Catholics Consider Penalties For Defiance

Roman Catholic politicians who advocate policies contrary to church teaching on abortion (search) and other issues may risk sanctions that fall short of denial of Holy Communion (search), the head of a U.S. bishops task force examining the problem said Tuesday.

"I have not gotten to the stage where I'm comfortable in denying the Eucharist (search)," Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The issue has come to the forefront with the emergence of Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, as Democratic presidential candidate.

Asked what sanctions the task force might recommend for politicians who stray from Catholic teachings, McCarrick said Catholic universities could deny honorary degrees, dioceses may withhold honors and Catholic institutions may not invite them to speak.

A top Vatican (search) cardinal said Friday that priests may deny Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, but stopped short of saying whether it was right for Kerry to receive Communion.

The U.S. bishops announced in November that the task force was considering whether to recommend sanctions in guidelines on how prelates should respond to Catholic lawmakers who do not uphold church values in their work.

McCarrick said the task force has sounded out all U.S. bishops, is questioning bishops' conferences in other countries and is getting "guidance" from the Vatican.

"They (the Vatican) are saying, `Look at the documents, the documents are very clear.' The documents tell us what a Catholic in public life should be," McCarrick said during the interview at the North American College (search), the American seminary in Rome.

"The Church has been very clear on these issues, the Church has said what one should expect from anyone in politics, especially one who is Catholic."

McCarrick is in Rome for a periodic visit all bishops make every five years.

The Washington archbishop, who met privately with Kerry on April 15, said he was not speaking specifically about Kerry. "It is not a question of Sen. Kerry, but of American Catholic politicians."

He said there probably would be "some sanctions. Whether the sanction of denying the Eucharist, that's a very important question."

There are differences in the U.S. church. 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 received Communion Saturday at Boston's Paulist Center. The archdiocese of Boston "does not hold to the practice of publicly refusing Communion to anyone," said archdiocese spokesman the Rev. Christopher Coyne.