A Roman Catholic archbishop in the US has threatened to deny Holy Communion to the Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani because of the former New York City mayor's support for abortion rights.
The comments by Dr Raymond Burke, the Archbishop of St Louis, could prove troublesome for Mr Giuliani's campaign, particularly among churchgoing Republicans who question how devoutly he practises his Catholic faith. Mr Giuliani is trying to forestall a possible defection by religious conservative leaders to a third-party candidate.
Dr Burke made headlines during the 2004 election campaign by saying he would refuse Communion to John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. He has said he believes that anyone administering Communion is morally obligated to deny it to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. Mr Giuliani, who once considered becoming a priest, is pro-choice and has said he believes life to begin "at the moment of live birth". He also donated to the US pro-abortion group Planned Parenthood six times when he was New York's mayor.
Dr Burke was asked by The St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper if he would deny Communion to Mr Giuliani if the ex-mayor approached him for the sacrament.
"If the question is about a Catholic who is publicly espousing positions contrary to the moral law, and I know that person knows it, yes I would," he replied.
Dr Burke is expected to push America's bishops to take his stance on Communion in a document on political responsibility they will issue to Catholics before the 2008 election.
The archbishop has previously said of Mr Giuliani: "I can't imagine that, as a Catholic, he doesn't know that his stance on the protection of human life is wrong. If someone is publicly sinning, they should not approach to receive Holy Communion."
The stances of several other Catholic presidential candidates on abortion rights are in apparent conflict with church teaching. "It is a cause of concern for me and for all bishops to find ourselves in this situation," Dr Burke added.
Speaking in New Hampshire yesterday, Mr Giuliani brushed off Dr Burke's latest comments, saying: "Archbishops have a right to their opinion, you know. There is freedom of religion in this country."Reuse content