Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Readers of the Catholic Standard, official publication of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., raised their eyebrows two weeks ago. They learned of a 45-minute meeting April 15 of Sen. John Kerry with the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Why did Sen. Kerry seek a meeting with a prelate who was not his bishop and whom he never had met?

 The answer was grounded in high-level political intrigue. McCarrick heads the task force on Catholic participation in public life established by the U.S. bishops. Its most publicized task is to inquire whether politicians who defy Catholic teaching should receive the sacraments. About to become the first Catholic since John F. Kennedy to be nominated for president, Kerry was lobbying McCarrick against being denied Holy Communion as an unwavering pro-choice abortion advocate.

 Whether his lobbying helped, Kerry could not have been more pleased by his interview published in last Thursday's Catholic Standard. While asserting abortion "may be primary," he added that "people who are with us on one issue" may be "against us on many other issues." McCarrick concluded: "All these things will have to be weighed very carefully." Intentionally or not, he was following the lead of liberal, pro-choice Democrats and providing cover for Kerry with traditional Catholics.

 Cardinal McCarrick is so respected and well-liked that not only priests but also prominent laymen do not want to criticize him. Without mentioning McCarrick by name, publisher Deal Hudson of the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis told me: "Anytime our leaders allow the life issue to be made one of many issues provides cover for Kerry's effort to attract Catholic votes."

 McCarrick's interview is far more important than Cardinal Francis Arinze's recent Vatican declaration that priests must deny Communion to pro-choice politicians. The decision is not in the hands of Rome but of local bishops. I asked one highly placed source to measure Arinze's impact on leaders of 195 American dioceses. "Little or none," he said. "The weak will ignore it. The brave and courageous will be encouraged, but they already know they are right."

 Even before last week's interview, McCarrick had opposed withholding Communion as a "sanction" against offending Catholics. He fortified that position last week by asserting that abortion is only one issue even if it's the most important one. That fits the claim made by Catholic Democrats in recent days that Cardinal Arinze's position raises questions about sanctions for advocating capital punishment or even war in Iraq.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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