The Deacon's Bench

You may remember the flap over this story, which reported that Canada’s non-Catholic prime minister had received communion — but instead of consuming it, pocketed the host.

Now, a Canadian paper has apologized:

The saga of the missing holy host now has a sequel – a confession.

A New Brunswick newspaper has issued an apology to Stephen Harper for a story that suggested the Prime Minister slipped a communion host into his pocket during a Catholic funeral mass.

The July 8 story – later denounced by Harper as a “low point” in Canadian journalism – sparked criticism that the Prime Minister had disrespected the Catholic faith.

However, the Telegraph-Journal, based in Saint John, yesterday disavowed the tale, saying it “sincerely apologizes to the Prime Minister for the harm that this inaccurate story has caused.”

In a rare front-page apology, the newspaper said the story “should not have been published.

“We pride ourselves in maintaining high standards of journalism and ethical reporting, and regret this was not followed in this case,” the newspaper said.

In a curious move, the newspaper also apologized to the two reporters who wrote the story, exonerating them from any blame in the funeral furor.

With the apology came a shake-up – a spokesperson for the newspaper confirmed late yesterday that editor Shawna Richer and publisher James Irving, a scion of the Irving family empire, were “no longer serving in those capacities.”

The fuss started July 3 when Harper attended a state funeral for former governor general Roméo LeBlanc in Memramcook, N.B. During mass, Harper received a sacramental communion wafer, in contravention of church practices for non-Catholics, and then appeared not to consume it, according to a video of the service.

In its July 8 story, the Telegraph-Journal quoted a Roman Catholic priest who demanded that Harper explain what he had done with the communion wafer.

According to the apology, the story also said that during the communion celebration, the Prime Minister “slipped the thin wafer that Catholics call `the host’ into his jacket pocket.”

A Harper aide dismissed the claim at the time, saying Harper had consumed the host soon after receiving it, but out of view of the camera. Senate Speaker Noël Kinsella, who was also at the service, said he saw Harper consume the host.

Yesterday, the paper said there was “no credible support” for its printed allegations.