Tim Drake

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Abortion, the Governor and Communion

California Gov. Gray Davis' bishop made headlines recently when he directed pointed criticism at Davis in a homily at a pro-life Mass on Jan. 22, garnering the attention of both local and national news media.

Ordained Bishop of Salt Lake City in 1980, Bishop Weigand was installed as bishop of Sacramento in 1994. He currently serves on the U.S. Bishops' Latin American and Pro-Life Committees. He spoke recently with Register features correspondent Tim Drake about his decision.

How does a bishop like you begin?
I was born in Bend, Ore., and raised in the Spokane, Wash., area as the third of four boys. My father was the manager of J.C. Penney stores in small towns around Spokane. He died rather prematurely from cancer when I was 18 years old. My mother stayed at home but went back to work after my father's death, working in the county auditor's office. She served two or three terms as the elected county auditor until she retired.

My mother had been a Presbyterian and converted prior to her marriage. She made a wonderful Catholic. My father was the strong element in the faith. He was very active and had a great love for the Church. He always spoke positively of priests and our own parish priest, and that influenced me. We would never have thought of missing Mass on Sunday. He set the tone. Even if we were on vacation, he would find out in advance where Mass was and the times. It was a very intentional sort of thing, and that stayed with me all my life.

What led to your vocation?
I attended Catholic schools growing up. My elementary years through seventh grade were spent at Mt. St. Joseph's Academy in Tekoa, Washi. During fifth and sixth grade I was an altar server, and I would say this is when I first felt called to the priesthood. During sixth or seventh grade it came to me that I should serve Mass every day during Lent, and so I did so at the Sisters' convent every morning at 6:30. That is probably when my vocation was clarified. After seventh grade my family moved to St. Maries, Idaho. In August 1951, after eighth grade, I entered Mt. Angel's Seminary in Oregon. I was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Boise, Idaho.

What led you to make your much-publicized comments of Jan. 22?
Locally, prior to Christmas there had been a very public exchange between Gov. Gray Davis and Msgr. Edward Kavanagh [head of St. Patrick's Home]. At the spur of the moment, the governor intended to visit St. Patrick's Home for Children, which was originally an orphanage and is now a home for troubled youth, to hand out gifts.

Msgr. Kavanagh told the governor not to come onto the property because of his aggressive abortion stance. Msgr. Kavanagh felt that it wouldn't be authentic for the governor to give the impression that he was pro-children. The controversy was played out in the media. The governor invited some of the children to the Capitol and handed out gifts anyway, essentially outmaneuvering the monsignor in the media.

Davis made widely quoted comments that many Catholics hold his pro-abortion views, leaving the impression that such is acceptable. Because of the real possibility of confusion in the minds of some about what is the authentic Catholic teaching on the Gospel of life, I felt obligated to set the record straight.

I used the opportunity of Jan. 22 to do so. As diocesan bishop, I was speaking to our Catholic people, doing so in our Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament from my "cathedra," or teaching chair. No media were known to be present.

When the media contacted me later that day, I assured them that it was not my intention to "take on" the governor but to teach and clarify the faith. That is an important part of my charge as bishop of the diocese. I mentioned the governor specifically only because he has chosen to make his Catholic credentials a public matter on a number of occasions in the context of the abortion issue.

Among other things, I said:
"As your bishop, I have to say clearly that anyone - politician or otherwise - who thinks it acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error, puts his or her soul at risk and is not in good standing with the Church. Such a person should have the integrity to acknowledge this and choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving holy Communion until he has a change of heart."

The Holy Spirit was present and my message touched hearts. There were people crying in the pews.

How have people reacted?
The Catholic response has been overwhelmingly positive. We have received many hundreds of supportive letters, e-mails, faxes and telephone calls at my office, the cathedral and to our Catholic newspaper. They appreciate the clarity.

There have been a few negative responses, but most seem to be based on misinformation about what I actually said on Jan. 22. I clarified my remarks in my Feb. 8 "Feed My Lambs" column.

What has been your message to those who disagree?
To those who hold views similar to those of Davis and seem confused about what the Church teaches or about what is required of one who is Catholic, I would urge them to study, consult and pray.

In our Catholic understanding, we are to receive Communion worthily and be properly disposed. We are also to be free of serious sin - going to confession first, if need be.

For somebody who takes a very public stance that is contrary to the teaching of the Church on some matter of great importance, there is the additional obstacle of giving public scandal. This would certainly be the case of a public official who makes a public point of being Catholic and also pro-abortion or speaks against Church teachings in other important matters. They have a duty as disciples not to use their public office to confuse their brothers and sisters in Christ. Davis left confusion.

Also, for Catholics, receiving Communion is not simply a private act. It is not something merely "between God and me." We are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. When we receive Communion, while we believe that we truly receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, we also publicly express by our action that we are in union with [in communion with] the Body of Christ, the Church.

If one is not, in fact, in union with the Church on an important matter, such as the Gospel of life, then one is proclaiming a fundamental contradiction by the very act of receiving holy Communion. This principle is also applied in ecumenical relations. We do not admit non-Catholics to holy Communion in major part because they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. In our Catholic understanding, it would not be authentic and fitting to receive Communion without being in union with the Church on all important matters.

Do you plan to take any further action?
No. Some people thought I was "considering formally forbidding the [governor] from receiving Communion." I did not intimate that I had any such thing in mind or that we would refuse Communion to someone that approaches.

Some people thought that there must inevitably follow a further step, namely to excommunicate Davis. But there are no inevitable consequences to my action.

After instructing people, we respect them and strive to treat them as adults. We prefer to trust in their sincerity and good will. That is why I stated that a person of integrity should "choose of his own volition to abstain from receiving holy Communion until he has a change of heart."

You have tried unsuccessfully to meet with the governor, have you not?
Yes. Right after the homily, the governor's spokesperson said that the governor was not going to back down and that I should not be telling people how to live their faith. I sent the governor's office a copy of the homily, as well as a polite cover letter requesting an appointment. His office has replied that he is very busy with budget issues.

© 2003. Article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register, Feb. 23-March 2, 2003.

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