National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly

?Sign Up Here For Weekly E-mail

 1 Archives  | 

 Washington Notebook

September 22, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 34

Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent


"The bishops I have talked to have no doubt that [Washington Cardinal McCarrick's] presentation [at the U.S. bishops' June meeting] did not accurately represent the communication from Cardinal Ratzinger."

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus
editor of First Things


Conference examines communion flap and voter obligations; Ratzinger memo handling disputed; Hudson resigns as Crisis publisher

By Joe Feuerherd

John Kerry's Catholicism gave legs to the story of pro-choice Catholic politicians and their relationship to the church. But even if Kerry should lose in November, it's a story that will not be going away anytime soon.

That much, if little else, became clear Sept. 16 at an Ave Maria Law School-sponsored conference on "Public Witness Public Scandal: Faith, Politics, and Life Issues in the Catholic Church." The all-day event was decidedly pro-life - every speaker opposed legal abortion. Yet on the question of means - how best to reduce the number of abortions and the likelihood of implementing legal constraints on the practice - there was considerable disagreement.

Two questions dominated the discussions. First, what should the reaction of bishops be to Catholics in public life who are enthusiastically and unapologetically pro-choice? (A topic the bishops considered in June and will consider again in November.) Next, can a conscientious Catholic voter support a pro-choice candidate?

Robert George, Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, kicked-off the event.

"… the position that all human beings equally possess fundamental human rights, including the right to life, is the definitively settled teaching of the Catholic church. It is on this basis that the church proclaims that the taking of human life in abortion, infanticide, embryo-destructive research, euthanasia and terrorism are always and everywhere gravely wrong."

E-mail Alerts
To receive an e-mail notice when Washington Notebook is posted every week, Click on the link at the top right of this page to send the column to a friend or colleague.
George continued, "…the church also teaches that it is the solemn obligation of legislators and other public officials to honor and protect the rights of all. The principle of equality demands as a matter of strict justice that protection against lethal violence be extended by every political community to all who are within its jurisdiction. Those to whom the care of the community is entrusted - above all those who participate in making the community's laws - have primary responsibility for ensuring that the right to life is embodied in the laws and effectively protected in practice."

George defended St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, the prelate most associated with the idea that pro-choice politicians should be denied the Eucharist.

"Having made every effort to persuade pro-abortion Catholic legislators to fulfill their obligations in justice to the unborn, Archbishop Burke articulated the obvious: any Catholic who exercises political power to expose a disfavored class of human beings to unjust killing sets himself against the very faith he claims to share. The church cannot permit such a person to pretend to a sharing in the faith he publicly defies. By receiving communion - the sacrament of unity - Catholics who support embryo-killing by abortion or in biomedical research are pretending exactly that. The archbishop has called a halt to the pretence."

Monica Hellwig, President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, argued that communion denial would be counterproductive. "Canon law clearly allows the bishop to do this after a meeting with the person concerned. Presumably the reason for withholding communion from one who proves to be in good faith (and therefore cannot be judged to be in mortal sin) is a matter of trying to avoid scandal. However, in the public eye this action especially marks the issue as a Catholic issue rather than a public moral issue. In the Catholic context it treats the Eucharist as a public stamp of worthiness rather than a sacrament of reconciliation and grace, and may make the moment of communion a battleground if the decision is contested. More than this, what I find problematic is that the action of withholding communion will certainly appear as an effort of the hierarchy to control the political process (little as this may be intended). Catholics who are not spending many hours listening to careful analysis of what is involved, but are more accustomed to 30-second sound-byte messages and slogans, will ask themselves, 'can you vote for a Catholic who has been excommunicated?' "

Further, said Hellwig, "Any singling out of Catholic pro-choice politicians as those, more than any other pro-choice politicians, for whom Catholics should not vote, not only reinforces the perception that this is a Catholic rather than a human concern, it also reinforces the simplistic solution of one-issue voting, as though other policies shaping society were not moral issues. In addition, it looks to outsiders as vindictive, and undermines the voice that the hierarchic Church has so painstakingly acquired as a voice of conscience in public affairs in this country."

Hellwig's interlocutor, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, was not persuaded. As a result of the bishops' June statement on Catholics in Political Life and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's memorandum on when communion can be withheld, the "range of discussion has shifted." Now, said Neuhaus, the debate focuses on when it is permissible for a Catholic pro-choice politician to receive communion, and under what grounds a voter could support such a candidate, which is a far cry from the discussions that took place as recently as a year ago.

Jesuit Fr. John Langan, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University offered this caution.

"If a person, whether a political candidate or a citizen judges that an objective such as the prohibition of abortion is simply not attainable in the present state of American public and legal opinion, then he or she cannot be required to make the prohibition of abortion the decisive consideration in voting or to demand it as an essential plank in the political platform," said Langan.

"If I vote for a candidate who professes to be strongly pro-life but is either unable or unwilling to reduce or eliminate abortions, then I have not succeeded in achieving my pro-life objective," said Langan. He continued, "Politics is not merely the expression of values; it is social action shaped by many discordant forces over time. Moral principles are profoundly important in political life, but they are enveloped within a larger and less well ordered and unprincipled reality."

Several of the papers delivered at the event are available on the Ave Maria Law School Website,


"Had the letter of Cardinal Ratzinger been fully and completely shared with the bishops," Neuhaus told the Sept. 16 Washington DC conference, "there is every reason to believe the [U.S. bishops'] statement …would have been even more clear." Neuhaus, a New York diocesan priest and editor of First Things, is an ally of those in the U.S. hierarchy who argue for a tougher approach to Catholic politicians who support abortion-rights.

Several conference attendees took Neuhaus' comment as a shot across the bow of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The accusation is serious: that McCarrick misled his brother bishops and mischaracterized Vatican guidance on the question of how the church should treat Catholic politicians who support abortion-rights.

Later, Neuhaus told NCR, "The bishops I have talked to have no doubt that [McCarrick's] presentation [at their June meeting] did not accurately represent the communication from Cardinal Ratzinger."

It's all about politics, McCarrick told NCR Aug. 20. Of bishops who question his forthrightness McCarrick said, "I think it's because they read what some people who are determined to get involved politically, and determined to give no quarter and take no prisoners, are saying to them and writing to them." He continued, "I read them too, but I think I know where these people are coming from."

There is more on this story in the Oct. 1 issue of NCR.


Deal Hudson resigned his position as publisher of Crisis magazine Sept. 18 and will step down from the post Jan. 1 of next year.

In a Sept. 21 e-mail to his usual distribution list, Hudson said he would continue to be affiliated with the conservative Catholic monthly publication as director of the Morley Institute, which, like Crisis, is a subsidiary of the Morley Publishing Group.

"Not much will change from your perspective," said Hudson's e-mail. "Since the staff … has been running the magazine for the past two years, you won't actually notice any changes there."

His departure comes a month after NCR reported that in March 1994 Hudson, then a 44-year-old tenured faculty member at Fordham University, engaged in a sexual relationship with a vulnerable 18-year-old freshman following an evening of heavy drinking. As a result, Hudson was forced to give up his tenure at the school and eventually paid $30,000 to settle the case. He became senior editor of Crisis in October 1994.

Just prior to release of the NCR story, Hudson, a favorite of White House political director Karl Rove, resigned his position as director of "Catholic Outreach" at the Republican National Committee.

The Washington Times reported Sept. 22 that Hudson's departure was forced. The paper said that five prominent Crisis columnists pressured the magazine's board to oust Hudson. Among the five were the magazine's cofounders, Michael Novak, a leading conservative Catholic intellectual, and Ralph McInerny, a Notre Dame University philosophy professor, said the Times. Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, a prominent Catholic conservative, withdrew as the featured speaker and honoree at a Sept. 17 Crisis fundraiser following NCR's report.

In his e-mail, Hudson said the decision to give up the publisher position was "my call."

"As you can imagine, the past month has been very difficult for both me and my family," Hudson said. "There's no doubt that the recent adverse publicity about me, and the criticism that followed, influenced my decision. As long as I remain publisher … I'll be a source of controversy."

He continued, "The plain fact is, I'm tired of being a lightening rod. And more importantly, this whole thing is causing great pain to my family. When all is said and done, I'm a husband and a father. I'm certainly not perfect, but I love my family dearly, and their well being is my first priority."

As director of the Morley Institute, Hudson said he would focus on "funding for [the] magazine" and "several new projects that I've wanted to pursue for some time," such as writing a book "on how Catholics can get involved in politics."

The Morley Institute bears the surname of Lucile Morley, a Hudson great aunt who encouraged his youthful interest in philosophy.

The e-mail address for Joe Feuerherd is

Top of Page   | Home 
Copyright © 2004 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 
TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280