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Issue Date:  October 22, 2004

Some bishops offer alternative to the follies

Discouraged? It’s hard not to be, what with the American church’s reactionary wing grabbing the headlines and shaping the debate. But there are dozens of bishops -- and not a few cardinals -- who have either been silent or taken a decidedly less antagonistic and more thoughtful view to the questions posed by Sen. John Kerry’s candidacy.

Here’s a sampling:

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington told the U.S. Catholic bishops at a June gathering near Denver that bishops need to be “political but not partisan” as they exercise their leadership role. They must also be “principled but not ideological ... civil but not soft ... engaged but not used.”

“The battles for human life and dignity and for the weak and vulnerable should be fought not at the Communion rail but in the public square, in hearts and minds, in our pulpits and public advocacy, in our consciences and communities,” he said.

One of the more eloquent statements on the issue is by Bishop John F. Kinney of the St. Cloud, Minn., diocese and can be found online at www.stcdio.org/bishop/bishop_easter.html. Kinney begins with the words so familiar to us: “Oh Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Lately, however, “some Catholics have been asking whether some others are so ‘not worthy’ that they should be denied the sacrament,” he writes. Kinney says he refuses “to allow the Eucharistic liturgy to become politicized.” In ending he notes that the prayer states, “ ‘I am not worthy.’ It does not say, ‘Oh Lord, my neighbor is not worthy.’ ”

In his most recent column for the Catholic New World of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, said “the most priceless gift” of the Eucharist “should be manipulated by no one, for any purpose. Politicians, priests and bishops, every faithful layman or woman takes his or her very self in hand as they receive Communion. With complete moral seriousness, they unite themselves to the Lord who receives them; and God is not mocked.”

George said he has not made the case for denying Communion “primarily because I believe it would turn the reception of Holy Communion into a circus. Who should be excluded? Is a special list to be published or will the Communion minister make the determination, supposing that a particular politician is even recognized by the minister? Will the media be invited in to watch a confused or disobedient minister give the Eucharist to a politician making a point? What happens next?”

In a July editorial for KNXT, the diocesan television station, Bishop John T. Steinbock of Fresno, Calif., said: “Let us not politicize the Eucharist. We all struggle, whether we are public figures or not, to be faithful to the Lord Jesus, and must constantly examine our own consciences.”

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati said in a May interview, “We need to be very cautious about denying people the sacraments on the basis of what they say they believe, especially when those are political beliefs.”

He added, “These are complicated questions to which bishops may not all have the same answer, and our Catholic faith is not a whole series of black and white positions. There are some gray aspects in it. I think that’s a good lesson for people.”

National Catholic Reporter, October 22, 2004

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