On January 4th, a new era began as Bishop Jerome Listecki was installed as Milwaukee's next Archbishop. The installation was a tightly restricted invitation-only ceremony reserved for influential Catholics and some political dignitaries like gubernatorial candidates Scott Walker and Tom Barrett. It did not appear, however, that Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Neumann received an invitation to attend the ceremony. This would not be surprising since he has quickly become forgettable.
During the ceremony, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett partook in the communion - a ritual of substantial importance for Catholics that signifies spiritual devotion to Christ. This occurs at a time when Catholic Bishops have taken an increasing role in denying pro-choice politicians the rite of communion. Why is this relevant? In the late 90s when Tom Barrett was a Wisconsin Congressman, he voted against a proposed ban on partial birth abortion; and he did this not just once, but twice. His vote opposed a bill that, if passed, would have protected unborn children from a cruel and unusual form of medical execution.
Just last November, Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin made headlines by denying Patrick Kennedy (son of the late Ted Kennedy) communion. Bishop Tobin described Kennedy as "not a good practicing Catholic."
In August of last year, Bishop Listecki wrote a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi charging her for producing a scandal and misleading the faithful. In particular, he accused her of incorrectly stating a Catholic Church teaching about when human life begins in order to justify abortion. This is the same Listecki, mind you, who has just moved into Barrett's backyard.
Back in 2004, Boston Bishop Sean O'Malley denied Presidential candidate John Kerry communion because he was expressively pro-choice and stated he would never permit a pro-life judge on the Supreme Court. And to add more fuel to the fire, he was denied communion while campaigning for president in St. Louis by Archbishop Raymond Burke for the same reasons. More and more, Catholic Bishops are making a distinction between an ordinary pro-choice Catholic and a pro-choice politician that wields significant power to affect important policy decisions for the nation.
During the 2004 election, Kerry was trying to court Catholic voters, which made up 27% of registered voters. Kerry felt blindsided. At first, he argued that these Bishops had erred by not properly distinguishing between his personal views as a Catholic and his actions as a legislator. He said it it was not appropriate in the U.S. for legislators to legislate their personal religious beliefs for the rest of the nation.
Without looking to the Catholic Church for an official response, I can say with confidence that Kerry's line of reasoning is not only fallacious, but unconstitutional. Why are the "non-religious" allowed to vote their conscience as moral human beings while it is inappropriate for the "religious" to do the same? Morality and religion are not easily distinguishable. Some morals are shared by many religions, including the protection of innocent life. By making such statements, Kerry not only demonstrated a pointed bias against the members of his professed church, but an ignorance about how religion is expressed.
In order to justify taking communion on Monday, Tom Barrett has one of two options: he can stay quiet about his prior votes in Congress and hope that Scott Walker doesn't resurrect it in the throes of a campaign season, or he can confess to his priest (if he hasn't done so already) and publicly recant his earlier position.
Ultimately, it was a tad bit audacious for Barrett to take communion knowing who the new Archbishop is and knowing that Walker could hang him for it politically.