Playing politics with the sacraments

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 6, 2004 3:01PM (EDT)

Catholics who oppose abortion rights have been pushing the Vatican and U.S. bishops to deny sacraments to elected officials who hold beliefs that deviate from church doctrine, although it's important to note that church leaders have been much more vocal about denying sacraments to Democratic politicians than Republicans. On Easter Sunday, Kerry took holy communion even though Boston's Catholic archbishop had said Catholic politicians with views like his should not. The archbishop of St. Louis has publicly stated that he would not allow Kerry to receive communion. Tom Daschle was reportedly told by by a bishop not to call himself a Catholic because he supports abortion rights.

Now, Democratic Gov. James McGreevey -- a former altar boy and regular churchgoer -- says he will no longer receive holy communion in public because his views contradict church doctrine. He gave in after weeks of pressure from Catholic bishops in New Jersey, who publicly said the governor could not be a devout Catholic because he supports gay domestic partnership rights, abortion rights and stem cell research.

Is it a coincidence that this is happening in an election year? Father Andrew Greeley says there's some obvious politicking going on here.

In his column for the Daily News, he wrote: "There is currently a discussion among some Catholic bishops about refusing the sacraments to Democratic Sen. John Kerry for not opposing abortion, thus doing the Republican National Committee's work for it. But the Pope and the national hierarchy also have condemned the death penalty and the war in Iraq. Are these bishops willing to deny the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support the death penalty or the Iraq war? And if not, why not? Moreover, will they tell Catholics that it is a sin to support an unjust war and to vote for a candidate who is responsible for such a war? And, again, if not, why not?"

"I can think of a couple of reasons. First, denouncing abortion will get you attention in the Vatican. Attacking the death penalty and the war are not likely to promote your career. Second, the rules are different for Democrats and Republicans. It is curious, to say the least, that 30 years after Roe vs. Wade, the issue of denying the sacraments would be raised during this election year."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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