For the past decade, every prominent Democratic politician who describes him- or herself as a Catholic has at some point been subjected to the manufactured controversy of "Should he be allowed the sacraments? Should he get a Catholic funeral?" It is inevitably the product of an individual clergyman (or even worse, a commentator or PR-for-hire man like Bill Donahue) seeking to use his tax-exempt organization as an entry into the political arena. As I have said many times, I have no problem with Focus on the Family, Pat Robertson, or the Catholic Church operating as partisan political groups. Just surrender the tax exemption and then do as you please. Alas, they choose to hold onto it and remain "non-partisan."
I am very, very far from a moral authority on Catholicism or any other religion. But when we hear questions about whether John Kerry should be allowed the sacraments or, more recently, if Ted Kennedy should be permitted a Catholic burial (K-Lo wants to know too!) because of their failure to back a pro life agenda, it strikes me as, if not the lamest argument on Earth, a strong contender for the title. The Catholic Church considers abortion a moral evil and a mortal sin. This cannot be debated. What is so stupid is the idea that the Church can or should pick and choose, making ad hoc decisions to deny aspects of the faith to well known politicians.
Allow me to fill K-Lo and Bill Donahue in on a little secret. Every weekend – nay, every day – there are millions and millions of people in the world who receive Communion while seriously disagreeing with (or blatantly violating) some aspect of the Church doctrine. We can take that even further. There are people who sit in St. Whatever's every Sunday, receive Communion, and give all the outward signs of being practicing Catholics without believing a single word of it. What is the moral justification for providing services (for lack of a better term) to silent non-believers and people who routinely flaunt nearly every aspect of the Catholic faith in their daily lives yet denying the same to Kerry or Kennedy? There is none. We can only recognize it for what it is: a cheap attempt to score publicity and engage in politicking behind the shield of a tax exemption.
At no point in my years as a practicing Catholic did anyone quiz me to make sure that I was ideologically qualified to receive sacraments. No one ever said, "He doesn't think being gay is a sin! NO COMMUNION FOR YOU." My alcoholic great-aunt tried to murder her husband with a handgun – twice – yet when she died I attended her Catholic funeral and burial. Beyond what anecdotes I can offer you, famous Catholics are never called to account for their very non-Catholic behavior unless it involves casting pro-choice votes in Congress; no one, to the best of my knowledge, suggested denying Ted Kennedy's departed brother John a Catholic funeral despite the fact that he spent 8 hours per day being President and the other 16 balling every woman he could get his hands on, and I don't mean Jackie. Never is Arnold Schwarzenegger's eligibility for Communion questioned despite the colorful tales of steroid abuse, gangbangs, and insanely violent films that made up the bulk of his adult life. And once again these examples all pale in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of people who take Communion every Sunday while believing that the whole of Catholicism is complete bunk.
Sadly (from the Church's perspective) Ted Kennedy is probably an example of one of the more observant Catholics in public life. Yes, he departed from Church teachings on a number of issues. This differs little from the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves Catholics, keep such disagreements to themselves, and have the good fortune to be nobodies and therefore useless for the purpose of political grandstanding.