Benedictions: The Pope in America

Rudy is at it again. Anyone watching the papal mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on April 19 must have been surprised to see Giuliani–twice-divorced (once annulled), thrice-married, pro-gay rights, pro-abortion rights–take communion. Rudy hadn’t done this before, in my experience–neither at the Central Park Mass in 1995 with John Paul, nor at O’Connor’s funeral in 2000. So to take communion in the cathedral at a mass celebrated by the pope was, well, Rudy being Rudy.
Now Cardinal Egan has reacted, with a very measured but direct statement released today:
April 28, 2008
The following is a statement issued by Edward Cardinal Egan:

“The Catholic Church clearly teaches that abortion is a grave offense against the will of God. Throughout my years as Archbishop of New York, I have repeated this teaching in sermons, articles, addresses, and interviews without hesitation or compromise of any kind. Thus it was that I had an understanding with Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion. I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the Papal visit here in New York, and I will be seeking a meeting with him to insist that he abide by our understanding.”

For all of Egan’s bad press, he was never one to pick a public fight with public figures. Indeed, he often said he counted people like Giuliani and Hillary Clinton as “friends,” an embrace that angered many in the church. But Rudy left him no choice here. He apparently abrogated a very judicious and pastoral private agreement with his bishop, and did so in front of Egan’s boss and under the full glare of the media klieg lights.
What was Rudy thinking? Here’s all we know, from his spokesperson:

“Mayor Rudy Giuliani is certainly willing to meet with Cardinal Egan. As he has previously said, Mayor’s Giuliani’s faith is a deeply personal matter and should remain confidential.”

“Deeply personal?” Not when you score a coveted invite to St. Patrick’s with the pope, and take communion. Then again, it is certainly true that Giuliani might have gone to confession beforehand. He has said that his spiritual confidante is a longtime friend, Alan Placa, a Long Island priest who has been suspended on allegations that he molested children. Giuliani gave Placa a job at his consulting firm.
I don’t think this signals any major change of approach by Egan or other bishops in the wake of the pope’s visit. Egan, like most bishops, has always played these things quietly, in confidence, and on a case-by-case basis. But you never know. This was a real in-your-face move by Giuliani, in front of the pope.
What is interesting, I think, is that Egan made no mention of Giuliani’s apparently irregular marital status as a cause for refraining from communion. Is that because Giuliani has regularized his status? Or perhaps Egan did not want to draw attention to a huge pastoral challenge for the church–namely, the communion ban for divorced and remarried (without benefit of annulment) Catholics, of whom there are so many–and so many of them faithful in every other way. It’s a pastoral headache priests, and bishops, generally like to avoid.

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