Friday, November 14, 2008

No Sacrament For You!

In the wake of the U.S. election, there appears to remain a sector of the Roman Catholic community that is challenging the votes and political commitments of its parishioners. In some previous elections, especially in 2004, there was a notorious effort by certain localized authorities in the Church to use the power of withholding the Eucharist from politicians who supported political positions at variance with the Church, including Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic who was the Democratic nominee for President that year. This was despite the protests of many experts in Canon Law and theology who claimed refusing the Eucharist was beyond the bounds of acceptability.

Even much earlier in the 2008 race, the same questions arose again over Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who was running for President on the Republican ticket, but unlike some other candidates, supported the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision to allow legalized abortion nationwide. I'm a bit surprised to find that this issue has continued to be pushed in the Church. Out of South Carolina today, we get word that a priest had admonished his parishioners that if they voted for Sen. Barack Obama for President, they should not receive communion because of their sin in supporting a "the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president."

That's a fair bit of hyperbole, to be sure. But it suggests that this issue is not going away. With the recent shift of the country more towards the political left, and the movement of evangelicals to considered larger social issues such as poverty and racism, this may be out of step with where the American electorate is going. One thing is for sure. American Catholics do not like to be ordered to vote a certain way. There is ample evidence that acting dictatorial towards Catholics gets them to do the exact opposite of what you want, at least as far as American Catholics are concerned. American Catholics (and Episcopalians for that matter) have never behaved as their other worldwide counterparts have anyway.

Perhaps most interestingly, actual Roman Catholic theologians (which Bishops are not) are by no means convinced of the absoluteness of the Vatican's position on what they term "pelvic issues," which seem to overshadow far more traditional moral and social gospel concerns for Catholicism. Some of them are speaking out very stridently, and I expect this to continue, should Bishops and priests on the other side continue to make political pronouncements from tax-free pulpits.

The Internal Revenue Service noted that 2004 saw a spike in illegal endorsements coming from tax-exempt entities. And there appears to have already been some investigation of at least one Catholic Church official's criticism of Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani. One might think that an institution that has undergone such a recent public crisis of moral confidence might not want to interest the IRS to take a closer look as well.

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