By John-Henry Westen and Patrick Craine
OTTAWA, July 7, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in hot water over a video that caught him taking Holy Communion in a Catholic Church, despite being a non-Catholic Christian. To make matters worse, the video** shows him walking away without consuming the host - although a spokesman for the Prime Minister told LifeSiteNews.com that the PM did consume the host off-camera.
The incident took place last Friday at the funeral of former Governor General Romeo Leblanc in Memramcook, New Brunswick.
In the video Harper is shown being offered communion by the Archbishop of Moncton, André Richard. The Archbishop commented, regarding what Harper did with the host, that "I didn't see anything wrong there because I was busy doing something else," according to the Telegraph-Journal.
According to Catholic teaching the communion wafer becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ after it is consecrated by the priest. The Church teaches that only practicing Catholics who are properly disposed to receive Holy Communion should present themselves to receive the sacrament.
Catholic officials are blaming Prime Minister Harper for the incident. Monsignor Brian Henneberry, Vicar General and Chancellor for the Diocese of St. John called for an explanation from the Prime Minister's office. "If the prime minister is not a Catholic, he should not have been receiving communion," he said, "and if he comes up it places the priest in an awkward position, especially at a national funeral because everyone is watching."
He says that if Harper took the host without consuming it, "it's worse than a faux pas, it's a scandal from the Catholic point of view."
"If I were the prime minister," he said, "I would at least offer an explanation to say no offence was meant, and then (clarifying) what happened to the consecrated host is in order. I would hope the Prime Minister's Office would have enough respect for the Catholic Church and for faith in general to make clear whatever happened."
Msgr. Henneberry said that if Harper was unclear about what was appropriate at the funeral Mass, it "would say to me it's time to get new protocol people."
Rev. Arthur Bourgeois, who preached the homily, however, said he did not have a problem with the prime minister receiving communion. "Usually, to partake in holy communion in the Catholic Church, you have to be a member of it," he said, "but if you're not, exceptionally sometimes at major occasions (it is different)."
"If you are up there and giving holy communion," he said, "you are not going to stop and asked everyone if they are Catholic or if they are not Catholic. You say the Lord provides."
Archbishop James Weisgerber, Archbishop of Winnipeg and president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed regret over the incident. He said, "I would feel very sorry for the prime minister if he wasn't informed about what the procedure is. I would find it terrible if we put him in an embarrassing situation. My concern is at a funeral of that level everyone knows what the protocol is."
The Church is clear, however, about the duty of pastors in conferring the sacraments. According to the 1982 Code of Canon Law, "Pastors of souls and other members of the Christian faithful, according to their respective ecclesiastical function, have the duty to take care that those who seek the sacraments are prepared to receive them by proper evangelization and catechetical instruction, attentive to the norms issued by competent authority" (Can. 843 §2).
Further, Canon Law states, "Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone" (Can. 844).
LSN attempted to contact Archbishop Richard for comment, but was told the Archbishop was on vacation, had no spokesman, and had not made any statements.
Neil MacCarthy, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto told the National Post that the Prime Minister probably should have been briefed that non-Catholics are not supposed to take Communion. He said at most funeral and wedding masses, when there will be a large number of non-Catholics in attendance, a priest tell the guests that only Catholics can take a Communion wafer but others can receive a blessing.
McCarthy also said most Protestant services allow all baptized Christians to take part in communion, which may have led to Mr. Harper’s confusion.
LSN was able to speak with Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas, who explained that the Prime Minister was offered Communion by the bishop and therefore "accepted it and consumed it." He said, "Any allegation that he put it in his pocket is absurd and ridiculous."
When questioned about the video showing the PM walking away without consuming the Host, Soudas replied: "He was holding a program in his hand and he went to put the program down and then consumed it." That took place, he said, after the camera stopped following the PM.
Asked why the PM as a non-Catholic would receive Communion, Soudas replied: "Who is the Prime Minister to judge once Communion has been offered to him?"
Soudas added, "It is a well known fact that he's a Christian."
Soudas then turned to the Prime Minister's upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict XVI Saturday. "He's very much looking forward to his audience with the Pope this Saturday," said Soudas. He would not state if the PM had any agenda for that meeting, but did acknowledge that Mr. Harper would be accompanied by his wife and children.
** Note: The above video is not a LifeSiteNews video and the editorial content in the video is not the position of LifeSiteNews. Double click on video to view larger YouTube version