At first glance, Rudolph W. Giuliani should be an appealing presidential candidate for observant Roman Catholics. The grandchild of Italian immigrants, Mr. Giuliani went to Catholic schools, considered joining the priesthood, and as mayor of New York battled a museum that exhibited a painting of the Virgin Mary adorned in elephant dung.
But church leaders say they are frustrated by prominent Catholic politicians like Mr. Giuliani who argue that while they are personally opposed to abortion, they do not want to impose their beliefs on others.
One American bishop, Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., recently wrote a caustic column for his Catholic newspaper calling Mr. Giuliani’s position “pathetic,” “confusing” and “hypocritical.” Other bishops said that they would not criticize a candidate by name but would not hesitate to declare Mr. Giuliani’s stance contrary to Catholic teaching.
Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark said: “I think he’s being illogical, as are all of those who take the stand that ‘I’m personally opposed to abortion but this is my public responsibility to permit it.’ To violate human life is always and everywhere wrong. In fact, we don’t think it’s a matter of church teaching, but a matter of the way God made the world, and it applies to everyone.”
The presidential campaign of John Kerry, a Democrat, suffered in 2004 when about a dozen of the nation’s more than 200 bishops declared that they would deny him communion because of his abortion stance. A debate ensued among the bishops over whether it was right to enforce doctrine at the communion rail and whether the church had ventured too far into partisan politics.
But some American bishops who favored denying communion said that recent comments by the pope would bolster their approach. Pope Benedict XVI told reporters last month that Catholic legislators in Mexico who had recently voted to allow abortion had effectively excommunicated themselves from the church. A Vatican spokesman immediately issued a clarifying statement saying that politicians who voted for abortion rights should “exclude themselves from communion.”
Bishop Robert J. Baker of Charleston, S.C., said of the pope, “The general thrust of his statement was, it’s within the bishop’s right to take a strong stand in this regard.”
Bishop Baker noted that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had declared abortion a “grave moral evil.” About Mr. Giuliani, he said, “I can’t understand personally how a person could fudge it if they were holding that perspective and the Catholic bishops had made that an official statement.”
Communion may be a moot point for Mr. Giuliani, who was seen leaving Mass at a church in Washington before the Eucharist. Some church officials said it might be that Mr. Giuliani refrains from taking communion because he had married a third time without receiving a church annulment for his second marriage. A Giuliani spokeswoman, Maria Comella, confirmed that Mr. Giuliani had his first marriage annulled, but not his second.
There are other Catholics who favor abortion rights in the presidential race, like Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, both Democrats, but polls show them running behind their party’s leading candidates, who are not Catholic. Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, is a convert to Catholicism and has showcased his stands against abortion and stem-cell research, but polls show that he, too, is running behind leaders.
Several of the bishops who declared in 2004 that they would deny communion to Mr. Kerry declined requests for interviews about Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Giuliani’s own archbishop, Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, who was silent about Mr. Kerry in 2004, declined an interview. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, said the cardinal “avoided all involvement in partisan politics.”
Most bishops are quiet primarily because the presidential election is still more than 16 months away, said church officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to be quoted on political matters. They added that the bishops felt no need to weigh in because they did not expect Mr. Giuliani to prevail, largely because of his abortion-rights stance.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, leader of Priests for Life, a Catholic anti-abortion group, said he believed that some bishops were reticent because — after the last campaign season — many were warned by their legal advisers not to violate Internal Revenue Service rules that prohibit churches from endorsing or denouncing political candidates.
Mr. Giuliani is the best known and most popular Republican candidate, according to national polls. In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, 52 percent of Catholic Republicans had a favorable opinion of Mr. Giuliani, while 13 percent held an unfavorable view, about the same ratio as that seen in all Republican voters. A national poll conducted earlier this month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that only 43 percent of Republican voters were aware of Mr. Giuliani’s position on abortion.
In a debate in New Hampshire, Mr. Giuliani was asked about the Rhode Island bishop having likened him to Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who turned Jesus over to be crucified. When Mr. Giuliani tried to respond, a lightning storm outside momentarily silenced his microphone, and he joked, “Look, for someone who went to parochial schools all his life, this is a very frightening thing that’s happening right now.”
The sound restored, Mr. Giuliani said, “My view on abortion is that it’s wrong, but that ultimately government should not be enforcing that decision on a woman.”
He continued, “I consult my religion, I consult my reading of the Constitution, I consult my views of what I think are important in a pluralistic society, and the reality that we have to respect the fact that there are people that are equally as religious, equally as moral that make a different decision about this. And should government put them in jail?”
If Mr. Giuliani advances in the presidential race, his detractors say they expect him to face far more criticism.
“It’s becoming ever more clear that Rudy Giuliani suffers from John Kerry syndrome,” said Joseph Cella, president of Fidelis, a Catholic advocacy group in Chelsea, Mich. “It’s just a matter of time before more bishops step up, because he shares the identical position on abortion as John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.”