Cardinal: Rudy shouldn't have taken Communion

Jennifer Barrios and Bart Jones

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Publication Date: April 28, 2008

Cardinal Edward Egan swiped at Rudy Giuliani Monday, saying the former mayor violated a private agreement by receiving holy Communion during the pope's visit this month, despite Giuliani's support of abortion rights.

"I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the papal visit here in New York, and I will be seeking a meeting with him to insist that he abide by our understanding," Egan said in a brief written statement.

But Giuliani's public censure doesn't likely signal an archdiocesan crackdown on ordinary Catholics who might support abortion rights. Rather, experts agreed, the move seems an attempt to rein in a public figure whose position is blatantly contrary to church doctrine.

The move comes the same day that Washington Post columnist Robert Novak published a column in which he claimed that pro-abortion-rights politicians receiving Communion during Pope Benedict XVI's visit reflected "disobedience to Benedict by the archbishops of New York and Washington."Giuliani issued his own two-sentence statement, saying that he is willing to meet with the cardinal but that his "faith is a deeply personal matter and should remain confidential." His spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, would not elaborate.

Egan's office did not respond to several calls for comment. Sean Dolan, spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, declined to comment on the Long Island diocese's position.

David Gibson, a biographer of Pope Benedict XVI who has been critical of Egan in the past, said he was surprised when he saw the twice-divorced, thrice-married Giuliani taking communion April 19 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.

In addition to his views on abortion, Giuliani never had his second marriage annulled before marrying again, an act considered a sin in Catholicism.

"Giuliani clearly pushed Egan into a corner," Gibson said. "This was Giuliani's provocation. It's just in your face. It really goes beyond the bounds."

During Pope Benedict XVI's address to U.S. bishops during his visit to America this month, he called it a "scandal" for Catholics to believe in a right to abortion. Also this month, the pope wrote that abortion is a "grave sin" that harms "the dignity of the human person" and is an offense to God. Giuliani's position puts him at odds with doctrine outlined on the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, an Amarillo, Texas-based anti-abortion group, said Egan was right to make an example of the former Republican presidential candidate.

"What is of most concern when it comes to communion is not the private state of Mr. Giuliani's soul, but it's the public scandal," Pavone said.

"People know all across the country that this man is in favor of keeping abortion legal. So the question here is the public contradiction between the church accepting this person as a Catholic and at the same time he's rejecting a key element of teaching."

Typically, Communion -- a ritual during which Catholics consume bread and wine that represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ -- is only received by Catholics who have not committed mortal sins and whose beliefs are in line with the church's teachings.

But for the vast majority of Catholics, it's still up to each to decide whether he or she feels fit to receive communion.

"Normally the church asks each person to examine their conscience before they approach the Eucharistic table," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. "Most priests and most bishops don't want to play cop at the Communion rail."

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