FAQ: John Kerry and Catholic Communion

Understanding Catholic Communion--and why bishops are worried about America's first Catholic, pro-choice candidate.

How come some U.S Catholic bishops are talking about denying Communion to Democrat John Kerry?

The Catholic Church teaches that those who "formally cooperate in evil"--that is, those who enable evil to occur, whether they do it themselves or not--are guilty of sin. It also teaches that people who knowingly insist on sinning should be refused Communion. Because John Kerry espouses abortion rights in his political life (though he says he's personally opposed to the procedure), and because the Catholic Church believes abortion is sinful, it believes Kerry should not receive Communion.

Why is Communion a big deal?

Catholics believe Jesus' body and blood are present in the Eucharistic bread and wine. By partaking of it, Catholics are sharing in the "Mystical Body of Christ," an expression of the worldwide Christian community. Unlike many Protestant services, in which Communion may or may not be offered, every Catholic Mass always culminates with the Eucharist.

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Attendance at Mass every Sunday (and on certain holy days) is considered an obligation for all Catholics. Catholics are not required to receive Communion at every Mass, but in the U.S., most churchgoing Catholics do.

To be told one is unfit for Communion is similar, in spiritual terms, to being called unfit to be in a family or another close-knit group.

So has Kerry been excommunicated?

No. Excommunicating a Catholic is different from simply denying a Catholic person Communion. Formal excommunication may involve special proceedings and an official pronouncement from the Vatican. It occurs very rarely.

Why would the bishops deny Communion to Catholic politicians based on abortion opinions, but not deny it to Catholics who support birth control, divorce or the Iraq war (even though the pope opposed the war)? Are some sins worse than others?

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