Life after Pentecost: The Catholic Communion story marches on

Sen. John "Call me JFK" Kerry must be so relieved. Then again, maybe not. Another front has opened up in the Catholic Communion war and, once again, the lifestyle left wing of the Democratic Party is likely to be (a) stuck taking a stand that will fire up moral traditionalists or (b) firming up its lock on every voter who has enjoyed the Da Vinci Code. I refer to the Rainbow Sash story, which focused on events in Chicago over the weekend. The basic issue: Would homosexuals protesting ancient Catholic teachings on sexual ethics -- by wearing colorful rainbow sashes -- be allowed to take Holy Communion and, thus, declare their sacramental union with the very church they were protesting? This added a new layer to the Kerry crisis. The candidate has rejected his church in word. The protesters wished to do so in deed while standing at altars. As the Chicago Tribune reported:

The bright sashes have appeared since 2000 in the Chicago cathedral on Pentecost Sunday, a day celebrating the inclusiveness of Christianity, said Joe Murray, local spokesman for the Rainbow Sash Movement. ... Each year, members of the movement have gone up to receive Communion and been turned away. ...

Before leaving for a weeklong trip to the Vatican last week, Cardinal Francis George told priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago to deny Communion to anyone wearing the sashes. He said the order, which is in line with national policy, wasn't a condemnation of homosexuality, but rather a declaration of the Eucharist's sanctity.

Buried in this story was a symbolic detail that shows the degree to which the American Catholic establishment is struggling these days. Cardinal George had to know that his action would be opposed by many of his priests and the leadership of major parishes. At some point in the future, if gay-rights groups continue to push with this photo-op strategy, there is sure to be a breakdown. Why? The church's leaders do not agree on the fundamental, sacramental questions involved.

How would reporters know that? Read this:

But for Dennis Kluge, 51, of Chicago the decision of who should and should not receive the sacrament should be left to a higher power.

Kluge, who has participated in the sash movement since 2000, serves as a Eucharistic minister in Immaculate Conception. He said he has never denied a person Communion. "It's never my place to do that," he said. "That is between the person requesting Communion and God. No human has the right to deny Communion."

In other words, one of the leaders in the protest movement is doing more than receiving Communion -- he has been chosen as a parish leader to distribute the sacrament. What can the cardinal say to that?

This issue may fade, since the chosen day of the protests has passed. But there is always a chance that the political implications may boil up again in some unlikely spot -- especially if journalists decide that this is another case of Catholic bishops breaching the wall between church and state by trying to enforce their own doctrines at their own altars with their own parishioners.

Consider, if you will, this exchange in a recent White House press conference. The following is not a parody.

REPORTER: In Chicago, a militant homosexual group called Rainbow Sash, which has demonstrated during mass of Catholic bishops here in Washington, they're planning to demonstrate during masses in Chicago on Pentecost. So that Archbishop Frances Cardinal George has ordered his clergy to deny them communion.

And my question: Since the First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, of which these demonstrations are a disruption, the President has no criticism of Cardinal George, does he?

MR. SCOTT McCLELLAN: Les, I'm not familiar at all with the specifics of what you're bringing up. But, obviously, those are issues -- those are issues that our religious leaders will address.

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