Friday, June 25, 2004

Bishop pushes officials to follow on abortion

If not, he says, voluntarily skip Communion

The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - Lexington Bishop Ronald Gainer wants politicians who support abortion rights to voluntarily refrain from taking Communion in his diocese. But two politicians whose views on abortion are contrary to church teaching say they plan to continue taking the sacrament.

Gainer is the only Kentucky bishop so far to publicly question whether Catholic politicians who back abortion rights should receive Communion.

His admonition didn't change Lexington Mayor Teresa Isaac's mind.

"I plan to continue taking Communion and would love to receive it from a woman priest some day soon," she said in a written statement.

State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, also said the bishop's statement wouldn't keep him from taking the Eucharist. Scorsone said anti-abortion advocates don't have a monopoly on the faith.

"I certainly believe there are a lot of good American Catholics who believe in choice," he said. "I certainly believe in a woman's right to choose."

Bishops in a handful of U.S. dioceses recently asked Catholic leaders who support abortion rights to abstain from taking the sacraments. Gainer also wants them to voluntarily refrain from taking communion, said Lexington diocesan spokesman Tom Shaughnessy.

"A professing Catholic who has taken public stands against what the church teaches should disqualify himself or herself from receiving the Eucharist because they cannot receive in good faith," Shaughnessy told the Lexington Herald-Leader, quoting the bishop.

"Were there to be such a person under his pastoral care, (Gainer) would ask to meet them privately as a pastor and attempt to challenge them to change their public position before he would take any public action."

Elsewhere in the state, Owensboro Bishop John McRaith said in an interview that he hasn't told politicians that they should refrain from taking Communion if they support abortion rights.

"I think that's something that they really have to answer themselves," he said. "They know what the church law is, so they have to answer for that. They know what is expected of them."

In a statement Wednesday, Louisville Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly said he would work to educate and "persuade all politicians about issues related to the sanctity of human life," but he hoped "never to have to deny anyone Communion based upon a political viewpoint."

"I believe that it is the responsibility of persons receiving the body and blood of Christ to examine their consciences and come to a conclusion about their worthiness to receive Holy Communion," he said.

In the Lexington diocese, Gainer has been an outspoken critic of legalized abortion, even traveling by bus to Washington to protest with fellow anti-abortion activists.

In a January column in the diocesan newsletter, Crossroads, he called on Catholics to promote "the Gospel of Life."

"I take this opportunity to warn Catholic politicians within this diocese who in their public careers choose to depart from church teaching regarding the inviolability of all human life," he wrote.

"They need to consider the consequences of their position for their own spiritual well-being, as well as the scandal they cause by leading others in serious moral danger."

Anti-abortion groups said Gainer is right to discourage Catholic politicians who support abortion rights from taking Communion.

"This is long overdue," said Kentucky Right to Life Executive Director Margie Montgomery. "We've been saying for years that those who hold public office who are Catholic are a disgrace to the faith they profess to believe by having a pro-abortion stance and participating in the Holy Eucharist."

But Democratic state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Louisville, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, wonders why politicians are being singled out.

"I guess my question to the bishops is: 'Are the pedophile priests who are in prison receiving Communion?' I'd like to know," she said.

Marzian said it's "dangerous" for religious leaders to tell politicians how to vote, and it's wrong for them to withhold the sacraments to punish people.

"I go to Communion when I want to go, and no bishop, no pope, they're not going to keep me from my religion," she said.

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