Thursday, April 17, 2008

John Kerry Receives Communion at Papal Mass

Sen. John Kerry received communion at the Mass that Pope Benedict XVI celebrated today in Washington, The AP reports. That wouldn't normally be newsworthy - but for the fact that a huge controversy raged during the 2004 presidential campaign when a few bishops announced that they would deny the Eucharist to Kerry, a Catholic, because of his support for abortion rights.

Kerry, who received communion from a priest at a spot far off from the altar where the pope presided, said there was nothing political about it.

Catholic anti-abortion groups had been trying to stoke outrage over the prospect that Kerry, and other Catholic politicians with whom they disagree, would receive communion at the papal Mass. One group, the American Life League, announced that it would photograph them as they received communion.

The furor in the 2004 campaign has not prevented Kerry from receiving the Eucharist, which, according to Catholic teaching, is the "source and summit of the Christian life." According to Catholic News Service, Kerry received communion from Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio to the United States, when he attended the installation Mass of Washington's Archbishop Donald Wuerl in 2006.

During the presidential race, a letter issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, was taken by some bishops as support for denying communion to Catholic politicians who supported the legal right to abortion.

After consulting with the Vatican, the U.S. Catholic bishops eventually came up with a policy - one that didn't really resolve the issue. It allowed each bishop to make his own judgment.

"Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action," it said. "Nevertheless, we all share an unequivocal commitment to protect human life and dignity and to preach the Gospel in difficult times. The polarizing tendencies of election-year politics can lead to circumstances in which Catholic teaching and sacramental practice can be misused for political ends."

Photo: Priest distributes communion during Mass at Nationals Park in Washington. Getty/Chip Somodevilla.

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