Catholic Hierarchy Forgets What “Catholic” Means


In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Kathleen Sebelius reflected on her persecution by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City. Sebelius was publicly chastened by Naumann last May for her stance on abortion and prohibited from receiving Communion. Naumann recommended, among other things, that the then-Governor attend to the “amendment of her life.”

The recent trend of refusing Communion to pro-choice politicians is a prime example of how flawed leadership is weakening the Catholic Church. The Post’s "God in Government" blog mentions Sebelius’s “rift with the Catholic church.” Sebelius, I would argue, doesn’t have a rift with the Church—she has a history of disagreement with Joseph Naumann. Though it’s possible that members of Church hierarchy receive pressure from higher-ups in certain cases, Naumann’s stunt is all his own. He was undoubtedly incensed that in a state with so much anti-choice activism, a state in which Operation Rescue has its headquarters, a defender of reproductive rights sat in the Governor’s seat. She flouted him in her public, political life, and then she flouted him in her spiritual life, continuing to receive Communion after he asked her, privately, not to. When Naumann’s informants told him this, he wrote the column condemning her.

The picture we have from this is of a frustrated, angry man who is used to having his way. And I would argue that power, or the perceived threat to it, is behind the Communion police whenever they strike. Earlier this year, an Archbishop at the Vatican who formerly served in St. Louis had to apologize after making a comment that was perceived as a criticism of D.C.-area bishops (the offending Archbishop, Raymond Burke, claims that his remark was taken out of context). Burke was talking to Randall Terry about the question of denying or allowing Joe Biden Communion. At the time, the accused bishops, Donald Wuerl and Paul Loverde, defended their turf:

Wuerl and Loverde say such decisions are up to the bishop within the politician’s home diocese.

So the din over whether Joe Biden or Kathleen Sebelius or John Kerry should receive Communion (or Ted Kennedy, now blissfully removed from the debate) is not only a struggle of Catholic hierarchs against politicians who displease them, but also a struggle within the hierarchy itself. It shows, very plainly, where the cracks are.

For now, at least, hierarchy rules: after their scolding last year, the bishops from D.C. and Arlington aren’t taking any chances with their new parishioner from Kansas. They’ve said they will “act in accord with Naumann’s wishes.” But so far, they’ve been much quieter than Naumann, doing their institution a great service.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • papist

    Kerry, Kennedy, Biden or Sebelius can call themselves Catholic, but that doesn"t mean that they really are!! they all left the church a long time ago, as soon as they quit believeing what the church teaches , they were no longer Catholics!!!

  • crowepps

    Considering that approximately three-quarters of Catholic women (and their partners) are using birth control methods the Vatican doesn’t approve of, and the majority of Catholic OB’s are happy to prescribe them, and that Catholics get abortions at the same rate as everyone else, on reproductive issues alone the number of ‘real’ Catholics drops from 50 million to maybe 12.5 million. And then there are all those OTHER dogma issues with which Catholics can disagree. You argue that a large minority should be properly reduced to a tiny one by deleting all those whose behavior doesn’t actually comport with church teachings, leaving such a tiny number of sinless ‘faithful’ that there’s no reason for anybody to care what ‘the Church’ says.

  • papist

    These are public figures that give great scandal, most people sin privately and give little scandal!These people just taunt the church and Her teachings. And you know Pope Benedict has said the church in the further may be much smaller! You know being a Catholic is much like belonging to the PTA if you can’t follow the rules , you just can’t belong!!!!!

  • crowepps

    I didn’t realize until this post that you were doing a parody of a Catholic, deliberately sounding like an fool in order to mock the church. The idea that people of integrity whose public actions accurately reflect their ethical beliefs cause ‘scandal’ while those who privately sin should be tolerated because their hypocrisy keeps things quiet pretty much disintegrated in the aftermath of the Church heirarchyt protecting and enabling pedophiles to prevent the ‘scandal’ that would be caused by taking steps to protect children. I can’t imagine any sincere, faithful Catholic making such an idiotic statement.