Rome A top Vatican official said Friday that Roman Catholic politicians who supported abortion should be denied communion, as church officials in the United States debate how to respond to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's position in favor of abortion rights.
The official, Cardinal Francis Arinze, declined at a Vatican news conference to say whether Sen. Kerry, D-Mass., should be denied communion. Instead, he spoke generally about Catholic politicians who do not uphold church teachings in their public lives.
Arinze, a Nigerian who is often cited as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II, took questions during the introduction of Vatican rules governing the celebration of Mass. Pressed by reporters to say whether a politician who is "unambiguously pro-abortion" should receive the Eucharist, he said, "Objectively, the answer is clear. The person is not fit. If he shouldn't receive it, then it shouldn't be given."
But Arinze also made clear that decisions on whether to deny communion to Kerry and other U.S. politicians would be made by the U.S. Catholic bishops, not by the Vatican. "The norm of the Church is clear. The Catholic Church exists in the United States and there are bishops there. Let them interpret it," he said.
A spokesman for Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley said Kerry had not been barred from taking communion in his hometown, and he indicated that no ban was likely.
"The position of Archbishop O'Malley has been that when people come forward to receive communion, we give them communion. The moment of communion is not the moment in which to raise the question of whether someone should or should not be receiving it," said the spokesman, the Rev. Christopher Coyne.
Coyne said that it would be appropriate for a priest or bishop to counsel a politician whose positions are contrary to church teachings. "But this is something that's handled privately with the Catholic. It's not something where you would make any kind of public action or public statement to withhold communion," he said.
That appears to be in keeping with the approach of the vast majority of U.S. bishops, although a few have publicly threatened to withhold communion from certain politicians. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said in January that he would deny communion to Kerry. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who met privately with Kerry last week, "is reluctant to use the Eucharist as a sanction," according to his spokeswoman, Susan Gibbs.
The Kerry campaign steered clear of responding directly to Arinze's remarks and issued a statement saying that "Senator Kerry agrees with President Kennedy when he said, 'I do not speak for my church on public matters, and my church does not speak for me."' Kerry, who has said he personally opposes abortion but supports a woman's right to choose, reiterated that position at a rally Friday with women's rights activists who are gathering in Washington for a march on Sunday.
"I believe that in the year 2004 we deserve a president who understands that a stronger America is where women's rights are just that: rights, not political weapons to be used by politicians of this nation," he said.
Pope John Paul II has said it was the duty of Catholic politicians to adhere to Church doctrine in setting public policy, although he has not laid down guidelines for sanctioning those who ignore Vatican teaching.