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Pontifications

There have been a growing number of reports that Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann has asked Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington (and Bishop Paul Loverde of nearby Arlington, Va) to bar former Kansas governor and future Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius from communion once the pro-choice Catholic moves to the capitol, as expected.

The story has migrated from The Washington Times to U.S. News and World Report and now Deal Hudson at InsideCatholic has an analysis. Each time the story has taken on added force, but the reality seems to be a good deal less than is being advertised.

Yes, Naumann has spoken to Wuerl, as Naumann himself told EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo on March 6:

RA: A piece in the Washington Times points out that Archbishop Wuerl here in Washington would be responsible, correct?

AJN: I have spoken with Archbishop Wuerl and I have shared with him the history of my history of my experience with Gov Sebelius…

But, Naumann adds:

AJN: …It’s somewhat a question though whose jurisdiction it would be. I don’t know if she is confirmed where she will live. She could live in Arlington or she could live in Baltimore. So it, it may not be under his jurisdiction. I know he’s very concerned too. He’s said publicly he wants to support what the local bishop’s policy is with any politician.

It’s a murky situation, and church sources in the Washington area make several clarifications in this regard:

One is that Naumann himself has not barred Sebelius from communion. He asked her not to present herself, and she has not. A distinction with a difference in this case, as there is no “order” for Wuerl to uphold.

Two, Nauman has not asked Wuerl or any other bishop to bar her–and as one church official said, “we’ll follow the decision of a local bishop, but ultimately, it is up to Wuerl and Loverde to decide what to do and neither of them believes in barring people.”

That’s pretty much that. As it should be. The Archbishop of Washington has never been, and cannot be, the bad cop for the entire U.S. hierarchy.

In his analysis, Deal Hudson argues that Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City has effectively made Wuerl and the Capitol-area bishops to do the dirty work of barring communion to pro-choice Catholic pols–and has put pressure on other local bishops around the country to follow his lead.

As Deal writes:

Archbishop Wuerl and Bishop Loverde’s collegial response to Bishop Naumann destabilizes the relationship between pro-abortion Catholic politicians and their bishops back home. The question will arise as to why Governor Sebelius should be the only politician in Washington who has been called to account under Canon 915. [Which calls for withholding communion.] What about the dozens of others in Congress who have a 100 percent pro-abortion voting record? What about Vice-President Joe Biden himself?

Will other bishops seize this opportunity to apply Canon 915 to politicians in their dioceses, knowing that Archbishop Wuerl and Bishop Loverde will back them up? Given the determination of the Obama administration and the Congress to roll back all restrictions on abortion, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Well, I’d be surprised, actually. The Washington-area bishops are not going to send letters out to priests or put such an onus on ministers of communion, either. This is perilous territory for the hierarchy, and much is up in the air, to be sure.

But with 161 Catholic Members of Congress, or more than 30 percent, identifying as Catholic (higher than the general population, which stands at 23 percent), and of course Administration types like Sebelius and jurists like Scalia living in and around the Capitol, an approach like the one outlines by Deal Hudson and others would an inordinate amount of attention and responsibility on a few people to take the heat for others.

Besides, Wuerl and Loverde were just last week the target of a campaign by Randall Terry–backed by Archbishop Burke, until he got wise–to rally Rome to crack down on them as “soft bishops.”

That was an unfair characterization, to say the least. But above all it’s a skewed way to prosecute the “communion wars”–narrowing the field of combat to the more manageable District of Columbia, where guerilla forces can compensate for inferior numbers with close-in fighting and a few key allies.   

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