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Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, also took Communion, according to published photos or eyewitnesses. Neither pro-choice senator had received public instruction to abstain.

Cardinal Edward Egan of New York revealed in April that he had asked Rudolph W. Giuliani not to take Communion after the Republican former New York mayor did so during a papal Mass in Manhattan.

The nation’s bishops are split over how far to go in enforcing Canon 915, the church law that deals with who may take Communion. It says: “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

The first part concerns Catholics who have been excommunicated or placed under interdict - both formal procedures that are rare but considered a legally binding “ban” on a person.

The second mentions those who “publicly and obstinately remain in manifest grave sin.” In that case, the primary burden is on the person to abstain from the sacrament.

The Rev. Lawrence DiNardo, who served as Archbishop Wuerl’s chief canon attorney during the archbishop’s 18-year tenure in Pittsburgh before being transferred to Washington in 2006, said he expects his former boss to wait until Mrs. Sebelius is confirmed as HHS secretary before doing anything.

“I am sure this crossed his mind, but the issue has not yet arisen, so anything said is speculative,” he said.

Archbishop Wuerl “is a very loyal person to the church, very thoughtful, very pastoral,” he added. “He’ll take all different issues into consideration as he makes a judgment. He always tries to make everything a teachable moment.”