- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

UPDATED:

The Archdiocese of Washington is trying to duck a growing debate on whether pro-choice Catholic politicians can take Communion within its boundaries.

The appointment of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, one of the nation’s best-known Catholic politicians, to head the Department of Health and Human Services has consumed Catholic blogs and opinionmakers because the nominee has been told by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., to not take Communion. He would only lift the order, he wrote in a May 9 column in his archdiocesan newspaper, when the governor had “acknowledged the error of her past positions, made a worthy sacramental confession” and made “a public repudiation of her previous efforts and actions in support of laws and policies sanctioning abortion.”

The debate heated up Friday when a Catholic web site released an interview of the Vatican’s top-ranking American official who said the governor should not be taking Communion anywhere in the country. Archbishop Raymond F. Burke, the prefect for the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court, was asked by a reporter for Catholic Action for Faith and Family if this applied to the Archdiocese of Washington, Mrs. Sebelius’ presumed new home.


“Whether Governor Sebelius is in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, or in any other diocese, she should not present herself for Holy Communion because, after pastoral admonition, she obstinately persists in serious sin,” he said.

“Every bishop,” he added, should adhere to the standards of Canon 915, which says those “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

His statement, which appears to be a direct challenge to Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, specified that the governor was not under an official ban, which usually requires a hearing before a church court. But she is in the same canonical boat as any other Catholic who “publicly and obstinately remains in serious sin” and whose bishop has notified the public of their status. In such cases, the burden is on the person not to present himself for Communion.

“We are respecting the pastoral guidance of Archbishop Naumann of Kansas City,” archdiocesan spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said Friday in an e-mail. “Archbishop Naumann has been on record that he has asked her not to approach for the Eucharist, but has not barred her.”

But what, she was asked, if the governor approached the altar of a local church — as she has done in Kansas. Has the archbishop warned his priests or other Communion ministers of the possibility?

“We don’t speculate on what could or couldn’t happen nor is it our practice to discuss an individual’s faith practice in the media,” she wrote. “We will respect the pastoral guidance of the bishop of the public official, as we’ve said before.”

When told that the bishop in question had already made his preferences clear by forbidding Mrs. Sebelius from the Communion table, “you seem to be asking if Archbishop Wuerl is planning to openly speculate on what the future may hold and that question has already been answered,” she responded.