Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hail, Columbia... Hello, Controversy

So, gang, it seems the "Wafer Watch" has begun in earnest. Again.

He once called it his "time alone," but now, fresh from his arrival on the ticket, the newly-tapped Democratic VP hopeful had no shortage of company -- or kudos -- on the customary Sunday journey to his parish church:
The Rev. [Msgr.] Joseph Rebman pointed out [Delaware Sen. Joe] Biden's family in the back of the congregation, congratulating him on his selection and asking the parish to pray for him.

Members of the church said they weren't surprised to see him at Mass since he’s a regular. But some said they were momentarily shocked by the row of cameras outside, and a few objected to the presence of the media.

Rebman said he doesn't know what impact Biden's religion will have on Catholic voters.

"There are Republican Catholics," Rebman joked.

He said one barrier between Biden and Catholic voters is the Senator's pro-choice stance.

"We're in dialogue about that," Rebman said....

When Biden was pointed out during Mass, he dropped his head and shook it at the attention.
On a context note, Rebman serves as one of two vicars-general of the diocese of Wilmington... well, to be canonically precise, he did before Bishop Michael Saltarelli's July retirement (at which point, goes the law, vicars cease in office); the prelate's successor, the former Baltimore auxiliary Fran Malooly, will be installed on September 8th.

While, under normal circumstances, a diocese's most-prominent public official within its fold would be more conspicuous by his absence on such an occasion, anything normal went out the window with Biden's rollout yesterday as Barack Obama's running mate -- a move which, from America to Fidelis and everywhere in between, has predictably garnered no shortage of reaction within ad intra circles, most of it focusing on the conflict between the six-term senator's faith (described in turns as "sincere" or, as Obama himself put it, "committed") with a reliably pro-choice voting record. Ergo, four days after the church's freshly-installed "chief justice" restated his controversial view on the question (albeit one with strong papal echoes) from his new perch in Rome, the specter of the Eucharist -- that is, the potential denial thereof -- has returned to overshadow a presidential campaign for the second time running.

In his home-church, which encompasses the entire First State, Rebman told MSNBC earlier today that Biden has "never" been denied Communion. But shortly after yesterday's announcement, one senior Wilmington cleric noted to Whispers that the senator always made a point to receive it from someone other than Saltarelli at liturgies where both were present.

"Joe never wanted to put the bishop in that position," the priest said.

Both privately and in the open, the two have long sparred on the abortion issue -- Biden's outgoing ordinary called out "personally opposed" pro-choice politicos for taking a "cop out" stance in a 2005 interview on Catholics in public life, while in a campaign autobiography, the candidate maintained his view that "I don't think I have the right to impose my view – on something I accept as a matter of faith – on the rest of society." Yet that didn't keep Msgr William Kerr -- the former director of Washington's John Paul II Cultural Center -- from telling the Christian Science Monitor last year that the Veepstakes winner "is one of the most sincere Catholics I've known in my 40 years as a priest," even as the lengthy profile noted Biden's mother's advice before her son met the Pope: "Don't you kiss his ring." (In defiance of another call that attracted strong, consistent Vatican opposition, Biden also voted to support the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.)

With the Democratic convention slated to begin tomorrow in Denver and the new release from the host city's top prelate racking up the high-watt airtime, Archbishop Charles Chaput said earlier today that given his "seriously wrong" abortion stance, Biden should refrain from the Communion line:
Biden "has admirable qualities to his public service," Chaput said in his statement. "But his record of support for so-called abortion 'rights,' while mixed at times, is seriously wrong. I certainly presume his good will and integrity — and I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion, if he supports a false 'right' to abortion."

Chaput added that he looks forward to speaking with Biden privately.
While the political parties have a long history of inviting a host city's ordinary to lead their convention floors in prayer, the Capuchin prelate was merely offered an observer's pass to this week's events. Instead, Sister of St Joseph Catherine Pinkerton -- an 86 year-old leader of the church social-justice lobby Network -- will give the benediction closing Wednesday's session.

Incidentally, as a result of yesterday's announcement, Pinkerton's prayer will immediately follow Biden's acceptance speech.