From ........ National Catholic Reporter

February 10, 1989

page 4

By Kent Jenkins Jr. (Special to NCR)


ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Months after that stunning Sunday last summer,the words still ring in Michael Jackson's ears: "a public and obstinate sinner." Jackson ,a city council member in Alexandria, Va., was attending an early mass in St. Joseph's Catholic church in that city. When he extended his hand to receive communion, the pastor, Father Joseph Miller, told him, "I cannot give you the eucharist." Jackson said Miller later described him as "a public and obstinate sinner." . Jackson had angered Miller and other local Catholic officials with a city council vote he had cast several months earlier. He had supported establishing a clinic for teenagers that would provide, among other services, birth-control advice and contraceptives.

Miller considered that vote sufficient reason to deny communion to Jackson, a lifelong Catholic. Although Jackson has since received communion from other priests - including those at nearby St. Mary's parish, where he is a member - he remains troubled by the incident, which he contends raises religious and political questions.

"I'm from a Catholic background, and I attend a traditional Catholic church," Jackson said recently. "I do not want to break with the church. I'm basically in accord with the church's teachings across the board. "But I think every public official has a moral responsibility to evaluate whatever issue is at hand, and the clinic was a difficult issue for everyone.

Miller declined to comment on the incident. But through a spokesman for the Arlington diocese, Father Curtis L. Clark, Miller said he considered it proper. Miller "feels he did the right thing," Clark said. "He seemed very much at peace with his decision."

Under Catholic law, Jackson can appeal Miller's refusal to give him communion to Arlington Bishop John Richard Keating. The two have not yet discussed the situation, but Clark said Keating is willing to meet with Jackson. Jackson said he will ask for a conference.

According to Clark, Miller said that if Keating instructs him to offer communion to Jackson, he will.

Father James Coriden, academic dean at Washington Theological Union, said Miller's action was uncommon and, in his opinion, unjustified. "It's very unusual for a priest to make that kind of public discernment," Coriden said. "And to convict someone of serious sin is a very exceptional action."

The question of how a Catholic elected official should vote on matters pertaining to birth control "is a very sophisticated, arguable issue," Coriden said. "You can prove people have different opinions; you can't prove it's a sin. (Miller's decision) is simply wrong. It does not meet the standard of (church) law."

The Alexandria City Council voted in December 1987 to establish the teen clinic, about the same time the National Conference of Catholic Bishops announced its opposition to such facilities. Local Catholic priests were among the leaders of the unsuccessful fight against the clinic.

Jackson, 40, who attended parochial schools and graduated from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., said he feels Miller's action was "very wrong."

"This is not a role I relish," Jackson said.

"But on the other hand, I'm not going to suspend my independent judgment (on political issues), because I know that would be wrong. I made a difficult decision, and then I had this agonizing dimension added to it. I just don't think this is right, and I can't let it go by."