Update: Archbishop says Kansas governor must decide Communion issue

The Catholic archbishop of Kansas City, Kan., said he hopes Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will abide by his request to stop receiving Communion before he has to take further punitive measures because she supports abortion rights.

"There are a number of pastoral alternatives open to me at this time" if Sebelius refuses, including barring the governor from Communion or excommunicating her from the church, Archbishop Joseph Naumann said in an interview late Monday (May 12).

"I'm not sure that's an action I would take," Naumann said of excommunication, "but I'm not eliminating any options."

The archbishop also said he could ask his priests to refuse the sacrament to Sebelius, but "it seems to make more pastoral sense to me to put the responsibility on the politician first."

Catholic doctrine holds that abortion is "intrinsically evil" -- wrong in all circumstances. A spokeswoman for Sebelius said the governor will respond to Naumann by letter and has no comment at this time.

Naumann asked Sebelius to refrain from receiving Communion in a column in the archdiocesan newspaper, "The Leaven," saying the governor's support for abortion rights sends a "spiritually lethal message" to other Catholics.

The archbishop said he has met with Sebelius to discuss their disagreements on abortion at least four times, and privately requested that she not take Communion last August.

Naumann issued the public request, he said Monday, after he learned Sebelius later received Communion at a Kansas parish and the governor vetoed an anti-abortion bill April 21.

"Even if I am not able to help the governor understand the errors of her ways, then my other pastoral concern is to protect other people from being misled," Naumann said.

Sebelius, who has been governor since 2003, has said she personally opposes abortion and worked to reduce them through adoption incentives, health care services and sex education.

In a 2006 speech to progressive Catholics, she said, "I disagree with the suggestion that criminalizing women and their doctors is an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing the number of abortions in our nation."

Sebelius said she vetoed the April 21 bill -- which would have allowed family members to seek a court order preventing a woman from obtaining an abortion -- because it was "likely unconstitutional" and did not adequately protect women's health.

Lisa Cahill, a moral theologian at Boston College, said, "I don't think it's fair to condemn her because she disagrees on the best way to reduce abortions."

Naumann said Sebelius "has a responsibility to try to change the laws (on abortion). She, in fact, does that in all sorts of other areas."

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here