A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Giuliani v. Egan

Not to distract anyone from the other highjinks (and lowjinks) on the blog today, but an interesting smackdown is brewing between Rudy Giuliani and Cardinal Edward Egan over Giuliani's decision to take communion atthe papal mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral on April 19. We were allsurprised to see Giuliani--twice-divorced (once annulled), thrice-married, pro-gay rights, pro-abortion rights--receive, especially in such a context.Rudy hadn't done this before, in my experience--neither at the Central Park Mass in 1995 with John Paul, nor at Cardinal O'Connor's funeral in 2000. So to take communion in the cathedral at a mass celebrated by the pope was, well, Rudy being Rudy.Now Cardinal Egan has reacted, with a very measured but direct statement released today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 28, 2008The following is a statement issued by Edward Cardinal Egan:"The Catholic Church clearly teaches that abortion is a grave offense against the will of God. Throughout my years as Archbishop of New York, I have repeated this teaching in sermons, articles, addresses, and interviews without hesitation or compromise of any kind. Thus it was that I had an understanding with Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion. I deeply regret that Mr. Giuliani received the Eucharist during the Papal visit here in New York, and I will be seeking a meeting with him to insist that he abide by our understanding."

For all of Egan's bad press, he was never one to pick a public fight with public figures. Indeed, he often said he counted people like Giuliani and Hillary Clinton as "friends," an embrace that angered many in the church. But Rudy left him no choice here. He apparently abrogated a very judicious and pastoral private agreement with his bishop, and did so in front of Egan's boss and under the full glare of the media klieg lights.What was Rudy thinking? Here's all we know, from his spokesperson:

STATEMENT FROM GIULIANI SPOKESWOMAN SUNNY MINDEL ON EDWARD CARDINAL EGAN."Mayor Rudy Giuliani is certainly willing to meet with Cardinal Egan. As he has previously said, Mayor's Giuliani's faith is a deeply personal matter and should remain confidential."

"Deeply personal?" Not when you score a coveted invite to St. Patrick's with the pope, and take communion. Then again, it is certainly true that Giuliani might have gone to confession beforehand. He has said that his spiritual confidante is a longtime friend, Alan Placa, a Long Island priest who has been suspended on allegations that he molested children. Giuliani gave Placa a job at his consulting firm.I don't think this signals any major change of approach by Egan or other bishops in the wake of the pope's visit. Egan, like most bishops, has always played these things quietly, in confidence, and on a case-by-case basis. But you never know. This was a real in-your-face move by Giuliani, in front of the pope.What is interesting, I think, is that Egan made no mention of Giuliani's apparently irregular marital status as a cause for refraining from communion. Is that because Giuliani has regularized his status? Or perhaps Egan did not want to draw attention to a huge pastoral challenge for the church--namely, the communion ban for divorced and remarried (without benefit of annulment) Catholics, of whom there are so many--and so many of them faithful in every other way. It's a pastoral headache priests, and bishops, generally like to avoid.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Blogettes will be interested, perhaps, in the speculation that the whole thing began with a column by Robert Novak attacking Cardinal Egan and Archbishop Wuerl for not smacking down politicians who received Communion during the pope's visit to DC and NYC. Guiliani is in Novak's dark view among many erring politicians. The column is full of various errors and dubious claims. Count how many:

If you don't want someone generally recognized as a Catholic to receive communion on an occasion such as the one at St. Patrick's, it would be prudent not to invite her/him. Or so it seems to me.

Good point, Joseph Gannon. Thanks also Peggy, for the Novak column. (Converts--gotta watch out for them.) Novak's attack may explain the delayed response by His Eminence. PS: Is "blogette" correctly gendered even for moi?

Interesting post, however, I think you are missing something quite important David. Regardless of whatever agreement existed between these two men, the core issue is clearly in Giuliani's favor although conservative Catholics and moral theologians would disagree.I've never understood, as a matter of moral theology, how the idea that individuals could be denied or should voluntary abstain from taking the Eucharistic simply because they sincerely disagree on a matter of prescriptive morality such as abortion can be squared with post-Vatican II moral theology on the whole. In particular, with the idea that sin describes subjective culpability while objective morality is an entirely different, but related, matter altogether. If Giuliani, or anyone else, has reached a sincere decision of conscience to disagree with a particular moral teaching of the Church, there's no sin on their part. That's the whole idea behind having meaningful moral culpability for an act rest on the notion of freely and knowingly doing something that is wrong. Their position might be held to still be objectively wrong or evil in the Church's view but that's irrelevant for receiving communion I should think. I know that some in Church would like to deny that one can ever in good faith, and with a truly well formed conscience, come to a moral prescription that differs from the one taught by the Church. And, of course, this can be a excuse for not engaging in serious moral discernment. However, millions of sincere Catholics know that one can both faithful and in disagreement on particular moral issues with the Church. It's time that bishops and the Vatican acknowledged this as well.

I wonder why Egan focused only on abortion, when Giuliani is one of the most vigorous defenders of Bush's torture policies-- also intrinsically evil acts. You see, if we drew this point to its logical conclusion....

Oh brother, this is Guiliani's lame attempt to be considered for McCain's running mate nothing more. Guiliani new he would be in the Media spot light and begin to establish more credability among conservatives. This stunt by Giuliani has very little to do with faith or moral conviction but everything to do with pure politics.

"Prescriptive morality" is a curious term. It seems [as used by Mr. Tigue] to mean that I may make my own morality. Per contra, Cardinal Newman was quite clear and firm about the necessity of Catholics to accept determinations by the Magisterium on matters moral, even if we don't like them; and perhaps especially if we don't like them. To do otherwise, leads us directly into the pit of self-determination of what evil is and what good. If Cardinal Egan is correct [and I see no reason to doubt it], he and Mr. Giuliani had an agreement about the matter. Mr. Giuliani broke the agreement. But then he broke his agreement with his wife. All the talk about personal. personal doesn't change the fact. As Harry Truman asked "if you won't keep your word with your wife, with whom will you keep it?". For Morning's Minion, torture is certainly a nasty business. But infanticide is nastier. It does not much matter by which of the mortal sins you choose to go to hell.

Gabriel: yes, but the point is that if you public support, and lobby for, an intrinsically evil act then you could be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and that is the basis for denying communion. You cannot simply just say: abortion is worse than torture. To establish formal cooperation, you need to know whether the politician really supports abortion in his/her heart, or merely does not think it should be criminalized. The former position can never be justified; the latter can. Plus, one can argue that the fact that a certain politician mouths off for abortion does not affect abortion one bit (the proximity is remote) but a torture-supporting politician is far closer to the evil act of torture-- after all, without the advent of Bush and Cheney, we would not be having this discussion.Of course, the Bob Novaks of the world completely missed the memo from Benedict about the excess division and partisanship in the US church.

Isn't Egan just doing a Captain Renault in expressing shock over Guliani presenting himself for communion? I would love to be a fly on the wall at the private meeting.

Alan, thanks for that and I would add, a glimpse into the real world without the phony moralizing that goes on in chanceries and high places. At least in Casablanca we have a love story, great dialogue and sterling movie making. Fantasy does trump a lot of ugly reality. Renault: Ricky, I'm going to miss you. Apparently you're the only one in Casablanca with less scruples than I.

David raises the possibility that Giuliani has "regularized" his marital status with church authorities - that his marriage to Donna Hanover was annulled. Isn't it also possible then that Giuliani has (again) changed his mind on abortion, as he awkwardly tried to imply during his election campaign? As I recall, he said "it would be OK" to apeal Roe v. Wade. I don't know if we have the full story yet. Perhaps he will someday be another Hugh Carey, who supported abortion rights at a crucial time while he was governor of New York, then changed his mind after he left office and went on to build a warm relationship with Catholic leaders.In addition to whatever discussions he had with Cardinal Egan in 2000 or so, Giuliani had ample and more recent warning about receiving communion at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The Daily News reported last year that the cathedral's rector declared that if Giuliani "comes to my church, he would be refused communion," but added that if the cardinal invited him, Giuliani would be counseled in advance not to receive the sacrament so as to avoid "public embarrassment." So he had to have thought a lot about what he was getting into.For much more on the subject, see Wayne Barrett's article in the Village Voice at,barrett,77041,6.html ...

Let's get with it. The current story is Obama and Rev, Wright... Eagan is going going gone. Guiliani is out of politics and will be a lobbyist at best.

Whilke many of the posts here have focused on the at this point pitiful Rudy , I think it speaks volumes that the Cardinal Archbishop of New York had a on the quiet arrangement with Rudy. Of course like any PR anxious supermanager, when bad publicity hit the press, damage control became the order of the dya.I must say though I may be prejudiced since wheneever I think of Cardinal Egan, i'm reminded of Oscar Levant's line about Zsa Zsa Gabor "doing good social work among the rich."

The federal, not state of New York, constitution affirms the right to an abortion. So Giuliani's opinion about abortion are purely academic, no?Giuliani is a philanderer and a jerk (the latter of which is not grounds to deny communion last time I looked), but unless he has actively supported a state measure to make abortions easier, assisted someone in procuring an abortion, pressured someone into having one, or is out demonstrating with pro-choice factions, I don't see where he's unfit to receive communion because of his beliefs about abortion.One of the reasons I've moved away from Catholicism is that some elements in the church seem to feel that refraining from sin oneself and not tempting others into same are no longer enough. We must be holy warriors proving our faith by publicly agitating against sins listed in the CCC.I'm sorry, but working for secular laws that would criminalize homosexual acts, masturbation, using artificial birth control, and failure to attend Mass regularly--all of which the church tells us are grave sins--are not high on my Things To March in the Streets About list.

Jesus invited all of us who are heavily burdened to come to him.He told his disciples to let the children approach him.What would Jesus say about this ban on communion?( say nothing about freedom of conscience...)

In response to Jean Raber:1) The Federal Constitution does not affirm any right to abortion, pace Roe v. Wade. If you consult the text, I think you will find it quite silent on the matter.2) Personally, I think Giulani's consistent and manifest support of abortion in two campaigns for federal offices counts as tempting others to sin. But, at the very least, it is clear that it was Giulani who has made an issue of this, by joining his cause with what you call "pro-choice factions", even if he has not been out demonstrating with them.3) It would have sufficed for Giulani to have avoided supporting a right to abortion. I think Cardinal Egan would agree that it would have been unnecessary for him to become an anti-abortion crusader, much less a holy warrior against all the other sins listed in the Catechism. 4) Perhaps it is true that some elements of the Church may be demanding that secular laws make crimes of every grave sin, but this is not the Church's Creed, nor the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors, nor the sense of the faithful. Please reconsider whether this is really a reason for you to move away from Catholicism!

Kim,Insofar as the Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it does, which is my understanding of how it works, the Constitution guarantees the right to abortion. We had a lot of decisions that we all have to live with, like it or not, that were decided 5-4. The vote on Roe v Wad was 7-2. (Having said that, I think it was probably wrongly decided, but with five Catholics on the Supreme Court, that's not my problem.)One of the issues that is very unclear to me is which Catholic teachings are supposed to be made the law of the land, and which are not. It looks very much like the Catholic Church believes its position on stem-cell research, gay marriage and gay rights, and abortion must be translated into law. If not those, why not others? Why not capital punishment, or just war theory? Why doesn't the Catholic Church campaign to have fertility clinics shut down?

Kim, you make some good points that deserve further thought.In general, I can see where someone like Giuliani is an embarassment to the church--divorce, seemingly cavalier attitude toward abortion, etc. Whether he is fit to receive communion is only for his confessor to say.It sounds to me like Bishop Egan has excommunicated Giuliani--told him not to receive anywhere. He has done so because of Giuliani's "support" for abortion. In my view, Giuliani doesn't support abortion so much as he declines to support anti-abortion legislation. To the extent that this tempts people into having them is debateable.

Faith is not a purely personal matter, at least not for Catholics. Receiving communion is certainly a public act. This brings us to the contradiction inherent in Giuliani's response. To wit: a purely private faith is fine, just practice it in private.More than the his public stance on abortion, which was a major reason why, contra the pundits who hoped otherwise, along with his misguided political strategy, he was never a viable national Republican candidate, is his irregular marital status, which prevents him from As to freedom of conscience, while we have it, conscience can malformed and misguided. I suppose this goes to the whole private faith argument. Jean: Somebody in Mayor Giuliani's irregular martial state cannot go to confession, or receive any sacraments. Therefore, he cannot have a confessor. A confessor is not free override canon law. The Church is a communion. Receiving communion is a public act of faith. Hence, it is important to be in communion to receive/share communion.

I wrote a post on this issue here:

Scott, thanks for clarifying the point about the confessor.

The exclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics from the Eucharist has always seemed heartlessly punitive to me, especially in the light of the little announcement in the front of our Oregon Press missalettes to the effect that members of the Polish National Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are invited to partake of communion, and urged to follow the guidelines of their own denominations. Both groups allow divorced and remarried couples to receive the Eucharist.

Excommunication isn't a punishment, though, is it? It's something you've done by breaking faith with the Church.I suppose some people who continue to take communication even though they've effectively left the church--as Giuliani has by virtue of divorce and remarriage--have to be declared excommunicated if they don't cease taking communion.Exactly what faith with the Church IS, however, strikes me as pretty gray area. Giuliani's marriage seems to put him clearly beyond the pale. More ambiguous is his stand (or failure to stand against) abortion. Kim, and possibly Cardinal Egan, believes that what she sees as Giuliani's support for abortion (by his toleration of pro-choice advocates and failure to lobby against abortion) can be construed as tempting people to commit abortion. At least that's what it sounds to me like she's saying. She can correct me if I'm not seeing the nuances.But I think this principle of being excommunicated by "tempting people to sin" can get pretty fuzzy. Say you have a brother who's divorced and remarried. Say you welcome your brother and his new wife into your home. Are you tempting them to continue to sin by allowing them to cohabit in your home?Or say your cousin is gay and brings her partner to family gatherings. In failing to remonstrate with them about their "lifestyle," are you tempting them to continue to sin by your toleration, which could be construed as tacit approval?Or say a close friend tells you she has a medical condition that would make bearing more children dangerous and that she plans on being sterilized. If you don't try to talk her out of it by urging her to live as brother and sister with her husband, are you tempting her to sin?If so, a lot of Catholics should get out of the communion line.

Don't forget: excommunication is not the same as refusing to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist.Excommunication is in fact a penalty (i.e. CIC canon 1331) which the Church applies when someone commits an ecclesiastical crime and which prohibits a person from receiving all the sacraments (i.e. Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Confirmation, Holy Orders, and Marriage), among other things. The penalty is medicinal, i.e., the withdrawal from the sacramental life of the Church should be serious enough to cause the offender to realize the error of their ways, apologize, and stop doing the crime.Giuliani, so far, has committed no ecclesiastical crime. Despite his support of abortion, he has not procured an abortion (CIC canon 1398). Divorcing a wife is not an ecclesiastical crime either. I am unaware of anything else he has done that would qualify as an ecclesiastical crime.What Cardinal Egan is referring to is that, according to CIC canon 915, a communion minister should refuse to administer the Eucharist to a person who obstinately persists in manifest grave sin on the grounds that the person is not properly disposed to receive the sacrament. According to Cardinal Egan, supporting abortion politically is obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin. That's all. No excommunication.So, to conclude, Giuliani is not excommunicated. He's just, according to Cardinal Egan, publicly not disposed to receive the Eucharist.

Ms. Raber:In those hypothetical situations that you bring up, no one is excommunicated. However, depending on the circumstance, they may not be able to receive communion.Maybe some of the parties are obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin. If that were the case, and the local pastor knew it with moral certainty, the local pastor under canon 915 could refuse to administer the Eucharist to them.Maybe some of the parties are committing mortal sin but it's such a private matter that no one knows about it. In that case, the local pastor could not deny the Eucharist to them, but those individuals should refrain from receiving as they are not properly disposed and they know it.Finally, some of the parties may not be sinning in a mortal manner at all, in which case they can receive the Eucharist and no one can stop them licitly.I do not know if those examples are serious sins. There are some moral theologians that blog here. Perhaps they can help.

Jean, perhaps a canonist can weigh in at some point, but I'd reiterate what others have said, namely that excommunication isn't the same as not being able to receive communion, or even being barred from receiving communion. Excommunication is rarely used these days, and usually for matters of internal church discipline, like ordaining a bishop when you shouldn't, or physically attacking the pope, which you should never do. (My own writings come dangerously close, perhaps.) In any case, I know the 1983 Code of canon law (revised from 1917 version) reduced the penalties for automatic excommunication from a fairly large number to a fairly small number. I thought it was 7 or 8, but this Wikipedia entry (as good as canon law, no?) lists 10.

Paul, the Vatican's 1994 declaration on communion for the divorced and remarried speaks of contravening God's law by remarrying (civil) after divorce. That sounds like a they think it is a criminal act.The document goes on to say that being excluded from the reception of the Eucharist is not the same as excommunication. I know people who come to mass every week, offering themselves with Christ in his sacrifice, but who do not receive the Eucharist consecrated by that sacrifice. Clearly they share in the life of the Church, even if they cannot receive.But I am not a canonist, or any kind of lawyer. I just think it mighty strange that Egan frames this question in terms of something under discussion, rather than in terms of something recently reaffirmed as contravening God's law.

Forty years after Vatican II and we are still talking juridically. Catholic Hispanics who came from other countries were not welcome in the American Church for a long time, never mind blacks. Black Catholics still stayed in the back in the South and the Jesuits nicely held onto hundreds of slaves as they landed in North America. The holocaust was generated from people who were Christians. Civil rights came to blacks 80plus years after the Civil war. Yet we still distinguish about what is a valid marriage, and who is excommunicated. De Jure, De Facto. But get real.Our parishes are still far from communities and our universities have no clue as to why and how to fix it. ......

Thanks for cutting all those fine lines between actual excommunication and being told not to receive communion, or removing oneself from the communion line.My question remains unanswered because I don't hopefully understand the difference between excommunication and being told not to take communion. So let me rephrase: In the previous post I asked whether a person who fails to protest sinful behavior on the part of another (who may or may not be Catholic) is tempting them to sin (as Kim suggested Rudy Giuliani is doing by his stand on abortion) and ought to remove themselves from the communion line.

Bill: To break the divine law is to sin. To commit an offense under canon law is to commit ecclesiastical crime.There are plenty of acts that are against the divine law that are not penalized by canon law. For example, theft, divorce, arson, lying, battery of non-clerics, yelling at someone, being a jerk, etc. The list goes on. While the Church could decide to create laws punishing each of these offenses, it has wisely decided not to do so.Breaking the divine law means transgressing the two fundamental precepts: love God and love your neighbor.Canon law is a different, positive law, which establishes an order in the Church so that those two precepts can be more easily followed. Thus, not every transgression of the two precepts is penalized under canon law, just the really big ones that disrupt order in the Church, for example, punching the Pope, committing abortion, killing people, ordaining bishops without papal permission, breaking the seal of the confessional, etc.I hope that clarifies the distinction between divine and canon law.

Whoops, sorry, my comments were actually directed at Jim McK.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment