Archbishop Naumann on the Sebelius controversy and other challenges

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, D.D.

President Obama’s nomination of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary is highly controversial and this interview entitled “Restoring Catholic Integrity” from the Oct. 2008 print edition of The Catholic World Report explains why.

His Excellency, Joseph F. Naumann, D.D., was ordained the archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas on January 15, 2005. On that day, he said, “I ask for your prayers that I might be a good and wise shepherd of the Catholic community of northeast Kansas. I believe that it is my responsibility to lead by example. I pray that I might live my life as a bishop with integrity, zeal and joy so that you will strive to live your Catholic faith with integrity, zeal and joy.”

Since then, he has indeed sought to lead by example, especially on the issue of Catholic politicians. Earlier this year he publicly told Kathleen Sebelius, the pro-abortion Catholic governor of Kansas, why she should refrain from receiving Holy Communion.

I interviewed him recently on this issue and others. For instance, we talked about Pope Benedict XVI’s April 16 address to all Catholic bishops of the United States.

Pope Benedict had told the bishops, “…it cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the Church’s teaching on today’s key ethical questions. Once again, it falls to you to ensure that the moral formation provided at every level of ecclesial life reflects the authentic teaching of the Gospel of life.”

Archbishop Naumann welcomes the message. He said, “I think it was a very challenging and very instructively helpful teaching to the bishops. I think [Pope Benedict] showed a great understanding of the challenges that we face within the Church in the United States.”

The archbishop agreed that many American Catholics live as individualists and discussed how he has been confronting the problem.

“What the Church teaches is counter to some of the prevailing winds in our culture. So, I think as a bishop, a big part of my responsibility is to work with the leadership—and certainly the priests are key among that leadership—to make sure that we give them the best information, the clearest understanding and articulation of what the Church teaches in these matters.”

Thus, Archbishop Naumann’s teaching extends beyond sermons and homilies. “I try to use every vehicle,” he said. “I try in my weekly column to put out what I consider the strongest presentation that I can make on these difficult issues. I try to address issues like contraception, embryonic stem cell research, homosexuality—and I think as a teacher in the Church, I’ve got to use all available means to articulate to my people the understanding of Church teaching and the why of it, the rationale.”

He has held seminars for his priests on preaching Humanae Vitaethrough the prism of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. In keeping with this theology, Archbishop Naumann started My House: The Archdiocesan Peace Through Purity Initiative, to protect men, women and families from the widespread pitfalls of pornography and other sexual temptations.

Archbishop Naumann was horrified by neighboring Missouri’s constitutional Amendment 2, the 2006 ballot initiative that authorized the cloning and killing of human beings for stem cell research. This prompted him to provide classes on stem cell science for his priests so that they can teach Kansas Catholics to prevent a similar disaster in their state. He also worked on a document released in June entitled On Embryonic Stem Cell Research, the first comprehensive ESCR policy statement issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“I need to do everything I can in my teaching, in my preaching, writing. But again, if I’m going to be effective in this, a big part of this is working with our priests, our lay leaders and our teachers in our Catholic schools,” he said. “And I try to make sure that they’re formed as best as they can be because they can take that message to a much broader audience than I can. Eventually, we want every person in the pews to feel strong enough in their faith to evangelize with the truth and take that to their jobs and their communities.”

On May 9, Archbishop Naumann used his newspaper column in The Leaven to challenge Kathleen Sebelius, spelling out the reasons why she should refrain from Holy Communion.

He wrote, “Since becoming archbishop, I have met with Governor Sebelius several times over many months to discuss with her the grave spiritual and moral consequences of her public actions by which she has cooperated in the procurement of abortions performed in Kansas.” He urged her to make a worthy sacramental confession, publicly repudiate her transgressions and develop public policies extending the maximum legal protection possible to the unborn children of Kansas. He also revealed that despite his previous private discussions with her, she went on to receive Holy Communion.

Did she respond to him after that column? He said, “No. She has not responded at this point. I know that at least two of my predecessors had communications with her about her positions way back to the very beginning of her political career….I felt that, with her personally, I had done everything I could to try and make sure that she was aware of the seriousness of what she was doing.

“As I told her at one point, someday she was going to have to present herself to God, as we all are. So, it was my hope that she was going to give an account of herself as something better than her political career to this point—in terms of protecting the sanctity of human life, especially that of the unborn.”

Archbishop Naumann was troubled that the governor had misled other Catholics, possibly even young people who dream of political careers.

His May 9 column generated a strong public response, so he followed up with another in-depth explanation to answer lingering questions.

In the second article, Archbishop Naumann cited the USCCB document, Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper, as an authoritative teaching on Holy Communion. This particular document places responsibility solely on the communicant to determine his or her fitness to receive Communion.

Why had he cited it instead of canon law or other magisterial documents? Archbishop Naumann said, “Because I think in quoting that document, it was showing solidarity with the bishops throughout the United States. Obviously, the magisterial documents show solidarity with the universal Church, but I was trying the lay the groundwork that the pastoral action I was taking was consistent with what the bishops here in the United States have laid as the foundation. And of course that document of the bishops was consistent with the teaching of the universal Church.”

In the second column, he wrote, “I have, at this moment, not asked the ministers of the Eucharist not to give Holy Communion to the governor.”

However, according to Church law, communicants and ministers of the Eucharist have equal responsibility in protecting the Blessed Sacrament from sacrilege, as emphasized to US bishops by the then-prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his memo, “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion.”

Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis also explained it in “Canon 915: The Discipline Regarding the Denial of Holy Communion to Those Obstinately Persevering in Manifest Grave Sin,” a canonical treatise issued last October in the Periodica De Re Canonica.

Archbishop Naumann had read the Ratzinger and Burke documents. Therefore, I asked why he had placed total responsibility on the recipient.

He said, “My point was that the first line of protecting the Eucharist is the responsibility of the individual [in a state of mortal sin] to not present themselves. I think pastorally, for the good of everyone, the minister should not have to be preoccupied….The reality is that the minister isn’t focused on the person in line.

“To my knowledge, since my second request, [Gov. Sebelius] has not presented herself. But if she would choose to defy that request, then I would have to exercise the other pastoral options which might include telling the priests not to give her Communion.”

He approves of Kansas City ministers enforcing canon law, if they recognize Gov. Sebelius or some other person in manifest grave sin approaching the Blessed Sacrament.

He also said, “I’m sure I would be aware if she tried to go to Communion. In that respect, I think the public announcement is having the desired effect—not the most desired effect—the most desired effect would be for her to have contrition and reconciliation. But short of that, not for her to give scandal by receiving the Eucharist and to the burden of her soul.

“Because our governor holds the highest office in the state, it made sense for me to give special attention to her. But my intention is to dialogue with others—always with hope to bring about a change of heart.”

He noted that when he was growing up, some people may have been too scrupulous in refraining from Holy Communion. “But,” he said, “today’s pastoral issue is the reverse of that; where everybody in the congregation thinks they should receive the Eucharist, regardless of whether there’s serious sin in their lives and they must reconcile themselves with the sacrament of confession.

“At this point—at this moment—we really need to emphasize the consistent teaching of the Church on what the minimal requirements are—even the keeping of the fast, the minimal fast. [Because of] the lack of seriousness that people give today, I feel an obligation to catechize my people on this. I think this is serious,” he said.

Archbishop Naumann concluded our interview by reflecting on the reaction to his dealings with Gov. Sebelius and asking Catholics to pray for their bishops.

“I’ve gotten a lot of communications since I did this. Most of it has been very favorable. Of course, there are people upset by it or passionate in their criticism of what I’ve requested of the governor…Some of the communications I’ve gotten were very critical of their own bishops while praising me. The only thing I would say is that same criticism could have been leveled at me six months ago because of the governor—and you never know what dialogues are going on.

“I would just say to your readers that I appreciate their support, but I think they need to pray for their bishops and their priests. I think that the bishops of this country take their responsibilities very seriously and I think they’re trying to care for the souls entrusted to them—and among those are politicians.”


Copyright © 2008 Anita Crane and The Catholic World Report. All rights reserved. This story may not be rewritten, republished or otherwise redistributed without prior written authority by the author and publisher, The Catholic World Report

PS – On President Obama’s nomination of Sebelius to head HHS, Archbishop Naumann said, “I personally find it offensive that he would choose a pro-legalized-abortion Catholic to head this office.” Click here for the interview by Valerie Schmalz of Our Sunday Visitor. 
And Archbishop Raymond Burke discusses Naumann’s actions here in an interview by Thomas J. McKenna for Catholic Action.

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