‘Can bishops agree on Communion for politicians?’

The ongoing discussion within the church over whether Catholic politicians who support legalized abortion should be denied Holy Communion may reach another critical juncture next week when the U.S. bishops vote on a new draft statement on the much wider question of Catholic political responsibility during a presidential election year. Such statements have been issued by the bishops quadrennially for more than 30 years to remind Catholic voters  that they should consider, as this year’s draft says, “the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good and the protection of the weak and vulnerable” when casting their ballots.

This year’s statement, to be considered at the bishops’ fall general meeting in Baltimore, will get more-than-usual attention simply because it is coming before the full body of bishops for possible amending and an up-or-down vote. Previous political responsibility statements were approved behind closed doors and issued by the bishops’ Administrative Committee, which in itself is a fairly substantive body of about 50 bishops which sets bishops’ conference policy between general meetings.

As our Nancy Frazier O’Brien explained in her preview story two weeks ago, the question of Communion for pro-abortion Catholic politicians is not even addressed in the draft document, though it does note that “those who knowingly, willingly and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.” But that’s not stopping analysts from predicting that there will be attempts to amend the document, whether it be by bishops seeking even stronger language on abortion or bishops wondering why the document does not specifically mention the war in Iraq.

In this Sunday’s edition of Our Sunday Visitor, the national Catholic newsweekly based in Huntington, Ind., contributing editor and commentator Russell Shaw predicts that Communion for politicians will be on the agenda. Among other things, he points to Pope Benedict XVI’s comments to reporters last spring about similarly situated Mexican politicians, although our Rome bureau chief, John Thavis, who was traveling with the pope at the time, noted that a toned-down transcript issued later by the Vatican muddied the issue.

Shaw’s article notes that Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, currently the bishops’ conference vice president, has said that the bishops “are not of one mind in discussing this question.” Whether they will be any closer after next week is anyone’s guess.

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