Doug Kmiec is a conservative Reagan administration official and leading pro-life legal scholar. Despite his strong anti-abortion views, he recently endorsed Barack Obama on the grounds that Obama cared more about the full range of “life” issues – including poverty and human rights – and because Kmiec believes that Obama’s “abortion reduction” agenda will have more impact on abortion in the short run than the traditional battles against Roe v. Wade.
He was attacked by conservative Catholics and Republicans and was even denied communion from his church, a moment he describes here in an excerpt from his new book, Can a Catholic Support Him?:
April 2008. On that day the children were not with us [at church]. It was only my wife Carol and myself. I turned out to be the subject of the homily. Without warning or prior conversation, this blue-collar kid from Chicago had somehow given offense not just to this priest who stood before me, but in my memory, which was now running at top speed, to all those watchful religious eyes: to the good Franciscan sisters who watched the Kmiec brothers play basketball beneath the convent window; to Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who instructed us in black-and-white from the old 6″ Philco as we sat upon the living room couch; to my school days pastor who, on May 7, 1959, distributed Communion to me for the first time; to the Bishop whose hands confirmed my membership in the body of Christ in 1963; to Brother Konrad Diebold, F.S.C, the Christian Brother who led us in prayer in high school chapel….A litany of saints, these splendid women and men of the cloth. …
These men of faith were generous of heart, conduits of the Holy Spirit and always inclusive. Taking time to talk, to encourage, to share happiness and to comfort sadness. Most of all, supplying the gifts of faith, hope and love. A faith that carries us through this life in exile we don’t always fully understand or appreciate. A hope for a destination that in all of its unknown quality one knows is a sublime contentment and peace freed of this world’s anxieties. A love that didn’t depend upon status, intelligence, or even how much we were able to put in the collection basket. We were accepted as we were–flaws and all.
Until that evening, when all was revoked.
Suddenly the life-long chain of liturgy was broken into pieces. The priest–the priest who had just joined with us in the prayer of the Rosary was now red-faced shouting. I thought. Talking about me. I had cooperated with evil. I had? I had killed babies? My heart was black. I was giving scandal to the entire church. I had once been a leader but now I forfeited any semblance of respectability or leadership. The good father grasped tightly the edges of the ambo, the unusual name given to the lectern in the Catholic Church. No faithful Catholic would ever contemplate doing what I had done. I was dead to the Holy Mother Church.
My wife held my hand tightly. We looked at each other in disbelief. Here was someone in the vestments of the priesthood who had called us to have our prayers be heard, who recited the Kyrie with us, asking the Lord’s mercy upon us, now seemingly merciless, telling me and the many there assembled that I was unworthy. I was to be publicly shunned and humiliated. My offense? Endorsing Senator Barak Obama for President of the United States.
The irony of ironies was that my motivation for the endorsement was entirely Catholic. No, Obama doesn’t share the Catholic faith, but he certainly campaigns like he does. As reflected in his book, the Senator is focused on the human person, on the common good, on the social justice of economic arrangement. All is so very Catholic.
It was time for Communion. Notwithstanding the indictment of the homily, I did not think of myself as unworthy of receipt of the sacrament–at least no more so then pre-Obama endorsement. Communion in the Catholic tradition is indeed sacred. We believe the bread and the wind is transformed–transubstantiated–into the body and blood of Christ. I have often watched my parish priest focus his gaze with reverence upon the bread and the wine during the offertory to gain some appreciation for the significance of the divine person whose presence on can scarcely grasp….
But I was not to receive the Eucharist that evening. The couples who stood in line before my wife and myself received the body of Christ in their hands or on their tongues and returned to their seats. My wife received. My hand outstretched, the priest shook his head from side to side. Was that a no? It was Judgment Day, and I hadn’t made it. LSAT Insufficient. Inadequate GPA. Do not pass GO…go directly to Hell.
Right there I was letting down every priest that had shared the faith tradition with me. I imagined my late mother, who seldom returned home from the factory until well after midnight, so that we could afford the tuition at the Catholic school, hanging her head in shame. All the traditions–prayers before meals, May alters and rosaries, novenas and indulgences, the pilgrimages to ten churches on Good Friday–all had somehow been zeroed out. Catholic identity theft, stolen right there by our Lord’s faithful servant, Father _____. I won’t tell you his name because he doesn’t represent the Church’s thinking. Indeed, Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, who a month or so later investigated the incident “for the good of the Church,” said it was important to call what happened “shameful and indefensible.”
I was grateful for the Cardinal’s apt description, though like an insurance payment long after suffering a bodily injury, I must say at the moment on that evening, I was the one who felt without defense and entirely shameful. Right there in that moment every Catholic good deed and good thought and good wish of love of neighbor that I once had seemed inconsequential and insufficient. Like a child feeling unfairly disciplined, but disciplined nonetheless, I pleaded with empty hand outstretched: “I think you’re making a mistake, Father.” His red complexion redder now, betraying righteous anger. His stretched hand over the top of the Ciborium, the container for the consecrated bread as if I was going to grab a handful and make a run for it, and then the pronouncement: “No, you are the one who made the mistake.”
From the back of the Communion line someone shouted out, “Are you judging this man, Father?” I was grateful for the intervention. Will the Last Day be like this? One friend making an appeal for another? The response was cold: “He has judged himself and been found unworthy.”
With no further appeal possible and with my wife exiting in confusion, tears, and offended embarrassment, I returned to my place along. My place? Did I have a place any longer? Was I expected to leave? The double significance of losing the body of Christ–of not having ingested and no longer standing among “the body”–was suddenly all I could think of. Condemned for announcing to the world that I intended to vote for a man who I thought lived the Beatitudes. A black man; a caring man; a talented man. A man different from conservative self and yet calling me to find the best of that self. A man who, in so many ways, asks to care for the least advantaged as he seeks the public responsibility to carry with him, as if it was his own burden the plight of the marginalized and unemployed worker, the uninsured, the widowed mother grieving over a son lost in Iraq. Their hurts, far worse than mine. It was wrong to be damned; to be excluded from the grace of the sacrament of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all I could think was the old Tolstoy folk wisdom “God knows the truth, but waits.”
As of this writing, I have successfully kept the name of the priest and his religious order out the public record. Every expert in Canon Law who has examined the question and concluded under Canon 915 that the denial of Communion was unauthorized and inappropriate. After the even became public, Cardinal Mahoney called the priest into his office, and several months after that meeting, Father ______sent Carol and myself a letter of apology. The letter is thoughtfully written and the apology accepted. Perhaps there was a Providential hand at work using the two of us to teach a lesson to a larger congregation. The lesson? Any Voter Guide even hinting at a Catholic duty as a matter of faith and morals to vote against Senator Obama is seriously in error.
Can A Catholic Support Him – Asking the Big Question About Barack Obama
Author: Dogulas W. Kmiec
The Overlok Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.
Woodstock & New York
The book can be purchased here here.