No Wafer for Rudy

Giuliani campaigns as a Catholic, but he's on the outs with God

"The News called me up," Donohue says, "and asked me for my reaction, and at first I said I'd stay away from the personal stuff. But then I just said he ought to exercise greater discretion. I got a phone call from Sunny Mindel, the mayor's public relations person. She said maybe I should do what Cardinal Egan does, say I don't have anything to say. She said the mayor doesn't like it. That was the last time I ever heard from them." Donohue told the News that "the appearance is something that would make a number of Catholics uncomfortable, without pointing an accusatory finger," urging that "discretion would argue to take a different route, to make a behavioral change."

John Kerry, a Catholic whose prior marriage was annulled, was dogged by controversy about his abortion position during his 2004 run for president, with a dozen prelates publicly insisting that he could not receive communion. That led to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops adopting a position paper on "Catholics in Political Life" that left it up to individual bishops to make a determination in their diocese. What went largely unnoticed in the press, however, was an interim task force report written by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., that June. McCarrick cited his exchanges with Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

"Cardinal Ratzinger outlines how a bishop might deal with these matters," said McCarrick, starting with efforts to inform such persons privately "that if they reject Catholic moral teaching in their public actions, they should not present themselves for Holy Communion until their situation has ended." Most significantly for Giuliani, Ratzinger used "the precedent of our teaching and practice in the case of a person in an invalid marriage" as his guide as to what should be done with a Catholic politician who is pro-choice. According to McCarrick, Ratzinger specifically characterized an invalid marriage as "circumstances in which Holy Communion may be denied" and likened it to abortion, making Giuliani a two-time target. Ratzinger said that "in these cases, a warning must be provided before the Eucharist can be denied." If the discreet Egan has sent a warning, he wouldn't discuss it.


Research assistance by: Benjamin Bright, Ben Greenberg, Alexandra Kahan, Jan Ransom, Ethan Strauss, Hannah Vahl, Tom Wiedeman

Giuliani has only struck a public Catholic pose when it has suited him politically. The most infamous incident occurred in late 1999, when he was positioning himself for the 2000 Senate race against Hillary Clinton. At the same time that Giuliani was secretly squiring Nathan around town while still living with Donna Hanover at Gracie Mansion, he went ballistic over a painting of the Virgin Mary with an exposed breast made of elephant dung that was on display at the Brooklyn Museum. He cut all city funding to the museum, railing against the portrait as anti-Catholic, and was promptly saluted by Cardinal O'Connor and blocked by the federal courts. While Catholics are only one of several major voting blocs in the city, they constitute almost half of the state's voters, and Giuliani—running statewide for the first time—made a fairly naked appeal to them with his over-the-top response to pachyderm poop. The city had been connected to other equally abusive "art," including a public access station depicting a sex act on top of a Bible, without Giuliani making a stink.

Using direct-mail gurus like conservative kingmaker Richard Viguerie, Giuliani spent $5 million on a fundraising appeal to Christian conservatives that went on for two pages about the painting, denouncing Hillary Clinton's "hypocrisy" for her free-speech objections to his defunding actions. He accused Clinton of "hostility toward America's religious traditions," depicting her as a soldier in a "relentless 30-year war" against that "religious heritage." Not only had Giuliani never mentioned this "war" during the first six years of his mayoralty—or at any other time in a very public career—but for the first time he indicated that he favored posting the Ten Commandments in public schools and supported school prayer. "I think America needs more faith and more respect for religious traditions," he concluded, "not less"—one more reference to Clinton, and one more personal mission he'd never mentioned to New Yorkers.

Giuliani had taken a similar shot at his Democratic rival in 1997, Ruth Messinger, berating her for skipping the Mass that preceded the Columbus Day Parade. "This is a community she doesn't care much about," he said, alluding ostensibly to Italian Catholics (Messinger is Jewish). Ahead of her by 20 to 30 points, he went on to observe: "She wasn't at the Mass today. She drops out of the parade at 70th Street" —nine blocks short of the 35-block parade's terminus.

This blunt religious bloodletting was as inauthentic as it was chilling. A year before the Clinton letter, Giuliani was asked if he attended Mass regularly by two conservative journalists writing for The American Enterprise magazine. "You know, I really don't think you should ask me questions about my religious practices. No, I don't attend Mass regularly, but I go to Mass occasionally." When he ran for mayor in 1993, he told one city audience: "I am a Catholic, but I would not consider myself a strict Catholic." Hanover, meanwhile, adopted the description offered by many lapsed Catholics: "We were raised Catholic." Jack Tice, a retired NYPD detective and an usher at St. Monica's, the Giulianis' home parish, said in late 1999, just as Rudy's Christian Coalition letter was going out, that he'd only seen Rudy in church twice that year—once at Easter, and once at a June or July Mass.

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