Novak, Benedict & Prochoice Politicians
Robert Novak, famous for publishing the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame, has decided to use his morning column to pose as the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He notes that several pro-choice politicians received communion at the papal Masses in Washington and New York but assures us that this shows no softening of Benedict’s presumed hard-line stance. Novak instead says the culprit is the "disobedience to Benedict by the archbishops of New York and Washington." Really? Who told him this? I watched Benedict and Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl chatting in the popemobile after the papal Mass here, and I did not notice any frigidness or hostility. But, Novak knows better. He not only knows the pope’s mind, he claims to know the motives of Archbishop Wuerl whom he recklessly charges with being afraid of clashing with the movers and shakers of D.C.’s political class. Wuerl even shook hands with Senators Kerry and Kennedy at his installation Mass in 2006. Horror! Shaking hands! The Washington Post’s news pages distinguished themselves with intelligent reporting on Benedict’s visit. The reporters noted that so far from the pre-conceived image of Benedict as "God’s Rottweiler" the pope was exceedingly gentle and encouraging during his visit to America. He is a pastor, and a Christian pastor, called to love his flock, especially those who stray. Engaging in public humiliation is rarely an effective pastoral strategy. It may work for a pundit, but it does not become a priest, still less a pope. Novak also rehashes the canard that then-Cardinal Ratzinger made his opposition to giving communion to certain politicians crystal clear in a memo to Washington’s former archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, in 2004. (Conservatives have long used McCarrick as a whipping boy on this and other issues. He was an outstanding archbishop.) Parts of that memo were leaked to the press and certainly did suggest that pro-abortion politicians should absent themselves from taking Communion. But, the memo was more nuanced than Novak suggests, it was never an authoritative theological statement on the issue, and if Cardinal McCarrick had so thoroughly ignored its reasoning, as Novak suggests, there would have been repercussions. There were none. The pope has been supportive of local pastors as they seek to address this issue. He has shown no desire to turn the altar rail into a frontline in the culture wars. He has not removed any bishop for taking one side or the other in the debate. And, Benedict realizes, as many conservatives do not, that simply denying communion to pro-choice politicians will hardly advance the pro-life cause. Wuerl, who had clearly indicated he would not support any effort to issue blanket prohibitions, was Benedict’s first major appointment to an American see. The first Americans raised to the cardinalate by Benedict, Cardinals Levada and O’Malley, also declined to join the conservative culture war at the altar rail. I am tired of conservative laymen denouncing our bishops when they fail to follow the talking points from the Republican National Committee. Benedict is not dumb. He knows what he is doing. If he wanted to have a showdown at the altar rail in Washington or New York, he could have done so. The archbishops of Washington and New York are not "disobedient." What a shame that the editors of the Washington Post allow so many column inches for such nonsense. Michael Sean Winters
Paul D. McNelis, S.J.
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