What exactly is it that gets political officials so riled up when their churches take them to task over the disconnect between what they claim to profess and what they publicly practice? Recently down in the United States, Congressman Patrick Kennedy has been denied the privilege of taking Holy Communion in Roman Catholic churches over his stance on abortion. The issue is simple logic:

  1. Roman Catholics only allow practising Roman Catholics in good standing to take communion.
  2. To be a practising Roman Catholic in good standing, one must follow all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
  3. Congressman Patrick Kennedy refuses to follow all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
  4. Therefore Congressman Kennedy cannot be a practising Roman Catholic in good standing.
  5. Therefore the Roman Catholic Church cannot commune him.

The Congressman is certainly entitled to his own beliefs. But he is not entitled to force those beliefs upon a church body that does not agree. Nor can he force the church to change its official practice (regarding who should be communed) to accommodate his own heterodox beliefs.

This is certainly not the first time we’ve seen public leaders refused communion or threatened with excommunication for claiming allegiance to a church while acting in direct opposition to that church’s teachings. Here’s a mere glimpse at some of the actions taken by the Roman Catholic Church in recent history:

  • June 2004 – Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary (Canada) publishes a pastoral letter decrying the “moral incoherence” of Prime Minister Paul Martin on such issues as homosexual marriage and abortion. The Bishop had previously called to task then Prime Minister Jean Chretien and then Conservative Party leader Joe Clark, and announced he would not serve them communion. He had even suggested that he himself would not preside at Clark’s funeral if the latter preceded him.
  • March 2007 – Bishop Marcelino Hernandez announces that any Mexican politicians who vote in favour of a bill to legalize abortion will be excommunicated.
  • May 2007 – Pope Benedict XVI issues a warning to Catholic politicians worldwide who deliberately flout the church’s position on abortion.
  • March 2008 – Archbishop Terrance Prendergast, Archbishop of Canada’s capital city Ottawa, says he would “refuse communion to any politician who “obstinately” supports access to abortion, but only if he or she cannot be persuaded to stand down.”
  • September 2009 – Polish bishops issue a warning to politicians that if they support abortion, they face excommunication.
  • November 2009 – Bishop Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, spokesman for Spain’s Bishops’ Conference, announces that any politicians who vote in favour of a bill to liberalize of abortion laws in the country will be automatically excommunicated and refused communion.