Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Conservative Weighs in on So-Called "Wafer Wars"

Dr. Thomas Patrick Melady is the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. He was also ambassador to Burundi and Uganda. As a former diplomat, a Republican (who has served in the administrations of three Republican presidents) and the president emeritus of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., Dr. Melady is a strong believer in civil discourse. He notes that in the early stages of the 2008 presidential elections he “called on both sides of the partisan aisles to be frank, candid and forceful in their analysis of the candidates, emphasizing, however, that a respectful tone ought to be used in presenting their findings in the public square.”

In the latest issue of the National Catholic Reporter, Dr. Melady laments the degree of uncivil discourse currently being witnessed and experienced in the Church, and in particular how “Holy Communion has become, in some circles, a political football.” He also examines how this uncivil polarization of Communion is harming the Church. Following are excerpts.

I fear that the situation is getting out of control. Many had hoped that once the presidential elections took place, Republicans, especially Catholic Republicans, would practice engagement with the Obama administration and those on the other side of the political aisle — that we would present our ideas without the rabid emotionalism that serves only to question the integrity of our opponents. Our role, in the best traditions of a pluralistic democracy, would be that of the loyal opposition.

Pope Benedict XVI modeled this sort of behavior when he met in mid-February with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic who favors abortion rights. The Holy Father spoke clearly and candidly in calling the Speaker’s attention to the responsibilities of Catholic public officials to support Catholic teachings on life. There was no mention of not being allowed to receive Communion.

Likewise, when Benedict visited the United States last year, a few partisan activists wanted the Holy Father to forbid a select few Catholic members of Congress who attended the papal Mass from receiving the Eucharist. That, of course, did not occur.

As a lifelong Republican, I am concerned by the actions of a few party activists who claim that the Republican Party is the only party appropriate for Catholics. Their method has been to involve a few Catholic prelates in criticizing Democratic candidates. This small group of lay Catholic Republicans is actively campaigning to pressure the bishops with petitions to ban certain high Democratic officials from receiving Communion. This is not their responsibility.

Bishops, like all citizens, have the right and duty to engage in public debate on all issues. But the activity of a very few is harming the influence of a majority of bishops who are seeking to engage the opposition in a civil manner. When these actions are combined with those of a few lay Catholics who use the church’s teachings to achieve political goals, it harms the long-term interests of the church.

To read Dr. Melady’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous PCV post:
Civil Discourse. In Church? - Charles Pilon (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 5, 2009).

Recommended Off-site Links:
I Voted for Obama. Will I go Straight to . . . ? - Joe Feuerherd (Washington Post, February 24, 2009).
Catholics Split of Abortion, Gay Marriage - Ashley Gipson (Religion News Service, October 14, 2008).

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