Fencing the Altar
Here among the chattering classes of Washington, you hear a lot of talk, most of it off-the-record, about developments that could change the dynamics of the presidential contest. This talk mostly involves the war on terrorism: What would happen if there's another major attack on the U.S. between now and November 2? What would happen if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed?
But every time I talk to serious conservatives (yes, I do), another topic usually comes up: the lurid possibility that a bishop or priest will deny the first Catholic presidential nominee since John F. Kennedy access to Holy Communion on grounds that his pro-choice views decisively separate him from Church teachings.
It could happen. Kerry regularly attends Mass and generally takes Communion; indeed, as Amy Sullivan has often pointed out, the Democratic nominee seems to participate in organized worship services a lot more often than the famously religious incumbent. And while I'm sure the Kerry campaign is acutely aware of those dioceses where bishops have publicly said pro-choice politicians should be denied Communion, there's no way they can keep up with the views on this subject of every single priest.
But if it does happen, it's not at all clear that Kerry would suffer politically from this sort of confrontation. A new Pew Research Center poll on politics and religion finds that Catholics, including the very observant Catholics who have been the special objects of the President's political ministrations over the last few years, take a dim view of the idea of fencing off the altar from politicians who disagree with the Church on abortion.
U.S. Catholics as a whole dislike the idea of a "pro-life" test for politicians seeking Communion by a margin of 72-23. Those attending Mass weekly oppose it 63-29. And even self-identified Republican Catholics say "no" to the idea by more than two-to-one (65-31).
I suspect that even those bishops who support a litmus test for Communion are aware of this sentiment, and will be wary of defying it.