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Issue Date:  September 24, 2004

From the Editor’s Desk

A peculiarly U.S. fuss

With about six weeks remaining in the countdown to the November election, expect both parties to be going after the Catholic votes that are perceived significant this year in swing states.

Part of the buzz will no doubt include continued parsing of “the Ratzinger letter,” not exactly on a par with the secrets of Fatima, but significant enough to some (NCR, July 2 and 16) to continue to be of interest. We’re also told to expect a pastoral letter on the matter from St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who was one of the first to draw attention to the issue when, in his former position as bishop of La Crosse, Wis., he began declaring a ban on receiving Eucharist for certain politicians.

I hesitate -- but only briefly -- to call more attention to an issue and a political strategy that, in my experience, makes Catholics look a tad nutty to those outside the fold. However, I think some points can be made for those of us looking for some harbor of sanity and reasonableness amid this election year’s more extreme moments.

Two points come to mind. First, it is significant, I think, that it is only a handful of bishops who want to use the Eucharist as a political weapon. Understandably, they get the most ink and the most airtime. They’re pushing the limits, and it is unusual for bishops to show themselves that passionate about much. Still, in an overwhelming vote, all of the U.S. bishops gathered this spring decided not to make such a stance a national policy but instead to allow each bishop to make up his own mind for his individual diocese. In other words, the vast majority of bishops and cardinals wanted nothing to do with the absolutists on this one.

More significant, however, is the point our Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr. has made several times -- and that is that this fuss is a peculiarly U.S. fuss. It rarely happens, if at all, anywhere else.

To enforce that point, he has reported that in January 2001, at a Mass celebrating the end of the church’s Jubilee Year, Rome’s mayor, Francesco Rutelli, a high profile Catholic and former member of the party that led the battle for legalized abortion in Italy, received Communion from the hands of John Paul II himself. It may be interesting to note that, according to Allen, as Rutelli moved into the political mainstream, he “took the classic position of left-leaning Catholics in public life: personally opposed to abortion, but not willing to impose his stance through law.”

Two years later, Allen reported, Prime Minister Tony Blair of England attended a private Mass in John Paul’s apartment, where he also received Communion from the pope. Blair is not only a pro-choice politician, he’s also Anglican.

Of course, I don’t know if the pope would vote for either man, but it seems from his actions -- charitable at least and elaborately ecumenical -- not unlikely that his words on their politics might be a bit less strident than some we’ve been hearing during this campaign of late.

~ ~ ~

While we don’t do much in the way of covering hurricanes, Patty McCarty, copyeditor and official keeper of the NCR prayer list wants those caught in the violence of the storms that have battered the country’s southern coast to know that a special “prayer tent” remembering them has been placed on her desk.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, September 24, 2004

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