What would JFK do? Are Catholic bishops the real heretics?

If the New York Times is the Bible of elite journalism, then we can now say that questions about whether Sen. John "Call me JFK" Kerry should be receiving Communion at Catholic altars are officially legit. The New York Times has written about this topic, even if the paper elected not to make this a photo op. And check out reporter Katharine Q. Seelye's description of the congregation in the lead:

Rejecting the admonitions of several national Roman Catholic leaders, Senator John Kerry received communion at Easter services today at the Paulist Center here, a kind of New Age church that describes itself as "a worship community of Christians in the Roman Catholic tradition" and that attracts people drawn to its dedication to "family religious education and social justice."

Holy loaded labels! New Age?

This is, according to the Times, the "center" that the Kerrys consider their church home. The article does not, however, answer a question that practicing Catholics would immediately want to know: Who was the priest who served as celebrant in this Mass and, thus, gave Communion to Kerry? In Catholic theology, this would lead directly to another question: Does this priest serve under the authority of Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston?

O'Malley has said that Catholic politicians whose beliefs clash with Catholic doctrine should voluntarily abstain, saying they "shouldn't dare come to communion." The word "dare" is crucial, suggesting that Kerry is placing his own soul at risk.

Rome has made itself quite clear on the status of politicians who are Catholic, yet publicly support abortion rights, gay rights and other key planks in the Sexual Revolution platform. However, the American Catholic bishops must be divided on this issue, because they have organized a task force to research the issue that Rome has already decided.

Perhaps this task force will not report its findings until after the election. The leader, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, said on "Fox News Sunday" that denying Communion would be a last resort. The Times picked up this quotation: "I think there are many of us who would feel that there are certain restrictions that we might put on people. But I think many of us would not like to use the Eucharist as part of the sanctions."

However, some task force members -- perhaps thinking of Rome -- want to discuss other penalties, such as excommunication. During the Missouri primary, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke announced that he would not give Communion to Kerry.

By the way, in a related story that received little attention, Kerry recently was photographed taking Communion in a non-Catholic church -- the AME Charles Street Church in Roxbury, Mass. The Boston Herald quoted these reactions:

"Catholics should not receive communion in a Protestant church," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It's standard church teaching." ...

Stephen Pope, a Boston College theology professor, said, "As a matter of church law, Kerry broke the law of the church," but added that Kerry was in a "no-win situation" since taking or refusing communion would have offended someone.

And there's the rub. All of these nasty little Catholic doctrines are so, so divisive and, well, doctrinaire.

The issue for the Catholic bishops is whether these doctrines (and Vatican directives) have any authority in their zip codes. If they are able to make up their minds -- a huge "if" -- they face the wrath of the authority that many of them fear the most. That would be the New York Times. It is safe to say that, in the opinion of the Times, it would violate the separation of church and state for bishops to deny Communion to Kerry. Perhaps there will need to be a law against bishops doing such a thing.

Does Kerry have a constitutional right to call himself a Catholic? What would Maureen Dowd say?

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