Presidential candidate shakes off criticism over public support for abortion by receiving Eucharist during Mass in Boston. Simon Caldwell reports
THE MAN who hopes to become the first Catholic President of the United States since John F Kennedy has received Holy Communion at Easter in defiance of bishops who say he should first renounce his public support for abortion.
John Kerry, the Democrat Senator for Massachusetts who will challenge George Bush for the United States presidency on November 2, received the sacrament during Easter Mass at Boston’s Paulist Centre.
In doing so, he publicly rejected the criticism levelled at him by several American bishops who object to his support for legal abortion, civil recognition for same sex couples (though not marriage) and stem cell research, issues which he calls “matters of conscience”.
According to Reuters, Mr Kerry and his wife Teresa, who consider themselves “believing and practising” Catholics, attended Easter services at the Paulist Center, close to their Beacon Hill home and the church where they generally worship. As he entered, Mr Kerry was asked if he would take Communion. He responded with a firm “yes”.
Worshippers filled the modern room and its balconies. Many more lined the walls and stood at the back as the centre’s director Fr John Ardis conducted a family-oriented Mass beneath a suspended crucifix carved from live oak. Kerry and his wife slipped quietly into a rear pew.
“It was a wonderful service,” said Mr Kerry as he left to applause and cheers from the congregation.
The discussion of Kerry’s eligibility for Communion arose after Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis advised Kerry not to “present himself for Communion” at any church in the city unless he dropped his support of existing abortion law. Several other bishops have issued similar warnings.
While campaigning in Missouri, Senator Kerry deliberately missed Sunday Mass rather than risk an explosive confrontation with Archbishop Burke.
Fr Thomas Reese, the editor of the Jesuit magazine America, said: “All you need is a picture of Kerry going up to the Communion rail and being denied, and you’ve got a story which will run for weeks and weeks.” Archbishop Sean O’Mal ley of Boston, Mr Kerry’s home diocese, has also suggested that Catholic elected officials — without mentioning any by name who support abortion rights should abstain voluntarily from Communion. But unlike Archbishop Burke, he stopped short of instructing priests to refuse to offer the sacrament to those who presented themselves for it.
“Archbishop O’Malley has no public statement as to the questions regarding Senator Kerry and his Catholicism,” Fr Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese said. “The matter has been brought to his attention and I do not know when or if he will make a public statement on this matter.” Mr Kerry’s position on abortion is troubling bishops both in Rome and America who fear it sends out the message that it is acceptable to be “personally against abortion” while publicly be in favour of the practice.
Mr Kerry in particular has even voted in favour of partial-birth abortion, a procedure to end a late-term pregnancy which has been banned by President Bush because of its cruelty. It involves a baby being four fifths delivered feet-first before it is stabbed in the back of the neck and its brains sucked out — to ensure the death of the child as much as to ease delivery.
He also voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, a law passed by President Bush last month, with the support of the Catholic bishops, to offer limited legal rights to unborn children.
“People in Rome are becoming more and more aware that there is a problem with John Kerry and a potential scandal with his apparent profession of Catholic faith and some of his stances, particularly abortion,” one Vatican official told Time magazine.
The response from the Kerry campaign headquarters was hostile. “Rome may not be thrilled with the Senator’s position on some social issues,” an adviser said, “but the Pope doesn’t have a vote in this election.” America’s 65 million Catholics constitute 27 per cent of the electorate and live mostly in states with large blocs of electoral votes, such as California, New York, Texas, Ohio, Illinois and Florida. Since 1980, the only presidential candidate to win the Catholic vote then lose the election was Al Gore in 2000.
Mr Kerry’s aides are gambling that a pro-choice stance will be quietly supported by the majority of Catholics and Mr Kerry himself is remaining confidently bullish. “I fully intend to practice my religion separately from what I do with respect to my public life and that’s the way it ought to be in America,” he told reporters in Ohio. “There is a separation of church and state in America and we have prided ourselves about that all ... of our history.”