It took Joe Feuerherd more than a few phone calls to finally track down the details on the Kerry non-excommunication (see story on Page 6). I can't say that I was terribly surprised that a Vatican official could be so used in this election season. One's Catholicism, it appears, has become a political commodity. I was not aware, however, of the apparent ease with which a freelance canon lawyer can show up at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome to seek answers to hypotheticals. In this case, it seems, a high ranking official thought enough of the questions to prevail on a friend in the States to provide an answer. Curiously, while the answer, hypothetically, would have been satisfactory for an academic paper, it was quickly dismissed as small potatoes from a "smalltime theologian" when it became a matter of public record. Everyone was free to view the answer--essentially that Kerry had excommunicated himself--as "baloney." Personally, I do, and I'm glad that was the final verdict.
However, it does raise questions.
This incident occurs, of course, on the heels of the letter to the American bishops about the election from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and all the controversy and misinterpretations and reinterpretations that have followed (NCR, July 16). It's been a tough couple of months for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this Vatican bureaucracy caught in the whipsaw of U.S. electoral politics.
Perhaps someone high up in the Vatican will finally put out the word to U.S. bishops: "Rail all you want at the …