If you stop and think about the degree to which mainstream journalists view life through a political lens, then it is absolutely stunning that the feisty folks over at the Politico seem to have the following story to themselves -- for a few hours. The headline is a dud: "Pope's visit renews abortion debate." Like, that's a surprise.
But the actual story by Josephine Hearn and Ryan Grim has a much-tougher edge to it and the news hook is totally logical. Here's the top of the report:
In June 2004, as prominent Catholics in the United States debated whether Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry should be allowed to receive Communion, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger weighed in with what appeared to be an unequivocal opinion: No.
If a politician who supports abortion rights attempts to receive Communion, Ratzinger wrote, "the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it."
Ratzinger is to arrive in Washington on Tuesday as Pope Benedict XVI, and his visit to the nation's capital is already pitting anti-abortion-rights activists against Roman Catholic lawmakers who support abortion rights, reviving an issue that has received scant attention in Congress or on the campaign trail in recent months. The conflict could come to a head Thursday, when the pope is scheduled to celebrate a Mass at the Washington Nationals' new ballpark. The Vatican has invited all Catholic lawmakers, and many abortion-rights-supporting Catholics -- including Kerry and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- are expected to attend.
Conservative Catholics are pleading with the pope to take a stand, hoping that the advisors around Benedict XVI will brief him on who is who before the service.
But stop and think about that for a moment. The logistics of the service are going to be gigantic -- Holy Sacraments for an entire stadium of worshippers (click here for a New York Times story on that). Very few people will receive the Sacrament from the hands of the pope himself and there will be a not-so-small army of bishops and priests spread out all over the stadium after the consecration rites.
In this case, the critical decisions were made by whoever issued the invitations to the Mass.
The Politico has all kinds of good sources on this story, with voices from the Catholic left and right -- as the story demands. Meanwhile, the stance of the U.S. Catholic bishops is that the believers are supposed to police themselves.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she knows of no plan to deny Communion to particular lawmakers Thursday.
"You presume that everyone there knows the rules of the church and follows them," she said. "No one is policing that. People go to church and people go to Communion if they feel in their heart they are prepared to receive Communion."
Abortion-rights-supporting Catholic lawmakers on the Hill seemed reluctant Monday to discuss the issues raised by the pope's visit. Representatives for several members said their bosses were traveling and couldn't be reached or were otherwise unavailable for comment. Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, offered a one-line statement: "The speaker receives Communion regularly and expects to receive it on Thursday."
Meanwhile, Catholic conservatives will be very pleased to see that Hearn and Grim have included a short -- but very thorough -- summary of the history behind this issue, at least the history of Benedict XVI's views on the subject. Here is that section of the story:
Ratzinger's 2004 opinion appeared in a memo that was sent to then-Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and first reported in the Italian magazine L'Espresso. In the memo, which did not mention Kerry by name, Ratzinger said: "The church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion, even among Catholics, about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not, however, with regard to abortion and euthanasia." ...
Benedict has not softened the position expressed in the memo. Aboard the papal plane in 2007, he discussed a threat by Mexican Catholic leaders to excommunicate politicians who supported abortion. According to a Reuters report, the pope supported the proposed excommunication.
"Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon law, which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving Communion, which is receiving the body of Christ," he said.
Like I said, it's hard to believe that this story hasn't hit front pages until now. Stay tuned.