There is a brouhaha simmering, within the American Catholic Church, over the issue of whether to give or deny communion to Catholic politicians who support abortions rights (Baltimore Sun, 06/19/04, Frank Langfitt, “Individual Bishops Allowed to Decide”). A right wing cleric, Bishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis, has gone out of his way to publicly target Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), who is pro-choice on the issue. Burke has boasted, like a medieval clerical tyrant, that he would not give the Massachusetts senator the sacrament, the communion wafer, if Kerry, who is running for president on the Democratic ticket, showed up at a church in his diocese.
Bishop Burke must think he’s a soul reader, too, able to look inside Kerry’s spiritual life. He must have as yet an undivulged distant surveillance device, which lets him see that the senator isn’t in a state of grace which would allow him to take communion.
I wonder, how does Bishop Burke feel about politically reactionary Catholics, such as that raving egomaniac, Sean Hannity, the radio, cable and TV windbag for Fox News? Hannity supports the Iraq War. Should he be denied communion? Why stop the censuring at elected politicians? Does being a warmonger and a person who minimized the abuses at Abu Ghraib, bar Hannity from participating in the sacrament of communion? Does Hannity’s lust for U.S. military hegemony around the globe violate any of the Church’s fundamental principles? (As of today’s date, 839 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq, over 11,300 Iraqis are dead, and their country totally devastated by the invasion and occupation. It has also cost U.S. taxpayers $118 billion dollars to fund this illegal, unjust and immoral conflict.)
What is Bishop Burke’s position on Hannity, who has also written two books hyping the pro-war policies of the Bush-Cheney Gang and espousing a social contract devoid of compassion for the poor? (Check out “Hannity Exposed,” for his latest 15 factual distortions, 06/14/04.) Hannity, a Rupert Murdock-lke clone, poses as a “devout Catholic.” Naturally, he is, like Bishop Burke, an ardent anti-abortionist.
Incredibly, there is one other Catholic cleric, who has even surpassed Bishop Burke both in politicizing the sacrament of communion and in his paternalistic and religious zealotry. His name is Bishop Michael Sheridan. His fiefdom is located in Colorado Springs, CO. He wants to deny communion to Catholics, who vote for liberal, pro-choice politicians, like Kerry. What school of Theology did Sheridan go to? Where does he think he is? In priest-ridden Ireland, in the early 1950s? Doesn’t the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that requires separation of Church and State, mean anything to this character?
Let me see if I have this right: It’s okay for a Catholic to vote for a right wing, civil-rights-negating politico, like Sen. Richard J. Santorum (R-PA), a Bush-Cheney Gang stooge, since he’s anti-abortion. Santorum also voted for the Iraqi War, the draconian USA Patriot Act, and was looking to push a Bill in the Senate that would set up a federal tribunal to investigate and monitor criticism of Israel by any professors on college campuses. But, according to Sheridan’s myopic standards, this is all irrelevant. If someone is anti-abortion, like Santorum, that’s the main thing that counts. Go figure! Of course, what none of these Catholic bishops are spelling out is that George W. Bush, Jr. is also anti-abortion, along with his V.P., Dick Cheney.
Keep in mind, that this is an American Catholic Church that is still reeling from the notorious pedophile/priest scandal, first brought to light of day by a series of shocking articles in the Boston Globe. That affair involved scores of predatory priests abusing thousands of innocent children over decades, often with the implicit consent of the ruling bishops, like the now-disgraced archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law.
Langfitt also pointed out in the Baltimore Sun article that the mostly conservative U.S. Conference of Bishops, of which Burke and Sheridan, are members, recently voted to approve by a 183 to 6 vote, the right of a local bishop to “legitimately make different judgments on the prudent course of pastoral action” to take in defending the “sanctity of life and opposing abortion.” The Conference warned, however, against any bishop using Catholic teaching as a “political tool.” They added, “The polarizing tendency of election-year politics can lead to circumstances in which Catholic teaching and sacramental practice can be misused for political end.”
At least one highly-respected Church leader, Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, sees the serious mischief, and rank hypocrisy, in the arrogant antics of Burke and Sheridan, and their ilk. Without naming names, Keeler is on record as saying, “We don’t need bishops to get into the act.” Keeler believes that it is up to the individual Catholic to determine whether he or she is in a state of grace with the church before participating in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Cardinal Keeler’s advice on the abortion/communion/politician issue sounds more Christian to me than the politically-related edicts of Burke and Sheridan.
I believe it is also wrong for church leaders, if they are determined to ignore Constitutional restraints, to focus on only one issue to embarrass elected politicians that they don’t like. Choosing abortion as the litmus test is a prescription for Catholics to vote for Bush in the November presidential election. It is also insulting to Catholics and sets them up for ridicule and for questions, too, about their patriotism. And, where are Burke and Sheridan’s concerns for other important matters, like the Iraq War and social justice? If the clerics were against the Iraq War, then they would have had to criticize not only Kerry, who supported it, but also Bush, its prime instigator. Maybe, that is why they choose abortion issue as their instrument of attack.
Finally, anything that props up, supports, and gives aid and comfort to Sean Hannity, Richard Santorum and George W. Bush, Jr., has to be bad for humanity. This includes the clerical intriguing emanating from the likes of Bishops Burke and Sheridan.
William Hughes is the author of “Saying ‘’No’ to the War Party” (IUniverse, Inc.). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. © William Hughes 2004.
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