Report: No Communion Order to Follow Sebelius to Washington

The nominee to run Health and Human Services is dogged by problems with her Kansas bishop.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

The Washington Times reports that Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Kathleen Sebelius, who has reportedly obeyed her bishop's order to forego Communion in Kansas because of her support of abortion rights, will face similar instructions from the Catholic Church upon arriving in Washington:

Already admonished against receiving Communion because of stands she has taken on abortion as governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius now faces even closer scrutiny from the church since she was nominated to serve as secretary of health and human services earlier this month.

What began as a local matter between Mrs. Sebelius and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the archbishop of Kansas City, Kan., has taken on larger dimensions with the prospect that Mrs. Sebelius could reside in Washington.

Earlier this month, Archbishop Raymond F. Burke—formerly the archbishop of St. Louis but now prefect for the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican's highest court—declared that Mrs. Sebelius should not approach the altar for Communion in the United States.

"After pastoral admonition, she obstinately persists in serious sin," he told CatholicAction.org, a conservative Web site.

Archbishop Naumann, meanwhile, has been in contact with Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of the Washington Diocese to inform him of the Kansas City prelate's discussions with Mrs. Sebelius.

A spokesman for Archbishop Wuerl said church officials in Washington would act in accordance with the admonition from Kansas City. A church official in Washington said the admonition does not prohibit priests from serving Mrs. Sebelius if she does present herself, but declined to speculate on what would happen in that event.

I doubt Sebelius would present herself for Communion against the orders of her church—not exactly the kind of publicity she wants—but I wonder if there's precedent for problems with bishops following Catholic officials to the Washington Diocese. I wonder even more about how the ongoing ordeal is affecting Sebelius personally and if it has affected her faith.

Given what the New Republic has written about her reluctance to "speak Catholic," though, I doubt we'll get a glimpse into her soul anytime soon:

Sebelius attended a Catholic women's college, but she has not made her Catholicism a central part of her political biography. She has stated that her religious beliefs are private, a position that liberal Catholics have been taking ever since JFK. When she gave the Democratic response to the last State of the Union in January, she did not mention her own faith or the nation's, and she didn't describe any of the challenges facing the nation as moral challenges. This reticence to apply her faith to her political life has a downside: It has severely limited her ability to articulate a moral rationale for her commitment to other issues such as universal health care, which the Catholic Church considers a moral obligation that society owes its members.