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 The Faithful and the Faithless 

May 6, 2004 
If elected in November, John Kerry would be our third Catholic president. John Kennedy was of course the first. Who was the second?

Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Give up? Ronald Reagan. As I understand it, he was baptized a Catholic in infancy, though he was raised as a Protestant. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, if you’re baptized in the Church you remain a Catholic all your life.

That’s one of the many things even most Catholics don’t realize anymore. There’s a general impression that the Second Vatican Council suspended the old rules and left everything up for grabs. This is not so; the Council actually reaffirmed all the Church’s traditional teachings, but it also managed to create confusion about them and, especially, about the rules of discipline.

Which brings us to John Kerry. A few American bishops, including the archbishop of Boston, are warning that pro-abortion politicians should not receive Communion. This could result in an embarrassing scene if Kerry goes up for Communion, the Church’s holiest sacrament, and is refused.

Kerry favors abortion, but with the usual dodge that he is “personally opposed” to it and that “the separation of church and state” permits him to espouse its legalization. Sure.

What does personally opposed mean in practice? Does Kerry agree with the Council (whose authority he vaguely appeals to) that abortion is “an unspeakable crime”? Would he ever say this publicly, even while maintaining that the state should never interfere with feticide?

Of course not. Kerry’s wife has expressed her moral disapproval of abortion in interviews, but he wouldn’t be caught dead saying that. As an ambitious Democrat, he can’t afford to. You can oppose Prohibition while vehemently disapproving of drunkenness, but in the Democratic Party you must not only favor legalizing abortion; you must regard feticide as a desirable thing, a positive good, a sacred right.

[Breaker quote: Time for the laymen to pipe up]So Kerry wants to have it both ways: to be an ardent supporter of abortion while being regarded as a good Catholic.

Unfortunately, Kerry’s visible failings as a Catholic go beyond his feticide-friendly politics. In recent weeks he has attended Protestant churches instead of the Sunday Mass Catholics are obliged to attend. Worse yet, he has taken communion in those churches, which is strictly forbidden for Catholics. Vatican II didn’t change that.

You might say that Kerry is a frequent communicant, of sorts: He has received communion in more churches than any other Catholic politician. If he doesn’t know, or care about, the essential difference between the Catholic and Protestant conceptions of the rite, why should he insist on taking it in a Catholic church? To Catholics, the Eucharist is the actual Body of Christ, not just a symbol. To receive it unworthily is a grave sin. It’s a holy rite, not a civil right.

Whether the Catholic bishops should deny Communion to pro-abortion politicians is a good question. But Catholic laymen don’t have to wait for the bishops to act. They should object strenuously to Kerry’s advertising himself as one of them. His record and conduct say otherwise.

Like Reagan, Kerry is a Catholic owing to circumstances beyond his control: As a helpless infant, he was carried to a baptismal font. If the decision hadn’t been made for him, there is no reason to think he would ever have become a Catholic voluntarily. Nothing in his career suggests the guidance of Catholic principle. On the contrary, he seems proud that his record is indistinguishable from that of a thorough secularist.

He’s hardly alone. Many pro-abortion but nominally Catholic pols have also been having it both ways, making a mockery of faith while hoping for Catholic votes. The American Catholic bishops, fearful of the charge of “interfering” in politics (an inhibition that doesn’t stop the Protestant clergy from exercising their right to speak out), have tolerated this. But there is no reason for the laity to be passive.

A wag once said of Kerry’s mentor and role model, “Senator Kennedy’s religion is so private he won’t even impose it on himself.” America’s foremost Catholic family, on the whole, has set a sorry example of American Catholicism. Kerry has followed suit.

Kerry’s election would be a misfortune for faithful Catholics. Catholic laymen should tell him what they should have been telling every phony Catholic pol all these years: “If you’re going to call yourself one of us, you’d better act like one of us.”

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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