Kerry defends abortion rights

Mass. senator attends rally in D.C.

cardinal urges Communion ban

April 24, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - Sen. John Kerry, a former Roman Catholic altar boy, reasserted his defense of women's right to an abortion yesterday as a Vatican official called on priests to stop granting Communion to politicians who vote for abortion rights.

The confluence of a high-profile speech on behalf of women's rights and the declaration by Cardinal Francis Arinze in Rome escalated Kerry's uneasy relationship with the church over abortion. It also raised new questions about the relationship between religious and political convictions, an issue that has also dogged President Bush.

"More than 30 years after Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land, it has never been more at risk than it is today," Kerry said at an outdoor abortion rights rally in Washington. "We are going to have a change in leadership in this country to protect the right of choice."

At the Vatican, Arinze didn't address how his assertion that priests should deny Communion to politicians who support abortion rights could affect Kerry specifically.

Arinze made his comments to reporters while delivering a directive that restricts changes in Mass. The document didn't mention the issue of Catholic politicians and abortion, but reporters raised it in questions to the cardinal.

Arinze said any "unambiguously pro-abortion" Catholic politician "is not fit" to receive Communion.

`Practicing Catholic'

Kerry didn't refer to the cardinal's comments yesterday, and his press secretary, David Wade, declined to address Arinze's remarks directly.

"John Kerry is a believing and practicing Catholic," Wade said. "His faith has had an enormous impact on his life. He also believes in the separation of church and state.

"He believes that as president he needs to make decisions for all Americans, whether they are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or of any faith."

Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt characterized Kerry's views on abortion as "outside the mainstream" and said the president "supports a culture of life."

Arinze's views have no special authority. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a task force studying whether to sanction Catholic politicians who take stands contrary to church doctrine.

Potential fallout

Last week, Kerry met with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Washington archbishop and head of the task force. Neither commented after the 45-minute meeting, which Kerry aides described as a way for both men to become familiar with each other.

Though abortion divides members of the Catholic Church, any sanction by priests could be politically damaging to Kerry, who is hoping to secure the Catholic vote in this election.

Clashes between faith and public policy are nothing new; Bush has disagreed with bishops of the United Methodist Church, who disapprove of the Iraq war.

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