Thursday, March 21, 2013

Joe Biden, Pope Francis, and the Communion Kerfuffle

Well, now the fuss is that Vice President Biden and Democratic House Minority leader, Pelosi received Holy Communion at the Mass inaugurating the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis.  Did you honestly think that they wouldn’t?  As for whether they should or not, it isn’t my business to make a judgment call.  I am not sure it is the business of all those who have an opinion on the matter either. 
I was living in Rome during the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the inaugural Mass of Pope Benedict XVI and was working for the BBC and several other networks as a consultant.  As such I had access to a wide variety of sources of information.  Moreover, in the circle of friends and acquaintances with whom I had dinner or went to the beach or spent weekends in the Tuscan countryside were any number of low and medium level Vatican “officials.”  An inveterate gossip, I learned not to give opinions but only to ask questions with a faux innocence that opened the dams of behind-the-scenes information.  I found out, among other things, that the priests giving Holy Communion at the Masses for the funeral of John Paul and the installation of Benedict were instructed not to refuse anyone Holy Communion.  This instruction was especially reinforced for those in the diplomatic section and the sections where special guests were being seated.  This meant that not only were dubious politicians of various nationalities to be given Holy Communion but non-Catholics as well.  In fact, Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict gave Holy Communion to Prior Roger Schutz, the Calvinist prior of the Ecumenical Community of Taizé.   Of course precedents had been set when Pope John Paul had given Holy Communion to Tony Blair—at the time not only a pro-choice politician but an Anglican—at a Mass with the Blair family in the Pope’s private chapel.
As prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger had written a letter to the American Bishops supporting the policy that pro-choice politicians should be denied Holy Communion.  Cardinal McCarrick managed to deflect the letter, not releasing it but only summarizing it in remarks to the Bishops at their semi-annual meeting.   McCarrick and Ratzinger were not on friendly terms, at least after that.  McCarrick allegedly led the American Cardinals in the 2005 conclave in an unsuccessful alliance with the Germans to evade a Ratzinger papacy.  Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation, offered on his 75th birthday, was immediately accepted by Pope Benedict unlike the resignation of most other Cardinals who were invited to stay on for several years.  Was McCarrick’s refusal to implement canon 915 the reason for Benedict’s quick acceptance?  The Holy Father could have removed the Cardinal from his see earlier, of course, but that would have been a too obvious rebuke. Nevertheless, had Benedict wanted canon 915 to be enforced he would not have appointed Donald Wuerl to the Washington See as Wuerl, when Bishop of Pittsburgh, had made it very clear that he was not going to refuse Holy Communion to anyone, even those politicians who supported abortion or euthanasia.  Wuerl’s removing the faculties of Father Marcel Guarnizo, a priest of the Archdiocese of Moscow working in the Washington Archdiocese, for Guarnizo’s having refused an acknowledged Lesbian communion, was a clear sign that in his Archdiocese ministers are not to take it upon themselves to decide who may and may  not receive Holy Communion.  We all know where Wuerl stands on this issue. 
Pope Benedict had not found it in his agenda to remove Cardinal Wuerl or, for that matter, Bishop Loverde of Arlington, from their sees for refusing to implement canon 915.  Bishop Loverde has somewhat flown under the radar on this issue while it is likely that more Democratic politicians live in his diocese than in the Archdiocese of Washington.  Loverde is a very gentle and pastoral man—perhaps too gentle with his priests who are often in rebellion against his authority for his being “too liberal.”  Moreover, priest friends of mine in the Washington chancery have claimed that both Wuerl and Loverde are under instructions from Rome not to make this matter of Holy Communion and politicians an issue.  We will see if that changes in the new papacy, but in the meantime I need to remember that it is not up to me to enforce canon 915 and it probably isn’t up to you either.  When I make judgments about who is receiving Holy Communion worthily, I probably am not doing so myself.



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