(CNSNews.com) - As the Roman Catholic Church cracks down on pro-abortion politicians, New Jersey's Democratic governor has announced that he will no longer seek Holy Communion at public Masses.
Gov. James McGreevey had been under pressure from Archbishop John J. Myers, the leader of the Newark, N.J., Catholic archdiocese. On Wednesday, Myers released a five-page statement, entitled, "A Time for Honesty." In it, Myers wrote that Catholic politicians who support the right of a woman to abort a pregnancy should not seek Communion.
"It is a time for honesty," Myers wrote. "I ask and urge that Catholic voters and Catholics in public life carefully consider their position if they find themselves in opposition to Church teaching in these matters.
"Sadly, I must point out that to continue down this road places them in danger of distancing themselves even more from Jesus Christ and from His Church. On this grave issue, public officials cannot hold themselves excused from their duties, especially if they claim to be Catholic."
On Thursday, McGreevey announced that he would accede to Myers' request -- at least in public.
"The archbishop of Newark is clearly the leader of the Catholic community throughout the archdiocese. I will respect the archbishop's request," said McGreevey at a Trenton press briefing.
The governor added, however, that he would accept Communion in private, despite the fact that Myers had made no distinction between receiving the Holy Eucharist in public or private.
In addition to supporting abortion rights, McGreevey has endorsed domestic partnerships for homosexuals and stem-cell research, despite the Catholic Church's opposition on those issues. New Jersey is the only state in the nation that currently allows publicly funded stem-cell research.
McGreevey also divorced his first wife and remarried, refusing to say whether he received an annulment before remarrying, as required by the Church.
At a Vatican press conference in late April, Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze said that politicians who unambiguously support abortion rights must forego Communion. Priests must also refuse to administer the sacrament to them, Arinze said, since "those who support abortion rights [are] not fit to receive the Eucharist."
Bishop John Smith of Trenton, N.J., has explicitly criticized McGreevey for his record on abortion, and the recently installed Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden, N.J., said he would not give the governor Communion because of the annulment issue related to McGreevey's first marriage.
Galante announced that Vatican rules on Holy Communion are clear and that he felt duty-bound to carry out the rules. "I'd give him a blessing, but in his case, he can't go to Communion," said Galante of the New Jersey governor.
Last week, McGreevey sought to clarify his own position on the matter.
"I love my faith. But as governor, I have a basic moral obligation to govern in a democratic, civil, inclusive society," said McGreevey. "I will respect the archbishop's requests. However, I disagree," said McGreevey. "I am pro-choice. I believe fundamentally in a woman's right to choose."
Other Catholic diocesan officials are taking a more lenient stance toward pro-abortion politicians.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry continues to receive the sacrament of Communion at his home church in Boston, despite the Vatican's announcement in April. Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley publicly stated he would not withhold Communion to anyone.
The New York-based Catholic League understands O'Malley's decision but adds that Church teachings must be followed.
"The Catholic League takes no position on the question of whether a bishop ought to deny Holy Communion to a Catholic public official who supports abortion rights; it is none of our business. But we do support the right of any bishop to do so if he wishes.
"And we take great umbrage at those Catholic politicians who continually misrepresent Church teachings on this and related issues," Catholic League president William Donohue said in a press release.
Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, one of the most vocal critics of pro-abortion Catholic politicians, said there can be no middle ground on the issue.
"Once again the Vatican has spoken out clearly and unambiguously regarding the problem of pro-abortion Catholic politicians and the reception of Holy Communion. The message from Rome is loud and clear: You can't be Catholic and pro-abortion," Brown said.
However, McGreevey vowed that he would "continue to go to Mass with my family. "I will continue to practice my faith. It's a faith that I love. And I believe this is a false choice in America between one's faith and one's constitutional obligations," the governor said.