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 CNS Story:

BISHOPS-COMMUNION Nov-18-2004 (1,070 words) xxxn

Postelection reflection: Bishops talk about Communion and politicians

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The focus on Catholic teachings and politicians from spring through the Nov. 2 election was dealt with by the bishops with hardly a word during the public portion of their annual fall general meeting Nov. 15-17.

That is not to say it was not a topic discussed among the bishops privately and during their executive sessions, which are closed to the press.

The report of the bishops' Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians was released Nov. 17 without formal presentation on the floor or any public comment.

The task force chairman, Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, offered to remove the item from the agenda as the bishops scrambled to finish their work early enough to cancel the brief session scheduled for Nov. 18.

Cardinal McCarrick later told reporters the bishops had discussed the report during an executive session Nov. 16 and that it represented the widest part of a "bell curve" of opinions among the bishops.

The report said that, while it had "been a very good thing" that bishops, pastors and parishioners across the country "have been wrestling with how our faith should shape our decisions in public life," it was a difficult process.

It said that the task force was committed to developing a "Reader on Catholics in Public Life," continuing a dialogue with public officials, as well as having the bishops' doctrine and pastoral practices committees take up a discussion of church teaching on the proper disposition for reception of Communion.

Though it wasn't discussed during the formal general meeting, some bishops talked to reporters about how the issue played out during the presidential election.

Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley told Catholic News Service he thought the important thing for the bishops as a group to keep in mind was "the more unity we have on it the better."

It was the Democrats' nomination of Sen. John F. Kerry, a Catholic from Archbishop O'Malley's archdiocese, which set off much of the furor over the church's relationship with Catholic political figures whose public actions on some topics do not reflect church teaching.

Archbishop O'Malley was among bishops criticized by some for not insisting that Kerry be refused Communion at churches in his archdiocese. Kerry supports legal abortion and some bishops said in statements and pastoral letters that such politicians should be denied Communion because opposition to abortion is so central to church teaching.

A statement from the body of bishops released after their June meeting said politicians who consistently support abortion on demand risk "cooperating in evil and sinning against the common good." It said every Catholic must examine his or her conscience before receiving Communion and should approach the sacrament only if free of serious sin and properly disposed.

However, it also said that the question of church authorities denying Communion to Catholic politicians who publicly support abortion on demand was a complex one, and such a decision rests with the individual bishop.

The next months saw a range of opinions taken in statements, columns and letters by bishops around the country.

At the bishops' Washington meeting, Archbishop O'Malley told CNS that in addition to the U.S. bishops presenting a unified approach to the issue he would like more cooperation on the issue from bishops in other parts of the world.

"They have the exact same problem," he said, but European bishops in particular have been unwilling to bring up the topic of whether Catholic politicians are living out the church's teachings.

Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told The Denver Post daily newspaper that the bishops' decision not to discuss the topic in public was a sign they "are a bit tired of dealing with it."

"I hope we keep reflecting on the issue in an ongoing way so we're not just accused of making this an election-year issue to promote a candidate or discourage people from voting for a particular candidate," he told the Post.

Bishop James H. Garland of Marquette, Mich., told CNS that even the members of his own pastoral council were confused about the complexities of the issue until he held a workshop to explain it.

"It's not as easy as it seems," he said.

Living in one of the political battleground states, Bishop Garland said, despite the use of the issue for partisan purposes by some outside the church, he believes the push for holding politicians accountable to church teaching came from inside the pro-life movement.

"The political parties just made the best of it," he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Garcia of Sacramento, Calif., said the debate about politicians and Communion reflected how much the church's influence on society has been dampened by the sexual abuse scandal.

"Our voice over the election was not as effective," he said.

Bishop Garcia said it was helpful to have had bishops speaking out about Catholic politicians because it led to more widespread use of their document, "Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility," issued in 2003 for the 2004 election year.

In California in particular, he said, the issue encouraged parishes to circulate the guide as a way of evaluating a ballot filled with initiatives, including a successful proposal to establish a constitutional right for scientists to pursue stem-cell research and provide $3 billion in funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

Retired Bishop John J. Snyder of St. Augustine, Fla., said the teachings of the church about life issues have to be clear, but it also is important to have a broad perspective on many topics.

He said the stance taken by a handful of bishops who said it would be a sin to vote for politicians whose positions do not line up with church teaching on abortion was far from a majority view among the bishops.

Asked a question about the issue of politicians and Communion at the closing press conference, the bishops' newly elected president, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., avoided elaborating on the topic.

"The guidelines that we passed (during the June meeting) indicated that each bishop in his own respective diocese could make a decision about how he wanted to handle this in a practical, pastoral way," he said.

"Generally, as you are aware, the bishops around the country have not taken the approach of refusing Communion, but want to involve themselves in dialogue and in common teaching about the practice and the beliefs of the church," he added.


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