Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl
Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl
Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl is following the lead of local prelates regarding the reception of Communion by Catholic elected representatives and government officials whose views may conflict with Church teaching.

The archbishop's stance, first explained in a May 1, 2008, column in the Catholic Standard, garnered some attention as the U.S. Senate March 31 opened confirmation hearings on the nomination of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, as Department of Health and Human Services secretary.

A long-standing supporter of legal abortion, Sebelius has been asked by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., not to present herself for Communion unless she repudiates her support for keeping abortion legal. The state capital, Topeka, is in his archdiocese.

In a March 6 interview with Raymond Arroyo on the Eternal Word Television Network, Archbishop Naumann said he had no knowledge of the governor seeking to receive Communion since his request nearly a year ago.

Sebelius could not be reached for comment.

Writing in the Catholic Standard, Archbishop Wuerl said he would adhere to the 2004 statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which concluded that it was each individual bishop's responsibility to decide the proper application of Canon 915 regarding the reception of Communion.

"(Archbishop Wuerl feels) it's appropriate to respect whatever pastoral decision is made locally," Susan Gibbs, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington, told Catholic News Service March 31.

Archbishop Wuerl declined a request for an interview through Gibbs.

"Bishops may arrive at different conclusions based on their local situations," Archbishop Wuerl wrote last May.

"A critical role of the bishops is to teach, to try to persuade and convince others of the truth of the Church's teaching and the implications of that teaching in their lives and to encourage Catholics to live out their faith," he explained in the column.

"A decision regarding the refusal of holy Communion to an individual is one that should be made only after clear efforts to persuade and convince the person that their actions are wrong and bear moral consequences," the archbishop continued. "Presumably this is done in the home diocese where the bishops and priests, the pastors of souls, engage the members of their flock in this type of discussion.

"In the case of public figures who serve in Washington as representatives of other parts of the nation, this dialogue and any decisions would take place within their home diocese," he wrote.

In the EWTN interview, Archbishop Naumann said he felt it was best to "put the burden" on Sebelius not to present herself for Communion rather than for the sacramental minister deny her Communion.

"And, to this point I must say, that she has, after the second request I made of her, she has been observant of it so there is not a problem to my knowledge of her presenting herself for Communion," he said.

Archbishop Naumann said he spoke with his counterpart in the nation's capital about his discussions and correspondence with Sebelius regarding her public stance on abortion and her vetoing of two bills that had sought to regulate abortion clinics and enforce Kansas law for late-term abortions.

He also acknowledged that Sebelius could move to a neighboring diocese where Archbishop Wuerl would have no jurisdiction. He did not say if he would approach other prelates about his meetings and correspondence with the governor.

In vetoing the bills, Sebelius cited constitutional issues and questioned whether the proposals would reduce abortions as supporters claimed. Archbishop Naumann publicly criticized Sebelius' action.