What do Kathleen Sebelius and Douglas Kmiec Have In Common?

Quite a bit, actually.  Although she’s a liberal Democrat, and he’s a conservative Republican, they’re both Catholic, and they both support Barack Obama  for President.  And they’ve both been denied Communion.

This from Ambinder, today:

Sebelius has governed from the center, but she is not a conservative Democrat: she opposes the death penalty, opposed a same-sex marriage-banning constitutional amendment, opposes concealed carry laws, and is pro-choice.

That latter position is causing her some trouble. The archbishop of Kansas City forbid [sic] priests from offering her communion.

This from E. J. Dionne, in Tuesday’s Washington Post:

Word spread like wildfire in Catholic circles: Douglas Kmiec, a staunch Republican, firm foe of abortion and veteran of the Reagan Justice Department, had been denied Communion.

His sin? Kmiec, a Catholic who can cite papal pronouncements with the facility of a theological scholar, shocked old friends and adversaries alike earlier this year by endorsing Barack Obama for president. For at least one priest, Kmiec’s support for a pro-choice politician made him a willing participant in a grave moral evil.

Kmiec was denied Communion in April at a Mass for a group of Catholic business people he later addressed at dinner. The episode has not received wide attention outside the Catholic world, but it is the opening shot in an argument that could have a large impact on this year’s presidential campaign: Is it legitimate for bishops and priests to deny Communion to those supporting candidates who favor abortion rights?

A version of this argument roiled the 2004 campaign when some, though not most, Catholic bishops suggested that John Kerry and other pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied Communion because of their views on abortion.

The Kmiec incident poses the question in an extreme form: He is not a public official but a voter expressing a preference. Moreover, Kmiec — a law professor at Pepperdine University and once dean of Catholic University‘s law school — is a long-standing critic of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

Hey, it’s not my church, although since I’m a taxpayer, I subsidize it, just like you subsidize my synagogue.  But if a church denies full participation in its rights and sacraments to people based on their stated support for certain political candidates, how come it gets to retain its tax-exempt status?  I’m sure the Kmiec incident was isolated, and parishioners who have said nice things in public about Obama or other pro-choice politicians aren’t routinely denied Communion (right?), but why isn’t this political activity that is improper for a tax-exempt organization?

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3 Responses to What do Kathleen Sebelius and Douglas Kmiec Have In Common?

  1. vickywoeste says:

    This is wrong, canonically wrong, pastorically wrong, morally wrong. This is the American church being hijacked by the antiabortion fringe element. This is really awful. I am pretty certain it won’t happen to me where I worship because all the priests support Obama too . . . but I would happily join a public protest of this practice outside the home parishes of both Kmiec and Sebelius (daughter of former Ohio Governor John Gilligan, for whose campaigns my parents worked in the 1970s).

  2. vickywoeste says:

    My comment part 2: I have since consulted with 2 theological experts. The gist of what they had to say is that this practice constitutes extralegal excommunication–excommunication without hearing and without cause. Canon law does not permit the withholding of sacraments from Catholics who vote for candidates espousing positions in conflict with the Church’s teachings (especially when the candidates are not Catholic; John Kerry was on far more dangerous turf in 2004). Instead, there has to be an examination of conscience to determine if the Catholic person in question is choosing to vote for the candidate ONLY because of the pro-choice position. Unless a sacrament of reconciliation has taken place–and unless the seal of the confessional has been flagrantly broken twice–then this practice contradicts Church teaching and canon law.

    I hope both Sibelius and Kmiec challenge their local bishops in ecclesiastical court. They would both win. I personally would make the argument that much of what Obama has said about poverty and about the Iraq war, to cite just two examples, are far more in accordance with Catholic social justice teaching than anything we’re likely to hear from John McCain. (Hello, just war theory? Obama breathed new life into it in 2002!) But because McCain has a 100% antiabortion voting record in the Senate, you can bet the nutcakes in the Catholic fundamentalist wing will flock loudly to his side.

    Do not lose sight of one fundamental fact (pardon the pun): American Catholics are free to vote their consciences in our political elections. The Church can try to hijack their votes, but that will just alienate progressive Catholics even further.

    In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is just another way in which the hierarchy is trying, stupidly, to reassert its moral authority in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal. Why they seem to think that picking on the laity is the way to go is completely beyond me. I would guess that it is only a matter of time before the only elements left in the Catholic church are the extreme wings–the far right, who will be calling the shots, and the far left, who are too dug in to give up the fight. The vast middle will just leave and go Presbyterian . . .

  3. laurabethnielsen says:

    As you well know, in my church, the theology is that no one would EVER be denied communion.

    Jeff, come to my church and you can take communion if you want. I think the idea that the divine would have rules and limits about who could and who could not be part of the communion — the community — that gathers in his or her name is just wacky crazy.

    I would invite Michele and Barack and family to our church, but I fear that we may be just as bad as rev Wright. OK — maybe not that many standard deviations out, but we are a few standard deviations out of the norm.

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