by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I am told that my column and statements regarding the nomination of Governor Sebelius to serve as Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have inspired a lot of chatter in the blogosphere. With this column I want to provide you with my responses to some of the questions posed to me. I hope that you find them helpful for your own understanding of the matter.
Q. Jesus never turned anyone away. Why would a bishop discourage someone from receiving our Lord in the Eucharist?
A. My entire life as a Catholic priest is dedicated to attempting to bring people to Jesus, uniquely present in the Eucharist, in order to experience his love, to be transformed by his mercy and to share in his gift of abundant life. There is nothing that saddens me more than to be unable to share the incredible gift of the Eucharist with another.
While Jesus was always ready to extend his mercy to anyone who genuinely desired it, it is not accurate to say that Jesus accepted everyone’s behavior. Just this past Sunday, we heard the Gospel in which Jesus drove the money-changers and others out of the temple because they had turned it into “a marketplace.” Read the denunciation by Jesus of the Scribes and Pharisees in St. Matthew’s Gospel (chapter 23). In his effort to protect his disciples from being misled by the behavior of the Pharisees, Jesus uses some very strong language.
Just as Jesus sought to protect his Father’s house — the temple — a bishop has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the Eucharist. Just as Jesus protected his disciples from being misled, a bishop has the responsibility to protect his flock from being deceived by the words and actions of those who would alter Catholic teaching.
Q. If Governor Sebelius has not presented herself for Communion, since your second request that she not do so, why did you choose to comment on her nomination as secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS)?
A. I received media inquiries because of my request last year that the governor not present herself for reception of holy Communion. It troubled me that many media reports identified Governor Sebelius as a “pro-choice Catholic.” I find it disturbing that the media rarely mentioned the faith of other nominees for Cabinet posts, unless they, too, happened to be Catholics who supported legalized abortion. I was concerned that the scandal (leading others into error) of Governor Sebelius’ support for government-sanctioned abortion was now being taken beyond the borders of Kansas to the entire nation.
I was also very troubled by groups supporting the nomination of Governor Sebelius, who self-identified themselves as Catholic and claimed that the governor’s persistent support of legalized abortion was consistent and faithful to Catholic teaching. The statements by these groups actually were proof positive of the scandal created by the governor.
I chose to respond to media inquiries and to devote my March 7 Leaven column to do my best to set the record straight and protect the integrity of Catholic teaching regarding the sanctity of life and the responsibility of every Catholic to work for public policies that protect the inalienable right to life, especially for the weak and vulnerable.
Q. Governor Sebelius has stated that she is personally opposed to abortion and has worked to reduce abortions. Does this not make her a faithful Catholic?
A. Certainly, we need to do everything morally permissible to reduce abortions within the current constraints that our courts have imposed. However, it is not enough for a Catholic politician to attempt only to reduce abortion within the confines allowed by the 1973 Supreme Court decisions. Every Catholic must work to expand legal protection for the innocent lives of unborn children.
A conservative estimate of the impact of the 1973 Supreme Court decisions striking down every state restriction on abortion is that the legalization of abortion resulted in more than a million additional abortions annually in the United States. While we need to do what we can to limit abortion as much as possible in the present moment, we must never be satisfied until every child enjoys protection under the law.
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the direction of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued in 2004 a statement on Catholics in political life that said: “John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in law- making bodies have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose’ any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”
The bishops of the United States in our 1998 statement, “Living the Gospel of Life,” expressed this same truth: “No public official, especially one claiming to be a faithful and serious Catholic, can responsibly advocate for or actively support direct attacks on innocent human life.”
Next week, I will continue to answer questions on this matter. Stay tuned!