Back in June 2007, Rudy Giuliani addressed the question of whether he, as a pro-choice Catholic politician, was fit to receive communion by saying, “Issues like that for me are between me and my confessor. I’m a Catholic and that’s the way I resolve those issues, personally and privately.”
Today, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, Giuliani’s own bishop, essentially said that the former mayor, with his “well-known support” for abortion rights, forfeited his right to call the matter private by publicly accepting Holy Communion during a papal Mass this month.
Cardinal Egan’s scolding, in which he said he “deeply regrets” Giuliani’s decision, is a result of what the prelate suggested was a violation of “an understanding” with the former candidate for the Republican nomination and the church, which Egan said teaches “that abortion is a grave offense against the will of God.”
There is a long-running debate within the church over the issue of Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, which, along with euthanasia, is considered among the most egregious sins. Some conservative Catholics have argued that such politicians should not be permitted to take Holy Communion, because they are sinners and the act would amount to a corruption of the holy rite. More liberal members of the church have argued that the decision is a personal one, and have pointed out that John Paul II himself administered communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians in Italy.
But for Catholic politicians in America, where the issue has been especially treacherous (see John Kerry), the easiest way out of the debate has been to avoid publicly taking communion, or admitting to taking it. That was the Giuliani tactic while he was a candidate, as Egan’s claim about an “understanding” seems to reinforce.
Now Egan says he wants a meeting with Giuliani to “insist” the former mayor abstain from receiving the Eucharist.
Not all Vatican officials agree with Egan’s hard line, though there is certainly precedent for it.
Benedict XVI himself once suggested that “excommunication” could be a viable option for pro-choice Catholic politicians who receive the Eucharist, before the Holy See issued a sort of clarification which explained that Benedict intended to say that a pro-choice position was “incompatible” with receiving communion. The pope has also written in an apostolic exhortation, “Sacramentum Caritatis,” that the question of administering the sacrament to a public supporter of abortion rights is “not negotiable.”
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 reflects 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.
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.
In June 2004, Cardinal William Levada, whom 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, and that it 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.”
That’s the position Giuliani is apparently sticking to.
Sunny Mindel, Giuliani’s spokeswoman, said Monday that the former mayor is willing to meet with the cardinal but added that his faith “is a deeply personal matter and should remain confidential.”