Rich Mayfield: When breaking the bread isn’t politically correct
Enough of the faithful are still abuzz over the pope’s recent U.S. visit that this columnist put his ear back to the ground and what he heard was something more like a Bronx cheer.
It began this past Monday with a Washington Post op-ed piece by Robert Novak, a conservative Catholic convert and journalist whose vitae includes such distinguished efforts as the outing of a CIA operative in what came to be known as the Valerie Plame Affair. This time Mr. Novak was less interested in jeopardizing national security to please Karl Rove and far more fascinated with securing the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church in order to please Pope Benedict.
The cause of Novak’s religious outrage was the pious practice of five co-Catholics who had the gall to participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion at two of the masses where the pope was present.
Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, Senators John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Christopher Dodd, all determined pro-choice politicians, all received the holy bread that Catholics claim is the body of Christ at the mass-mass in Nationals Park in Washington. What makes this seemingly innocent act so scandalous in the mind of Novak is the current pope’s proscription against it. Novak remembers the pre-papacy days of Benedict XVI when, as Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope-in-waiting announced that Democratic presidential nominee Kerry should not be allowed to receive Holy Communion because of his pro-choice stand. Similarly, Novak reasoned, neither should Pelosi, Dodd or Kennedy.
The fifth culprit was Republican Rudy Giuliani, who not only has confessed to pro-choice proclivities, but also failed to have his second marriage annulled by the church before launching into his third. Novak was incensed at Rudy’s gall in large part because the ex-mayor of New York is not particularly religious when it comes to his own less than regular religious practice.
Cardinal Edward Egan of New York’s Archdiocese followed up Novak’s column with an announcement of his own that sought to distance himself from the priestly faux pas at the St. Patrick Cathedral mass where Rudy messed up: “I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the papal visit here in New York,” the cardinal wrote on the archdioceses’ website this past Monday.
Within some limiting legalities, every club should be free to pick and choose their own members, but it does seem somewhat odd that an organization based on the teachings of someone who “ate with sinners” should be so reluctant to do the same.
This crisis of communion etiquette reminds me of a true story I have shared before concerning a friend who spent several weeks caring for a Catholic buddy as he lay dying. When the passing time finally arrived, my friend called the local parish priest in order that his friend might receive the last rites. That completed, the priest proceeded to describe the departed’s funeral.
During his description, the priest turned to the man who had sacrificed considerable time and energy to care for the dying friend and told him, somewhat officiously, he would not be allowed to receive the holy bread and wine at the funeral because he was not a Catholic. My friend obeyed the injunction but I’ve wondered ever since if the one who was forbidden to receive the presence of Christ in the sacrament was a more powerful symbol of Christ’s presence than the bread or the wine.
Again, any club should be able to make its own rules but that doesn’t prevent some of us from continuing to be mystified by a practice that prohibits politicians who favor reproductive rights on the grounds that they participate in the murder of innocents, and yet welcomes with open arms politicians who advocate bearing arms against millions of other innocents.
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