in Boston
"All you need is a picture of Kerry going up to the Communion rail and being denied, and you've got a story that'll last for weeks," America editor Thomas Reese told Time a few weeks ago.
As it turns out, no one needed such a photo (though there are some of him taking Communion). Are we doomed every weekend from now until November to suffer "will he or won't he" stories about the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and the Lord's Table? Perhaps, but this week, the holiest time of the year, was especially appropriate for such pieces.
John Kerry did receive Communion yesterday at The Paulist Center in Boston. The New York Times and Associated Press both describe it as "a kind of New Age church." (The Times later changed its description to "a nontraditional church") The Paulist Center itself says it's "a worship community of Christians in the Roman Catholic tradition" and "a Catholic community that welcomes all, liberates the voice of each, and goes forth to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ." The community (it seems to mostly reserve the word church when referring to such matters as "crisis in the Church") has a special emphasis on "reaching out to marginalized or alienated Catholics," and on "building a loving, caring and compassionate community that welcomes all."
John Ardis, director of the center, told the Boston Herald that Kerry's positions on the death penalty and "social justice" are in line with Roman Catholic teachings, but apparently didn't mention the chief point of debate: Kerry's unflinching support of abortion. "How come it's so much easier to see other people's sins than to see our own?" Ardis said, telling the Herald that he received 50 messages on Good Friday from Catholics upset by word that he was planning to give Kerry Communion.
But Ardis says he isn't acting alone. He's still under Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley, who is trying not to get involved. "I got a call from them [the archdiocese] an hour ago," Ardis told Reuters Thursday. "They wanted me to know that the archbishop has not taken a stand and he is free to receive the Eucharist."
So if Kerry is to be denied Communion, it looks like it won't happen in Boston. "The archbishop has made no comment about Sen. Kerry and his Catholicism, nor does he plan on doing so in the near future," archdiocese spokesman Christopher J. Coyne told the Herald.
"If someone presents themselves for Communion, unless they're obviously not Catholic, we give them Communion," Coyne told The Boston Globe. "The important thing to recognize is that the reception of Holy Communion is not a reward for living an exemplary life; the reception of Holy Communion is, among many things, a remedy and nourishment of the soul for the Catholic Christian, to help them persevere in seeking a life of holiness and becoming more aligned with the church's life."
However, O'Malley earlier said. "a Catholic politician who holds a public, prochoice position should not be receiving Communion and should on their own volition refrain from doing so. The church presumes that each person is receiving in good faith. It is not our policy to deny Communion. It is up to the individual."
"O'Malley's practice appears to be in line with that of most Catholic bishops and priests," notes The Boston Globe. "Cardinal Bernard F. Law publicly gave Communion to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, for example, despite Kennedy's disagreement with a variety of public policy positions of the church."
So far, it seems, only Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis and Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska, have stated explicitly that Kerry is unwelcome at Communion rails in their jurisdictions. Chicago's Cardinal Francis George says that he won't deny Kerry Communion—at least until a report on the issue is released from a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops task force. "Before a bishop moves, he better listen a lot," he said last week. "He better consult, particularly something which is political, because political issues divide." (That doesn't mean he's a fan of Kerry. "One can say, as I have, that the Democratic Party has lost its soul," he added. "One can argue that the Democratic Party never had a soul.")
Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., told Fox News Sunday that he wants to "talk to Kerry, get to see him and get to understand him before I would make a decision" on denying him Communion. "I think that there are many of us who would feel … that there are certain sanctions that we may put on people," he said. "But I think many of us would not like to use the Eucharist as part of the sanction."
But the matter probably isn't settled in Boston, as the city gears up for the Democratic National Convention.
It's worth noting that Kerry's worship practices aren't just of interest to Roman Catholics, nor is Protestant concern over his taking Communion limited to sacramentalists. Even Southern Baptists, who generally believe that Communion is only a symbol, are weighing in. "Have we really reached the point when candidates must just "happen" to be evangelical Christians, Jews or Roman Catholics?" asks Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Al Mohler.
This implies that faith is nothing more then a matter of ethnicity or privatized belief. Political maturity—and Christian conviction—must require that we judge a candidate by consistency of character as well as by the eagerness of identification with one faith or another. We should look for integrity of heart and consistency in political judgment. In other words, we should hope for Catholic politicians who are genuinely Catholic and evangelicals who are authentically evangelical. This is especially true when dealing with issues of life and death, marriage and family, war and peace.
Those interested in following the issue should bookmark Catholic Kerry Watch, which considers the first two words of that phrase an oxymoron.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Suggest links and stories by sending e-mail to email@example.com
Check out Books & Culture's weblog, Content & Context.
See our past Weblog updates:
and more, back to November 1999