Posted: April 29, 2004
Interview with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
April 28, 2004
By John L. Allen, Jr.
Last week, (see NCRonline.org Breaking News, April 23)Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said that a politician who is unambiguously pro-abortion should be denied communion. Is he right?
I don't think it was his eminence's official opinion. I did speak to the cardinal while I was here in Rome, and I think the cardinal would say that what he wanted to say is what was in the document. In it, it's clear as the church has always taught that to receive communion you have to have the proper disposition, you have to be in communion with the church, and not conscious of serious sin … all those things that are part of our teaching. That's in the document. Then, his official statement that was part of what he read is that all these documents present general norms that the bishops of a country have to put into practice. When he reported to me what had happened, this was not something that he reported as an official or even a personal statement, whatever he might personally believe, and whatever I may even personally believe. The cardinal's position was that this is the teaching of the church, and the bishops of the United States should figure out what they ought to do.
He did say clearly that a politician with a pro-abortion position should be denied communion.
I think that what the cardinal is saying that if someone has taken an unambiguous position that is contrary to the teaching of the church, and recognizes this as such, he should take himself away, he should not receive communion. I think that's what his eminence wanted to say.
And without referencing Kerry specifically, you would agree with the principle?
Oh yes, yes.
Isn't there a danger that if the bishops take a public position on the specific case of Senator Kerry, it will be seen as a partisan political gesture?
Anything that we can do can be interpreted or misinterpreted. It's that kind of a year. Even if it wasn't that kind of a year, we have that kind of a press! We have that kind of media in the United States that interprets everything, and maybe that's part of their genius, that they interpret everything either rightly or wrongly. Certainly I understand that those things will be interpreted by one side or another. Things can be interpreted or misinterpreted based on your own point of view.
Presumably the reason you have a committee is that the proper response is not crystal clear. Is part of your reluctance the fear of being seen as too partisan?
For me, it's the pastoral concern that the Eucharist should not be a point of confrontation.
The risk of being seen as partisan is a secondary consideration?
Yes. Obviously, you can't deny that there would be a thousand interpretations of anything happening like that, or anything not happening like that.
It frustrates some Catholics that the bishops are talking about reacting to Kerry for his position on abortion, but other Catholic politicians who don't follow the church on war and peace, or care for the poor, or any number of other issues.
This is a real question that comes up. Sometimes it comes from people who do not support us on the issue of life. I think you have to fall back on the old philosophical saying, primusest vivere. All these other human rights mean nothing unless you're alive. They all depend upon the right to life. If a person is put to death before they have a chance to live, then none of those other rights come into play. Obviously, those other rights are very important. The document [from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Catholic politicians] does say that we begin with the right to life, the different manifestations of it … with abortion, with euthanasia, with cloning, with stem cell research. But, the document says, these other things also affect the dignity of the human person. So that there certainly is a concern that can give rise to questions that people would ask. The reason that the church is so cautious on all these things, and so troubled by all this, is primus est vivere, the first thing is life.
It's also often said that abortion is a black-and-white issue in a way that these other matters are not.
Yes, these other things enter into the realm of prudential judgment. Of course there are moral rules that must guide the judgment that one would make. But they are not black-and-white in the way that abortion is. Some of them may be black-and-white in a lesser way, but that's perfectly said … they are not black-and-white in the way that abortion is.
Some people say that what's really going on here is that the bishops want to reelect George Bush.
I'll talk for one bishop. I don't know if that's true. I have great respect for President Bush. He's been very forceful in a number of areas we're interested in. Life is certainly among them, the area of Catholic education, the area of help to the poor in the Millennium Challenge fund and the AIDS fund, $15 billion for AIDS. No other president has looked out for that. Yet, as you look at the foreign policy of the United States, I have some concerns. I have concerns about Iraq, about the beginning of the war, about how we don't seem to have a real exit strategy. In the Middle East, the Palestinian situation, we've moved away from the roadmap, which is of grave concern to all us with regard to peace in the Holy Land. There may be some folks in the church who feel strongly about that [reelecting Bush], but I have great regard for our Catholic people. I hope that they really study the issues, look at the questions of life that are primary, but that they look at everything.
Just to be clear: there is no calculated strategy on the part of the bishops to support the president?
In Rome in the last two weeks, there have been a couple of conferences on international law and terrorism. Catholic speakers close to the Bush administration have suggested, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, that the Holy See has made a mistake in suggesting that the United Nations should be practically the lone body with the moral authority to authorize war in anything other than self-defense. Do you agree?
I don't think so. It seems to me that the United Nations is the only instrumentality that can bring the nations together at this time. There's nothing else around. It's not a perfect instrument, we all know that. It has made tremendous mistakes, we know that too. But I know of no other instrument on the international scene that has the potential of doing what the United Nations can do. Therefore, I'm in favor of the United Nations, as I believe the Holy Father is.
Where is the evidence of its capacity to "bring the nations together"?
Let me tell you the story of the rabbi in Nuremberg. There was once a rabbi in Nuremberg in the 16th century who would get up every day and he would see the horror, the poverty, the degradation of the community in Nuremberg. He would get up every day at 5:00 am and go around the streets, picking up the people and bringing them into the temple. He would give them food, he would wash them and dress them. He did this every day, day in and day out, for years. Finally, some man came to him and said, 'Rabbi, you're a good man.' The rabbi said, 'Thank you.' The man said, 'Rabbi, you've been doing this for 20 years. Nuremberg has not changed, it's as bad as it's ever been. Why do you keep doing this?' The rabbi said, 'What would it be if I didn't do it?' That's my answer to that question.
Your point is that as bad as things are with the UN, it would be worse without it.
But what about the argument that in the end, when it comes to capacity to mobilize force, multilateralism through the UN doesn't work?
Look at Korea, the Korean War. The United Nations saved South Korea. I look at United Nations work in other countries, in Kashmir. It has preserved peace there for a long time. There are a number of places where the United Nations has been able to go in and go great things.
The issue isn't just the United Nations, of course, because the Security Council actually backed the First Gulf War in 1991 and the Holy See opposed it anyway. Some would say that while the Catholic Church clings to the language of the just war tradition, in fact, it has adopted a quasi-pacifist stance. Is that fair?
I think what has happened, certainly, since the nuclear age began is that the Holy See has become less and less optimistic about the possibility of a just war. I think that's probably true. Look at the statements of the Holy Father. He doesn't eliminate the possibility of a just war, but in the context of today, where so many people are going to lost their lives and weapons of mass destruction are so pervasive, and where there is so much hatred in the world and so much ideology, I think … in my case, I've always believed in a just war. I still believe in a just war, but I find it harder and harder to justify in my own mind.
Are you convinced, after everything that's happened, that the intervention in Iraq was not just?
I would say not justified.
What distinction are you making?
Well, justified refers to the decision to go in. "Just" is a wider judgment on all the factors involved. I do see the benefit in ending a cruel dictatorship, and preventing the mass murders that had been present. But that did not seem at the time to be the reason that we went in. Therefore, I'm not sure it was justified. It may or may not have been just for the good of the people over there.
If multilateralism is the future, that argument would seemingly need to be directed above all at the United States, the lone state in the world with a real capacity to act unilaterally. The Catholic Church is in a unique position to make the case, since we are one of the few truly multilateral and international organizations in American civil society. Are we doing enough to lead America in this direction?
I'm not going to give you a definite 'no' on that. I think there is more willingness now than there was 50 years ago, and yet it's not enough.
Why isn't that change reflected in our policy choices?
Because all politics is local. That's where you start. When you talk about multilateralism and the world, that goes against the grain that all politics is local. I think people are more interested, and maybe rightly so, in picking up their own kids, having security in their own family, having a decent job, not being out of work, all those things that are close to them. We try to say to them, and I've tried to say, I've talked on this a lot of times without great effect, that you can't just worry about your neighbor across the street. You have to worry about your neighbor across the world. I was trained by Cardinal Terence Cooke, who talked about 'God's one human family.' We're bothers and sisters in God's one human family. This is a story for another afternoon, but today, we were with the Holy Father in the general meeting with all the bishops of the region. I was sitting next to him, and Cardinal [William] Keeler, who is the senior man, was saying something about how I had been helpful. The Holy Father said, 'He was secretary to Cardinal Cooke when I first met him.' I said, 'Yes, and Holy Father, you know, I hope his cause of beatification is moving along. He was a holy man.' He turned to me and said, 'He was a holy man.' … When I was chair of international policy, we put out these documents on the call for soldiarity that went to every parish in the United States. There's more thinking about this now than ever. I think pastors around the country [are conscious of it], parishes have committees on international affairs. I know parishes that are supporting problems in Haiti, problems in Slovakia and Ukraine, in Burundi …
You think that is eventually going to bubble up and transform our policy choices?
That's my hope. You've got to have hope.
National Catholic Reporter, April 29, 2004