The first instance of a pro-abortion rights politician being censured via denial of communion was in 1989. During a special election for the California Senate, Pro-abortion rights Catholic Lucy Killea was barred from communion by Leo Thomas Maher, then bishop of San Diego. She received communion in Sacramento with the consent of Bishop Francis Quinn. The incident brought publicity to Killea’s candidacy and gained her the voters’ sympathy, helping her to win the election.
In 1984, Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor, then archbishop of New York, considered excommunicating New York Governor Mario Cuomo. He also condemned Cuomo’s statements that support for abortion rights did not contradict Catholic teaching, but did not suggest that Cuomo should stop receiving communion.
In 2004, then-Archbishop Burke said he would not give communion to 2004 presidential candidate and Senator John Kerry, in part because of his position on abortion. According to religion experts, such a denial of communion would have been unprecedented. Kerry’s own Archbishop Sean O’Malley refused to specify the applicability of his earlier statement that such Catholics are in a state of grave sin and cannot properly receive communion. The issue led to comparisons between Kerry’s presidential campaign and that of John F. Kennedy in 1960. While Kennedy had to demonstrate his independence from the Roman Catholic Church due to public fear that a Catholic president would make decisions based on the Holy See agenda, it seemed that Kerry, in contrast, had to show obedience to Catholic authorities in order to win votes. According to Margaret Ross Sammons, Kerry’s campaign was sufficiently damaged by the threat to withhold communion that it may have cost him the election. Sammons argues that President George W. Bush was able to win 53% of the Catholic vote because he appealed to “traditional” Catholics.
In February 2007, as emerged two and a half years later, Bishop Thomas Tobin asked Representative Patrick Kennedy not to take communion because of his position on abortion. Kennedy told the Providence Journal that Tobin also instructed priests in the diocese not to give him communion; Tobin denied this. In 2007, Burke said that he would deny communion to 2008 Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani because of his views on abortion, and that Giuliani should not seek the sacrament. In May 2008, Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph Naumann said that then-Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius should stop receiving communion because of her support for abortion rights, and that she should not again take it unless she publicly stated that she opposed abortion rights.
After Joe Biden was nominated as a vice presidential candidate in the 2008 presidential election, Bishop Joseph Francis Martino of Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, said Biden would be refused communion in that diocese because of his support for abortion. Biden was not refused communion in his then-parish of Wilmington, Delaware. In October 2019, Biden was reportedly refused communion at a church in Florence, South Carolina. On January 21, 2021, one day after his inauguration as president, Biden received communion from the hands of the archbishop of Washington DC, Cardinal Wilton Daniel Gregory. The event was condemned by conservative activist and Donald Trump supporter Austin Ruse, in Crisis magazine.
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- ^ Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, “The Obligations of Catholics and the Rights of Unborn Children” Archived June 4, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
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