When Pope Benedict XVI attacked Catholic politicians in Mexico who supported abortion rights last month, Rudy Giuliani was asked for his opinion.
The presidential candidate replied in the language of the church: "Issues like that are for me and my confessor. I'm a Catholic, and that's the way I resolve those issues, personally and privately."
Giuliani has invoked his Catholic heritage on Larry King; he's been described by The Washington Post as a "devout Catholic"; he's appeared on Fox News with the label "Catholic" floating on-screen; and he's handled a CNN debate question about a bishop who denounced him with a declaration unfamiliar to those who covered him as mayor.
"I respect the opinion of Catholic and religious leaders of all kinds," he said. "Religion is very important to me. It's a very important part of my life."
The ex-mayor's newfound piety also includes a mantra about abortion that wasn't heard while he was in City Hall. "I hate abortion," he now says across America and, in a proposed 12-point plan, he declares that he's committed to decreasing the number of abortions.
"I would encourage someone to not take that option," he says, though as a candidate for mayor he said he would pay for an abortion for his daughter. Today, he says it would be "OK to repeal" Roe v. Wade, though he hosted celebrations of its anniversary three times at City Hall.
His wholesale reversal on Medicaid funding, late-term abortions, and parental consent are all part of a repackaging designed to soften not just his New York public record, but also the inconvenient details of his personal life.
Married three times, Giuliani simply isn't the Catholic candidate he claims to be. He can't have a confessor. He can't receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist, or marriage.
While bishops disagree about whether or not a Catholic politician who supports abortion rights can receive the sacraments, there is no disagreement about the consequences of divorcing and remarrying outside the church, as Giuliani did a few years ago.
Young Rudy went through 16 years of Catholic education, flirted with the priesthood, and trekked to East New York to teach catechism lessons. The 803-page catechism—reissued in 1994 under the supervision of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who has since become pope—lays out the ways in which Giuliani's personal decisions have estranged him from the church.
"Divorce brings grave harm to the deserted spouse. . . [and] to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them," reads the catechism. But it is remarriage, not divorce, that's a deal-breaker for Catholics.
"Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture; the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery."
This may sound harsh in a culture where half of Americans divorce. The question, however, is not whether this church teaching is fair, or whether it's compatible with American social standards.
The question is: Can Giuliani run for president as a Catholic—identifying with the swing vote that has picked the winner in virtually every modern presidential race—when he is so out of step with the church's code of personal conduct? We're all familiar with Catholic politicians who defy the church with their positions on issues like abortion or contraception. But Giuliani is the first major national figure to run for high office as a Catholic even though he has defied church law in his personal life.
"Any Catholic who remarries without annulment" assumes an "irregular status" within the church, says Monsignor Joseph Giandurco, who until recently was the canon-law expert at the seminary run by the Archdiocese of New York.
Also a judge on the appeals court of the archdiocese's marriage tribunal and a canon-law adviser to Cardinal Edward Egan, Giandurco declined to answer questions about Giuliani individually, but speaking in general terms about someone with Giuliani's marital history, Giandurco added: "The marriage is not recognized by the church, and the person cannot receive communion or confession. He's not supposed to play a public role in the church."
While a baptized Catholic is "Catholic forever," says Giandurco, a remarriage "breaks the covenant and objectively contradicts what the marriage bond signifies."
Giuliani's own history shows how well he understands that.
When he divorced Donna Hanover in 2002 and married Judith Nathan a year later, he was at precisely the same crossroads with the church as he was in 1982.
It's his actions then, when he took drastic steps to preserve his Catholic credentials as he navigated the breakup of his first marriage, that belie the Catholic claims of his current campaign.
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