What should JFK’s bishop do? Communion story may have legs

(Personal note: Doug and I have been at a GetReligion.org planning meeting and are both in transit back home. We have some improvements we hope to make in the weeks ahead, so please be patient with us! text

For one thing, we are committed to doing a better job on international issues.)

Well, Sen. John “Call me JFK” Kerry met with DC Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to talk, the political world must assume, about how to defuse the Communion Photo-Op Crisis. Afterward, everyone said exactly what you would expect them to say:

“It was a completely personal and private meeting. We’re not going to comment on it,” said Kerry spokesman David Wade.

“Because it was a private meeting the Cardinal feels it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss their conversation,” said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Washington archdiocese.

Here at GetReligion, our readers (some in private emails) are responding to our thread on this issue by asking some of the basic questions that will have to be addressed in news reports.

* How can the bishops crack down on Kerry when they do not crack down on anyone else? Is it too late to even discuss discipline?

To see this stance fleshed out online, check out this MSNBC commentary by Melinda Henneberger of Newsweek. It opens with this archetypal Beltway anecdote:

I was waiting outside Senator Ted Kennedy’s office not long ago, listening to one side of a conversation on a subject on which one side is all anyone ever seems to hear. “Yes, Ma’am, he is Catholic,” the young man answering the senator’s phone that day told the caller wearily.

“The senators are not doctors, Ma’am, with the exception of Bill Frist…And I think one of them is a veterinarian…I’m sorry you feel that way, Ma’am…The Pope has met him on several occasions and he considers him Catholic.” Yes, the aide sighed as he hung up, he gets those calls all the time.

* Who determines who is a Catholic? The solitary Catholic, in neo-Baptist fashion? A local parish, in neo-Congregationalist fashion? The overall Catholic region, meaning Northeast US or California vs. Kansas or Colorado? Kind of a Presbyterian thing? Or is this issue something that Rome can address at all? Is Rome now officially Anglican?

* Speaking of which: Are there any core doctrinal or intellectual differences between Kerry declaring himself a Catholic or, say, an Episcopalian? A Unitarian? Who has the authority to judge his declaration?

* Is the actual story that the bishops themselves are divided on abortion policies? textThis debate is burning up the Catholic weblogs (one of the best is Amy Welborn’s Open Book) and that barrage will only increase as the lifestyle left jumps in harder. This may end up being a classic digital media vs. mainstream media story. And what will Catholic wire services do?

Also, there is now, no surprise, an official blog of the controversy. Technology shapes content, folks.

Isolated bishops will also speak out. For example, note these comments from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, one of the few US bishops who reads and writes at the pace of the World Wide Web. Chaput opens with the cliche that may be accurate in this case. Maybe Kerry is what he is? If the senator quacks like a duck and looks like a duck and walks like a duck, then he probably is a duck. Let his actions speak for themselves.

But Chaput believes that Rome still has the right to spotlight Kerry’s actions and judge them. JFK I merely hid his faith in a closet. This JFK II actively oposes the teachings of the faith. Times have changed and the singular nature of the abortion question cannot be denied, according to Chaput.

… Some issues are jugular. … The right to life comes first. It precedes and undergirds every other social issue or group of issues. This is why Blessed John XXIII listed it as the first human right in his great encyclical on world peace, Pacem in Terris. And as the U.S. bishops stressed in their 1998 pastoral letter Living the Gospel of Life, the right to life is the foundation of every other right.

The humorist James Thurber once wrote that “you can fool too many of the people too much of the time.” Our job as Catholics this election year — if we’re serious about our faith — is to not get fooled.

Candidates who claim to be “Catholic” but who publicly ignore Catholic teaching about the sanctity of human life are offering a dishonest public witness. They may try to look Catholic and sound Catholic, but unless they act Catholic in their public service and political choices, they’re really a very different kind of creature.

And real Catholics should vote accordingly.

A few American bishops are going to keep saying things like this. Thus, the Kerry-Communion story will almost certainly have legs.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • John Koontz

    “A few American bishops are going to keep saying things like this. Thus, the Kerry-Communion story will almost certainly have legs.”

    I hope your right. But McCarrick made his position — that he’s not going to take a position — clear in the Henneberg piece and elsewhere. Perhaps that’s why Kerry arranged the meeting with him rather than with O’Malley, which would have been a more appropriate pastoral encounter.

    Given the state of affairs with the media today, one bishop crying — almost literally in the wilderness — from Colorado will not make much of a dent in the mainstream press, nor with the majority of nominal Catholics. It could easily be discounted as a red state-blue state thing.

    I’m afraid that Kerry has gotten his imprimatur from this meeting with McCarrick, and, as far as most of the world will be concerned, that will end the matter.

    I’m also afraid that McCarrick has not increased the esteem for the episcopacy among more conservative Catholics, although he may have diffused some of the vestigial disdain more liberal and left-leaning folks have felt toward it. What appears to be spinelessness to some will look like delicate diplomacy to others.

  • Ken

    Mr. Mattingly –

    An excellent summary of the topic. Thank you.

    I was especially glad to see someone note the Baptist quality of the notion “between the individual and God”.


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