Archbishop Naumann Speaks Out On Governor Sebelius
With the U.S. presidential race heating up and both John McCain and Barack Obama close to announcing their vice presidential nominees, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City says he hopes his warning of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for her support of abortion, has “alerted” Obama that she is not a good advisor on the Catholic Church.
While he was in Quebec City, Canada for the Knights of Columbus’ annual conference, Archbishop Naumann took time to explain to CNA the intricacies of his decision to ask the Kansas governor to refrain from receiving Communion. (At this particular convention, the grand poohbah of the Knights seemed to indicate that the only two things Catholics should take into consideration when voting are abortion and same sex marriage. Nice to know that social justice issues merit no consideration.)
Writing in the May 9 issue of The Leaven, the Archdiocese of Kansas City’s newspaper, Archbishop Naumann said that because of the governor’s support for legalized abortion, he had asked her to refrain from receiving Holy Communion until she makes a worthy confession and publicly repudiates her stand on abortion. He later clarified that his request to her was not directed toward one particular action, but rather, it concerned her “30-year history of advocating and acting in support of legalized abortion.”
When you stand before God…
“There are many goods you are trying to weigh. Where you have someone in public life who is not living in their public responsibilities consistent with the Catholic faith, I think you are concerned about that individual,” he began. (Except this is the only issue on which the bishops ever speak out and discipline Catholic politicians.)
“One of the things that I said when I met with the governor at one point, is that some day she’s going to have to stand before God and account for her public service. And I hope that she’s going to have something better to say than what she does to this point on the protection of the innocent unborn. But I said if you go to God and you say, ‘Well, I didn’t understand how important this was’ or ‘I didn’t understand that this was such a crucial issue’ then as your bishop I’m the one responsible because I didn’t do enough to try and make sure of that. I told her I wasn’t comfortable with that and so I wanted to make sure that she understood what a serious matter this was.”
The concern for the archbishop is multi-layered, ranging from the individual involved to the rest of his flock. “I think you have concern for that individual and in wanting to try to bring about enlightenment and conversion. You also have a concern for the rest of your people. That’s the problem with the individual that’s in a public position. When they act contradictory to their faith, then it can create within the Church what the Church means by scandal, which means leading others into error.”
According to Archbishop Naumann, he received letters from people who were requesting that she be excommunicated immediately even before he asked Gov. Sebelius not to receive Communion. Yet, Naumann says he isn’t really concerned about these people because they know Sebelius’ actions aren’t in keeping with the Catholic faith.
“It’s all the people that aren’t writing,” who worry the archbishop. “Frankly after the pastoral action I did take with the governor,” the Kansas City archbishop related, “there were several [people] who communicated with me that, ‘we didn’t realize how extreme she was’.”
“I also am concerned about young Catholics that are thinking about public service and public life,” he said. The archbishop’s message to the younger generation of Catholic is that, “they can’t go the road of these so-called pro-choice Catholic politicians and really be faithful to your faith.”
The archbishop’s dialogue with Sebelius
Lest anyone think that Archbishop Naumann’s public correction of Gov. Sebelius was an impulsive decision, he made clear that he was in conversation with her for “a couple years” and that the discussions took place at “various levels.”
As he explained to CNA, “To my mind, you have to pursue it in that way; you have to attempt to meet with the individual, instruct the individual, make sure that you’ve given them every chance to consider their position before you take extreme action.”
When he was asked if Kathleen Sebelius has honored his request, the Catholic leader of Kansas City said that she has. “To my knowledge, she hasn’t gone to Communion since this second request to her so in that sense from an indirect way she’s honoring the request.” (How is this an indirect honoring of his request? He asked her not to receive Communion and she's not.)
However, the governor has not kept the lines of communication open with Archbishop Naumann since his request in May. According to Naumann, “she has not communicated with me at this point at all and she’s told other people in the media that she’s going to respond to me personally, but that hasn’t happened at this time.”
A bad counselor for Obama
“What I found out after I took the pastoral action with Governor Sebelius is that Senator Obama had her on his advisory committee for Catholics,” recalled the archbishop.
“I wasn’t aware of that [beforehand],” he said, “but I hope that it alerted Senator Obama that this is not probably somebody that can really counsel you in terms of the mind and the heart of the Church on this very critical and important area.”
“So I think it would be a bad judgment on Senator Obama’s part to select someone who was in conflict with the Church.”
Turning his attention to Catholic voters and the upcoming election, Archbishop Naumann advised them to bring their values in to the voting booth. If Catholics do this, “we can have a serious impact on the positions that the individuals and parties are taking,” he said.
“There’s a lot at stake in the elections,” observed Naumann.
“I think that the political parties read the results of the election and then put an interpretation on it. After this election, they’re either going to think ‘we need to be more aware of these values about the sanctity of human life; the importance of marriage and its traditional understanding being upheld’ or they’re going to think ‘these are things we can either ignore or the tide is with us to go against what has really been the tradition of Western civilization’.”
I'm sort of at a loss as to how Archbishop Naumann thinks Catholics should vote. Neither party has a truly pro life candidate, so how does one send the appropriate message in order to save the tradition of Western Civilization? Not vote at all, vote for a pro life fringe candidate, or take some other issues into consideration?
There's no question that Governor Sebelius is pro choice. Lots of republicans are too. Lots of Catholics are for that matter. That doesn't necessarily make one pro abortion. And no I don't buy into all the arguments which say pro choice is pro abortion. In my line of work I've dealt with the abortion question enough to know the choices surrounding abortion are difficult and the ethics far more nuanced than the Church would like to admit.
In singling out Governor Sebelius in the way Archbishop Naumann has almost makes the statement that she has more influence on his flock than he does. His mention of the letters which asked for her immediate excommunication probably states who has the influence on him. I don't know whether to commend him for not caving into their demands for excommunication or to feel sorry for him that he thinks denying Sebelius communion is some sort of pastoral compromise.
As to her influence on Barak Obama and the Catholic question, I don't know that Barak needs some politician to inform him of the Church's positions when the Church has been trumpeting their official positions for decades. Me thinks it's more of the good archbishop giving the governor credit for far more influence than she actually has.
I suspect his real issue has more to do with the fact that she's maintaining her position against the authority of his advice. That he probably doesn't like. It's a public repudiation of his authority in that she's a public person. This is probably the same reason Archbishop Burke went after Rick Majerus, the basketball coach of the University of St. Louis. How many Catholics really care what Rick Majerus thinks about Roe v Wade? None that I know of.
This election year is shaping up to be a tough one for Catholics. Obama's position on abortion is as pro choice as it gets, while McCain maybe anti abortion but he's pro stem cell research. McCain's stance on immigration certainly doesn't reflect the position of the USCCB, and on most other issues he falls solidly in the neo con camp. A reflective informed Catholic voter may wind up reflecting themselves out of voting.
Once the Olympics games are out of the way, the political games begin in earnest. It will be interesting to see how many more Catholic politicians wind up DQ'd by their bishops.