National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 21, 2004

Prelate cautious on denying sacraments


An American archbishop from a key “battleground state” has entered the flap over John Kerry and Communion, saying that for now he would “give him the benefit of the doubt” and not deny the pro-choice Democratic presidential candidate the Eucharist.

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati made the comment in a May 7 interview with NCR in Rome, where he was taking part in his every-five-year ad limina visit to the pope.

Pilarczyk also told NCR that the American bishops had heard concern from Vatican officials about the “zero tolerance” provision of their sex abuse norms, and predicted there would be debate and perhaps some “tweaking” before the norms are submitted to the Vatican for reauthorization. As things stand, the norms expire in March 2005.

The full text of the interview may be found in the Special Documents section of

Pilarczyk is a former president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and is regarded as a leading voice for the bishops’ moderate wing. His stance on Kerry takes on special significance since Ohio is numbered among the hotly contested “battleground states” in the November presidential race.

Pilarczyk told NCR he intends to wait for a committee headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington before making a final decision, but said in the meantime he would not support denying Kerry the Eucharist on the basis of his pro-choice views.

“We need to be very cautious about denying people the sacraments on the basis of what they say they believe, especially when those are political beliefs,” Pilarczyk said.

“The last thing any church or any representative or agent of the church wants to do is to deny the sacraments to anybody unjustly,” he said.

The comments come as Kerry and his wife, Teresa, took Communion on Mother’s Day at St. Scholastica Catholic Church in suburban Pittsburgh.

Some American bishops, including Archbishops Raymond Burke of St. Louis and Charles Chaput of Denver, have said Kerry should not receive Communion. On April 23, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, told a Vatican news conference that a pro-abortion politician is “not fit” to receive the Eucharist.

Pilarczyk said the bishops had discussed the matter briefly with Arinze.

“It is my understanding and my impression that Cardinal Arinze did not intend to solve an extremely complex theological and sacramental question with a one-liner at the end of a press conference,” Pilarczyk said.

The Cincinnati archbishop said the issues need reflection.

“If Kerry comes, do you give him Communion? Maybe you give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe you refuse him. What about his chief of staff? What about the people who write his speeches?

“What about people who don’t like Humanae Vitae? What about people who don’t like the church’s teaching on the death penalty or on homosexual marriages? Are we going to refuse them?

“It seems to me at this point that it makes a lot more sense to presume people’s good will, presume erroneous conscience or perplexed conscience and give them Communion, rather than say, ‘I think you think such-and-such,’ ” Pilarczyk said.

Pilarczyk said it is not necessarily a bad thing that bishops have been giving different answers.

“These are complicated questions to which bishops may not all have the same answer, and our Catholic faith is not a whole series of black and white positions,” Pilarczyk said. “There are some gray aspects in it. I think that’s a good lesson for people.”

Pilarczyk also told NCR that it is possible a Catholic politician could be both loyal to the church’s teaching on the immorality of abortion and convinced as a matter of prudential judgment that making abortion illegal would not work.

Such a stance “does not necessarily indicate a break” with the church’s teaching, Pilarczyk said.

On the sex abuse norms, Pilarczyk said the bishops had picked up some concern from Vatican officials.

They asked, “Is it right that somebody who offended 30 years ago one time should no longer be in ministry?” Pilarczyk said.

Nevertheless, Pilarczyk said he supports the zero tolerance stance contained in the norms adopted in November 2002.

“They were appropriate then, and are appropriate now,” he said.

Pilarczyk rejected suggestions that the sex abuse crisis will remain unresolved until more bishops resign.

“To say, ‘Lay it all at the door of the bishops,’ may be an understandable psychological stratagem,” he said. “When you’ve got somebody to blame, you just feel better. …Well, it’s not that simple. We’ve got the psychological community, we’ve got the role of lawyers, we’ve got the role of the media.

“I think we have to be careful not to generalize.”

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 2004

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