Rudy Giuliani has made it clear that he doesn’t “get into debates with the pope.”
The Roman Catholic Church, however, is already debating what to do with the likes of Mr. Giuliani.
Pope Benedict XVI and the bishops who run the Catholic Church have a longstanding practice of not directly commenting on the political candidates of any single country. But when presented with Mr. Giuliani’s position on abortion, American Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, the president emeritus of the governatorate of Vatican City State, was clear.
“That’s not very acceptable to us,” said Cardinal Szoka in a phone interview with The Observer. “Because if he says, ‘Well, I’m personally opposed but I believe a woman should have a right to choose,’ well then, how can you be personally opposed? It’s a contradiction.”
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and a top Vatican official who is generally considered to have a more liberal outlook, also said in a separate interview that a Catholic politician holding positions like those of Mr. Giuliani—the former Mayor says that he is morally opposed to abortion but supports abortion rights—created a “contradiction.”
“To be pro-choice is directly against the fundamental Catholic position, and I don’t see how it could be possible,” said Cardinal Kasper, who is a member of the Roman Curia, the body that enforces the pope’s policies, shapes the doctrine and runs the government of the Holy See.
“It’s complicated,” he said. “Questions of conscience are always complicated. But if somebody wants to be in public life, as a Catholic, he should also state Catholic positions.”
LAST MONTH, FOR THE FIRST TIME since some high-powered Vatican cardinals indirectly criticized Democratic nominee John Kerry in the 2004 election for his pro-choice position, these esoteric questions about Catholic doctrine moved out of the theology classroom and onto the tabloid front pages. On a plane to Brazil, Benedict suggested to reporters that “excommunication” was a viable option for pro-choice Catholic politicians. (“Rudy vs. Pope” was the resulting Daily News headline.) The pope’s spokesman immediately clarified the position, emphasizing Benedict’s argument that such a position was “incompatible” with receiving communion.
Mr. Giuliani, who is the only pro-choice Republican candidate for President and the only pro-choice Catholic among the leading candidates in either major party—addressed the question by saying it was between him and his pastor. “Issues like that for me are between me and my confessor,” he said. “I’m a Catholic and that’s the way I resolve those issues, personally and privately.”
But that statement reflects only one aspect of a fundamental debate now occurring in the church between those members of the worldwide Catholic hierarchy who, like Mr. Giuliani, believe that the matter of communion is a private matter of conscience between an elected official and his confessor, and those who believe that the question of administering the sacrament to a public supporter of abortion rights is, as the pope recently wrote, “not negotiable.”
No matter what conclusion is reached, another question—of equal political significance—is how the church should apply its decision to Catholic elected officials who share Mr. Giuliani’s views. Cardinal Kasper, for example, laughed at the prospect of summarily excommunicating pro-choice Catholic politicians, a policy that would lead to the canonical expulsion of most elected officials in the traditionally Catholic countries of Western Europe.
“I don’t want to excommunicate all types of people,” he said. “But it’s a serious thing. The church has to take serious its own positions. It cannot be without consequence when a Catholic publicly departs from these positions. The church has to take serious its own position.”
That matter will soon come to a head once again in a highly visible debate with consequences for the candidacy of Mr. Giuliani, who is seeking the nomination of a party that has voted in every Presidential election in the past three decades for openly religious Christians. In November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will finalize its position on political responsibility for Catholic politicians. And for the first time, the proceedings will be discussed in open session and opened up to the floor, so that any of the roughly 400 bishops can weigh in or propose an amendment to the conference’s statement.
Already this year, Providence’s bishop, Thomas Tobin, has publicly characterized the abortion stance of the thrice-married Mr. Giuliani as a gross “incongruity.” And one of the group’s leaders, Baltimore Cardinal William H. Keeler, protested in the past about Mr. Giuliani’s delivering a commencement address at the Loyola Jesuit College in Maryland.
Many bishops in the conference will be looking for guidance in the pope’s recent comments, especially a Feb. 22 apostolic exhortation called “Sacramentum Caritatis,” in which Benedict gave his final reflections on an October 2005 synod of bishops that met to discuss the Eucharist, or holy communion. The 83rd paragraph of the document specifically addresses the question of whether Catholic politicians who advocate laws inconsistent with church teaching can partake in communion.
The severity of what Benedict wrote took many veteran Vatican watchers by surprise.
Contrary to Mr. Giuliani’s appeal for privacy, Benedict argued that “worship pleasing to God can never be a purely private matter,” and that “Catholic politicians and legislators conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound” to publicly introduce and promote laws which reflect values elemental to the faith. According to Benedict, those fundamental values include “respect for human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms.”
“These values are not negotiable,” wrote Benedict in some of the clearest language yet on the topic.
But as with many things Vatican-related, even the emphatic language in the document has been open to interpretation. Some liberal-minded theologians and Vatican observers have pointed to the pope’s inclusion of the “common good” in the paragraph as the Holy See’s attempt to water down the statement with an ambiguous requirement for lawmakers who wish to take communion.
“My God, no politician can go to communion then,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
Father Reese, a Jesuit, edited America, a New York–based Catholic weekly magazine, before the pope forced him out, in part because the magazine noted that John Paul II administered communion to left-wing and pro-choice Catholic politicians in Italy.
Father Reese also said that, papal pronouncements notwithstanding, the American bishops pose the greatest political threat to Mr. Giuliani.
“We’ll wait and see if the dozen or so bishops who all went after Kerry, if they go after Giuliani for the same thing,” said Father Reese. Mr. Giuliani’s situation may be tougher to address, he said, because no one seems to know “whether he goes to church or not.”
Mr. Giuliani’s campaign declined to comment on how often he attends mass and receives communion. But Mr. Giuliani has been critical of the church’s positions in the past. In 1996 he rebuked the Vatican for attacking President Bill Clinton’s decision to veto a ban on late-term abortion. Mr. Giuliani said the church’s “direct involvement in politics is not a good idea, because I think it confuses people.”
SINCE 1976, THE U.S. CONFERENCE OF Catholic Bishops has met every four years, about a year before the Presidential elections, to clarify its position on what constitutes “faithful citizenship.” In 2003, the bishops expressed a desire for affordable and accessible health care, pursuing social justice and protecting the environment. But it is the protection of pre-natal human life that has proved most divisive.
During the 2004 Presidential election, more than a dozen American bishops publicly declared their unwillingness to administer communion to Mr. Kerry, because he was pro-choice.
Many of them cited a November 2002 doctrinal note issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, titled “On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life.”
In the note, Cardinal Ratzinger argued that politics was inseparable from morality and that a rampant relativism had created a climate in which every possible outlook on life was judged equal. The Catholic viewpoint on the dignity of human life was increasingly suppressed in the name of a false tolerance, he said.
“Those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose’ any law that attacks human life,” wrote Cardinal Ratzinger, citing the words of Pope John Paul II. “For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”
In light of the doctrinal clarifications and the public opposition to Mr. Kerry expressed by a vocal minority of bishops, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops set up a task force on Catholic politicians that looked specifically at the communion question.
In June 2004, the task force met in Denver to discuss its findings, which seemed to represent a significant intervention on behalf of the Kerry—and Giuliani—positions. Cardinal William Levada, who Pope Benedict would later pick to take his place as prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, concluded that the matter of communion is a personal one that ultimately falls to the politician’s pastor to determine the motives for his position.
“The practice of the Church is to accept the conscientious self-appraisal of each person,” said Cardinal Levada, adding that “the practice of the Church does not per se exclude such persons from the reception of the sacraments.”
The final word at the June 2004 meeting came from Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then the Washington, D.C., archbishop, who said that he had received guidance on the matter from none other than Cardinal Ratzinger.
“He has offered some observations for our work which he specifically asked not be published, but which I wish to share with you,” he said in a statement. “The first is a recognition that it is up to us as bishops in the United States to discern and act on our responsibilities as teachers, pastors and leaders in our nation.”
Cardinal McCarrick said that while Cardinal Ratzinger told him that an “obstinate persistence” in campaigning or voting for abortion constitutes grave sin, he also advised against any rash judgments against such politicians, and called for precautionary measures, meetings and warnings before a communion is denied.
“I would emphasize that Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders WHETHER [his emphasis] to pursue this path. The Holy See has repeatedly expressed its confidence in our roles as bishops and pastors. The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent.”
Cardinal McCarrick then concludes that “Our Task Force does not advocate the denial of Communion for Catholic politicians or Catholic voters in these circumstances.”
If things had been left there, Mr. Giuliani’s standing might not today be the subject of continuing debate in the American church. But they weren’t left there.
In July 2004, an Italian Vatican reporter, Sandro Magister, published the letter that Cardinal Ratzinger had actually sent to Cardinal McCarrick. It seemed to provide for much less leeway than the Washington cardinal said it did.
According to the letter, which was published on the Web site of L’espresso magazine, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that when precautionary measures have not had the desired effect, and the politician persists in presenting himself to receive communion, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it.” And Cardinal Ratzinger based some of his reasoning on another Vatican ruling against offering communion to Catholics who divorced and remarried without an annulment.
IN OTHER WORDS, THE QUESTION is far from settled.
“Politics can never be without ethics. Politics have an ethical dimension, and in this ethical dimension there are some fundamental values included which are binding for a Catholic politician,” said Cardinal Kasper in his interview with The Observer. “Not every question in politics of course the church wants to interfere—it’s not our intention to interfere directly in politics—but the ethical values which are obligatory for a Catholic politician, for example, that he is pro-life and not pro-choice, I think it is a very clear thing, and he must do his best to reach the best possible law.”
As long as the question remains unresolved, Mr. Giuliani can expect continued public discussion of his relationship with his faith. That is, barring a fairly radical change of course.
“One way to get out if it,” Father Reese offered, jokingly, “is to just declare himself an Episcopalian.”
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