WASHINGTON – John Kerry (search), a Catholic politician whose votes on abortion and gay marriage are at odds with the church's teachings, met privately Thursday with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (search), the Washington archbishop heading a task force examining whether there should be church sanctions for such politicians.
The presumptive Democratic nominee and McCarrick declined to comment after the 45-minute session, with Kerry telling aides that the meeting was "completely personal and private," according to spokesman David Wade.
Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Washington archdiocese, said Kerry and McCarrick, who had never met, had "a chance to get to know each other" at a session requested by Kerry. Gibbs said she couldn't say if the work of the task force had come up, but said she "wouldn't expect it to particularly."
Aides to Kerry said the meeting had been in the works for months, but it came just days after McCarrick, in a national television interview, raised the specter of punishing Catholic politicians who break with the church in supporting abortion rights and stem-cell research.
Gibbs described the session as a private pastoral meeting held at the archdiocese's center in Hyattsville, Md., close to Howard University where Kerry held a campaign event earlier in the day.
The first Catholic poised to get a presidential nomination since John F. Kennedy in 1960, Kerry has been criticized by some church leaders for taking stands in conflict with his faith's teachings while regularly attending Mass and receiving the sacrament of communion (search).
Bishop Raymond Burke, the archbishop of St. Louis, has said he would refuse to give Kerry communion because of his support for abortion rights. Kerry's own archbishop, Sean O'Malley of Boston, has endorsed that principle without naming the senator.
On Easter, Kerry attended church services in Boston and received communion. A week earlier, on Palm Sunday, he took communion at an African Methodist Episcopal Church, which goes against church tenet.
McCarrick is heading a seven-member task force, created last year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to study what steps to take against Catholic politicians who vote and support positions at odds with church teachings.
Among the options are denying access to Catholic schools or hospitals that might be venues for campaign events to excommunication, but McCarrick made it clear that he does not favor the latter choice.
"I think there are many of us who would feel that there are certain restrictions that we might put on people, that there are certain sanctions that we may put on people," he told "Fox News Sunday." "But I think many of us would not like to use the Eucharist as part of the sanctions."
The task force was established after the Vatican issued a decree that said Catholic politicians have a duty to uphold the church's "nonnegotiable ethical principles" — specifically mentioning opposition to both legalized abortion and recognition for same-sex couples.
Gibbs said it would be "several months or even after the election" before the task force makes its recommendations.
Kerry says he is personally opposed to abortion, but supports the rights of others to make that choice. He argues that church doctrine allows Catholics the freedom of conscience to choose that stance.
The four-term Massachusetts senator is not the first Catholic politician to be challenged by church leaders. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (search) and 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro (search) came under pressure from the Catholic Church for supporting abortion rights.
The session with McCarrick came on a day marked by fund-raisers and a speech at Howard University. Kerry plans to launch an intense advertising effort next week in hopes of defining himself to the electorate.
"A lot of people don't really know who I am," Kerry told a fund-raising breakfast in New York. "The level of communication we need to undertake here is enormous."
He suggested to the gathering of major donors that President Bush was using the terrorism issue for political purposes.
"Ask him a question and he's going to go to terror," Kerry said. "We have to convince America of my ability to manage that. I can wage a more effective war on terror. We're going to be coming right back at them."
In response, Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot (search) said the comment showed "Kerry's profound misunderstanding of the global war on terror."
The Kerry campaign announced that Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, will be co-chairs of the Democratic National Committee. Durbin and Tubbs Jones will focus on the party's message while Chairman Terry McAuliffe manages day-to-day operations.
Kerry raised about $4 million at fund-raisers Thursday, including $2.5 million at a New York breakfast and $1.5 million at an evening event in East Rutherford, N.J.