Canadian Prime Minister Communion Fiasco Did Happen: Blame Goes to Bishop

August 20, 2009

Canadian Prime Minister Communion Fiasco Did Happen: Blame Goes to Bishop

By Frank Walker

August 20, 2009 - Recently the Canadian paper, Telegraph-Journal, published a retraction on the Stephen Harper Communion story. On July 8th that paper reported that Prime Minister Harper received Communion at a Catholic funeral although he is not a Catholic. The article cites witnesses who claim Harper put the consecrated host in his pocket. The actual moment is captured in a video that has been repeatedly taken down and then re-posted on Youtube. In the segment the PM seems to hesitantly accept Communion in the hand but does not consume it. The Telepraph-Journal article quotes a New Brunswick priest who demanded that Harper explain what he did with the host.

A small outcry ensued when this original story posted. Harper, embarrassed by the event and preparing to visit Pope Benedict in a few days at the G8 Summit, did some damage control. Harper’s office was indignant. “It’s totally absurd to think that he pocketed the ‘wafer.’” He assured voters that he always received Communion and that it was very important to him. “As a Christian, I have never refused Communion when it is offered to me,” he pronounced. He called the Telegraph piece a “low moment in journalism,” and hoped maybe to soothe the annoying ripple in his Catholic support.

In last week’s retraction the Telegraph-Journal said that the facts of this story were never corroborated, and no priest found to confirm the statements. That paper has since fired the editor involved and exonerated the reporters, claiming that false information was added to their accounts during editing. Another source has since questioned whether the news was just a concocted liberal smear. They point toward the Telegraph-Journal’s politically active left-wing owner. Finally on August 2nd, the New York Times closed the whole affair, sneering that it was all about Harper’s “nontransubstantiation of the wafer.” But although the liberal press and probably some non-Catholics have made light of this story and its apparent debunking, the facts for the most part remain.

A look at the Youtube video from the actual event reveals much. When the time comes to stand for Communion, Harper holds a booklet in both hands. The Archbishop moves quickly along placing hosts into the hands of every person in the front row. They do not line up outside the pew and walk to receive. Harper accepts the host by barely raising his cupped right hand. At the 36th second of the clip, just after he receives the host, there appears to be some movement near his right suit pocket, but this is blocked by the Archbishop giving Communion and the booklet Harper is holding. After that he stands there with his hands pointed downward and the booklet hanging from his fingertips. It would be tricky to hold on to the host in this way and it appears as if he no longer has it. After a few more moments someone walks across the camera lens, but Harper’s arms do not move and his hands don’t go near his face at all. Perhaps if he did not pocket the host at first, he may have dropped it and wanted to avoid making a scene searching around the floor.

The recent reports suggest that the story has simply turned out to be a lie, but many questions persist. Is it reasonable to expect that a Prime Minister of a first world country with a large Catholic population would be so ignorant of their religious practice? And what did Harper mean when he said that he never refused Communion? Was he talking about Protestant Communion services? Finally, why did his office say nothing about the fact that Harper is Protestant and should not have received the host? Wasn’t that part of the scandal they were trying to quell?

It likely that Mr. Harper knew that he should not receive Communion. When the host was placed directly into his lowered hands as he stood in the pew, he didn’t know what to do. He might cause an uproar by consuming the host. Perhaps he thought it better to ask someone first? The only clue he had, as a Protestant at Mass, was from Archbishop Richard, who had left small room for choice.

We could assume that Richard was so rushed and distracted that he didn’t notice he was giving Communion to the Prime Minister. That is possible, though he looked Harper directly in the face at the time. He has since called the moment, “unfortunate,” and laments that the PM was not briefed correctly. Afterwards he made sure that Canadians knew Harper meant no disrespect. But what did the Archbishop mean by his part? Why did he give Communion to such a well-known Protestant and create an international scandal?

Harper’s office affirmed that he did consume the host. If so, that was not in the YouTube clip. Did he do it in the Church, in the limousine, at home, or after a meeting? No one knows really what ultimately happens in these cases. We do know that it’s problematic for individuals in the pew or in the clergy to avoid desecration when they have little faith in the Eucharist. Whatever did occur, hopefully Steven Harper has decided that he will no longer receive Communion at a Catholic Mass. He may also have discovered something that few politicians will understand, but many Catholics have known for years. When unsure about what is expected by the Church today, it’s a fair gamble to take your cue from the Bishop.

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