This is Archbishop Curtiss' official response to the Kerry problem. My comments are in parantheses.
May 7, 2004
The candidacy of John Kerry: A dilemma for Catholics in Nebraska and the nation
Senator John Kerry makes a strong distinction between his personal life as a Catholic and his public life as a politician. He cites the separation of church and state as the rationale for this duality.
I think Kerry is right about the separation of church and state in terms of one not trying to dominate the other or one not interfering with the legitimate roles of the other. (His is a good sentiment, but watch the nuance carefully. An uncareful reader might conclude he is denying the principle of the two swords, the fact that the law of the Church is always superior to and capable of overriding the laws of the state. He is not denying the principle here, of course, but wouldn't it be nice to see that principle explicitly endorsed instead?) But when it comes to moral issues that touch upon basic human rights, such as the right to life, then we Catholics are not free to go against our consciences formed by our Catholic faith. We cannot separate what we believe privately about human life from our public statements and positions. Otherwise we contradict ourselves.
John Kerry claims that he accepts the teaching of the church about the sacredness of all human life – this is his personal belief and stance. But he thinks that, in a pluralistic society like ours, public policy should support the right of women to make their own decisions about whether to have an abortion or not. Therefore he supports legislation and laws supporting abortion, even the barbarism of late-term abortion. Somehow the Catholic conscience about supporting the rights of pre-born infants to life does not register in his public persona. It is fundamentally dishonest to claim one’s conscience is opposed to abortion and then support abortion as public policy.
Church teaching forms our consciences
Our Catholic tradition and teaching makes it clear that we cannot support privately or publicly any human behavior which is immoral, and in the case of deliberate abortion, seriously sinful. By publicly supporting immoral acts, John Kerry has to be acting against his conscience if it is formed by Catholic teaching. We cannot act against our conscience and then declare that we are faithful to the church which helped form our conscience. This is a contradiction.
The recent declaration from the Vatican about Catholic politicians makes this important point – Catholics are not free, if they are faithful to the Church, to take public stands against church teaching on essential issues. If they do so, they are no longer faithful to the church.
(He has just given a very nice summary of Rome's position.)
My past stand against public dissent
In the past I have reminded Catholic politicians who are Democrats in this archdiocese that they have an obligation to be pro-life in their public statements and their voting record. They have an obligation in conscience to work actively against their party’s platform and policies that support abortion. If they are not willing to do this, then they may not serve in any ministry or office in the archdiocese.
I have also reminded Catholic politicians who are Republicans in the archdiocese that they have an obligation in conscience to be pro-life in all matters, from beginning human life to natural death. They must actively support pro-life policies of their party and resist all efforts to promote anti-life agendas. If any publicly disagree with church teachings about the sacredness of all human life, they may not serve in any ministry or office in the archdiocese.
My policy is based on Catholic theology
If a Catholic politician in this archdiocese is reported to me as being publicly supportive of abortion (or not supportive of other human life issues) then I will visit with that person and explain the position of the church. Individual pastors should be willing to do the same. Public dissent against church teaching is a serious matter for Catholics and a serious matter for the one who dissents. Hopefully, through dialogue, we could come to some agreement about avoiding public statements and public stands contrary to Church teaching. It may be that I or one of our pastors will have to inform a certain person that such continuing public dissent will be incompatible with continuing to receive the Eucharist. This will remain a private matter between that person and me or one of our pastors. I will not make a public statement about refusing Holy Communion to certain Catholics in this archdiocese. This also applies to any Catholic candidates coming from outside Northeast Nebraska.
(Alright - refusal to publicly notify the diocese of the private recommendations given to a penitent is reasonable. However, if the person is not penitent, if that person is, in fact, publicly refusing the directive, then exactly what purpose does this policy serve? It would seem to perpetuate the scandal and worsen it, by adding the appearance of complicity in the person's public position by the archbishop's refusal to censure it with the ecclesial penalties outlined by canon law.)
If full communion with the church on all matters of faith is the only criterion for Catholics to be able to receive the Eucharist, then I would have to challenge a considerable number of people in the archdiocese about receiving the Eucharist regularly. My pastoral task is to try to bring people to an understanding and appreciation of church teaching so that they can embrace it with a good conscience. I will keep at the task now and in the future.
(And there's the kicker. Cardinal Ratzinger has already said that "being pastoral" means "applying appropriate canon law" to a situation. "Pastoral" does not mean "nice," in the 21st-century understanding of the phrase. Archbishop Curtiss seems to think there is some kind of opposition between the first and second sentence in his paragraph above. His first sentence is absolutely correct - in fact, it is his job description - he just doesn't seem to want to do it. His pastoral task is also to defend the sacraments against profanation. For some reason, he thinks challenging "a considerable number of people... about receiving the Eucharist regularly" is implicitly incompatible with his "pastoral task". Given the constant teaching of the Church on these subjects, for the life of me, I can't figure out why.)
The candidacy of John Kerry
I regret that John Kerry insists on giving public support to the abortion industry that promotes a culture of death in this country. He needs to be challenged by Catholics everywhere in this country. Because of the scandal his position is causing for the church, he should refrain from receiving the Eucharist in public liturgies.
(Scandal is a sin of two types. There is the sin of taking scandal where none should be taken, and the sin of giving scandal where none should be given. Right now, Kerry and the US bishops are giving scandal since both parties refuse to live by canon law - one refuses to receive it, the other refuses to apply it. If the bishops did their job and publicly refused Kerry the Eucharist, they would not be giving scandal. Anyone who was offended by the act would be improperly offended - it would be their sin for taking scandal. Thus, this is a very easy problem to solve. The bishops just don't want to solve it. If Archbishop Curtiss is taking this stance, then you know Cardinal McCarrick and his committee is going to be soft as summer butter on it as well.)