Altar Boys and Communion Rail Politics
June 23, 2004
With the campaign battleground now extended to the communion rail, I decided it is time to organize Altar Boys for Kerry. We will mobilize current and past altar boys and girls across the nation to make John Kerry the first altar boy to become President. Altar boys learn the importance of faith, discipline, respect and service – qualities we should want in a President. Despite Senator Kerry’s service to his church and nation, the Church is denouncing him as a bad Catholic, not because of any grave sin, but because he refuses to encroach upon a woman’s constitutional right to privacy.
This issue first emerged in 1980 when Boston’s Cardinal Medeiros issued a pastoral letter that those who elect pro-choice candidates “cannot separate themselves totally from [a] deadly sin.” Around this time, however, Notre Dame President Father Hesburgh warned that by making abortion their singular priority, the Church was asking Catholics to embrace candidates who disagreed with almost all of the Church’s social justice teachings. With the benefit of 24-years hindsight we can see that Father Hesburgh was right.
Like the current election, the 1980 election offered a stark choice between President Carter and Ronald Reagan. Cardinal Medeiros declared it a sin to vote for President Carter who, in making human rights a central part of American foreign policy, advanced the cause of human rights more than any other president. Although Carter also initiated the Middle East peace process with the Camp David Accords and promoted civil rights and social justice at home, he nonetheless was pro-choice.
Instead, “good Catholics” had to support Ronald Reagan whose presidency included substantial cutbacks in social services for the poor; increased homelessness and a dramatic escalation of the arms race that increased worldwide fear of nuclear war. In addition, the Reagan administration embraced right wing death squads in Central America who were responsible for the brutal murders of Catholic priests and nuns, including El Salvador’s Archbishop Romero.
“Good Catholics” were required to support an administration whose defense and economic policies were condemned by the United States Catholic Bishops (USCB) in pastoral letters on War and Peace (1983) and Economic Justice for All (1986).
Despite this history and the USCB’s 2004 statement in Faithful Citizenship: A Catholic Call to Political Responsibility that this election is about how all of us can be better off in the years ahead, Colorado Springs’ Bishop Sheriden and other members of the “communion police” seek to define the election by a single issue. The communion police also falsely equate being pro-choice with promoting abortion. Pro-choice advocates want abortion to be available, safe but also rare by taking steps to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This is why abortion rates declined 35 percent under the pro-choice Clinton administration after rising during the Reagan-Bush era.
Nonetheless, the communion police ask the faithful to ignore all of these considerations, as well as the effects Republican policies will have on 281 million Americans and the world at large, in voting solely on the question of abortion. Given this singular focus, would the communion police direct Catholics to vote for a “pro-life” Republican such as former KKK leader David Duke over a pro-choice Democrat like Father Robert Drinan? If the answer is “yes”, then the message to Catholics is that they must fully embrace the teachings of Jesus 364 days each year, but only follow the Fifth Commandment (and only with respect to abortion) on Election Day. The message to non-Catholics, however, is that despite having flourished in this nation because of religious liberty, the Church is now asking Catholic officeholders to ignore the interests of their non-Catholic constituents and legislate solely based on church doctrine.
If the communion police continue to sanction Democratic politicians, Altar Boys for Kerry will mobilize a nationwide protest culminating in a Million Altar Boy March on Washington. Altar boys could protest by refusing to extend the communion plate to right-wing politicians, always opening the missal to the Beatitudes, handing out “rate cards” for obtaining marriage annulments or indulgences, or responding “remember Galileo” instead of “amen.” While my call for an altar boy uprising is merely tongue-in-cheek; this election is no laughing matter. As in 1980, this is a pivotal election that is far too important to be decided based on a single issue.