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“People in Rome are becoming more and more aware there’s a problem with John Kerry,” a Vatican official – an American – told Time Magazine this week, “and a potential scandal with his apparent profession of his Catholic faith and some of his stances, particularly abortion.”

When John Kerry attended Mass during his skiing-snowboarding-upbraiding-the secret-service-agent-falling-down-repeatedly vacation, and then jetted off to make a rare appearance in the United States Senate to vote against a bill defining an unborn child as, well, an unborn child, devout Catholics across the country noticed. Now we learn from Time magazine that Kerry’s avowed Catholicism is eliciting rebukes from Catholic officials, and not just those in faraway Italy. “When Kerry campaigned in Missouri in February,” Time also reported, “St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke publicly warned him ‘not to present himself for Communion’ – an ostracism that Canon Law 915 reserves for ‘those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin.’”

Time speculates that the Church’s problems may not hurt him much among Catholics because “[t]hose who are most strongly anti-abortion are probably already in Bush’s camp. But many Catholics are, like Kerry, struggling with contradictions between the church’s teachings and what they practice.”

I suspect that Time is confusing the number of Catholics who disagree with the Church’s position on birth control with the number who disagree with the Church on abortion. The former group is undeniably large, and would not be particularly concerned with Kerry’s opposition to Church teaching on contraception.

But the Catholic faithful are pretty uniform on the issue of protecting unborn children, and Kerry’s an abortion-rights absolutist, even on the dreadful issue of partial-birth abortion. As these voters learn of Kerry’s hard left position on abortion rights and the Church’s condemnation of it, don’t expect them to give him a pass, especially in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

Especially not against the anti-Catholic antics displayed by senators who filibustered the nomination of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to become a federal judge. Pryor, a devout Catholic, was scorned by Democrats because, as Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York put it, “of his deeply held beliefs.” Catholics know the code for anti-Catholicism, and the Knights of Columbus condemned the blockade of Pryor.

Time also noted that the pressure is on Boston Bishop Sean O’Malley to make his views known on Kerry’s continued receipt of Holy Communion. The magazine quotes O’Malley as saying that Catholic politicians who vote against Church teachings “shouldn’t dare come to Communion.”

Having made such a statement, O’Malley will squander much needed credibility if he instructs his priests to refuse Kerry Holy Communion. But if he doesn’t, the public gets the very clear message that the Church isn’t serious about its sacraments, its teachings on life, or anything for that matter. When a clear breach of Church law is on display for the world to see and Bishop O’Malley and the rest of the hierarchy stand by without acting to use their authority, then the Church suffers another devastating blow to its credibility. If it doesn’t take itself seriously, then why should anyone put stock in its teachings anyway?

This is a high-stakes moment for the Church and for Kerry. And for the unborn. If the Church truly does care for children inside the womb, it cannot be silent on John Kerry’s participation in Church life.

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