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Universal Church: South Africa shocks Catholics on (Bill) Clinton visit.

U.S. President Bill Clinton, his wife Hilary and his American entourage received Communion in Regina Mundi Church of Soweto Township, South Africa, on March 29. The church was a focal point of resistance during the later years of the "apartheid" regime. The President is a Baptist and his wife a Methodist. They were welcomed by a cheering congregation. Their reception of Holy Communion created an international stir among Catholics.

The source of confusion seems to lie with the Ecumenical Directives of the South African bishops. Parish priest Father Mohlomi Makobane said he was surprised to see the President line up for Communion, but later did admit that earlier, in response to enquiries from the Clintons, he had told them they were welcome to [do so] receive Communion. Due to recent rulings from the South African Conference of Bishops, he had said, non-Catholics may take Catholic Communion.

Following the event, a spokesman for the South African hierarchy stated that Father Makobane had erred by not consulting his local bishop, whose approval is needed for any exceptions to the rule of Holy Communion for Catholic faithful only.

A day or so later, a Vatican spokesman commented that the South African Ecumenical Directives themselves are wrong, and that a Conference of Bishops may not unilaterally change the general directives of the Church. Exceptions to the general rule are restricted to emergencies, or to very special occasions, and then only for those who fully accept that they are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. Permission of the bishop is required.

Reserving the Body and Blood of Christ to believers goes back to the earliest days of the Church. St. Justin Martyr (c 100-165 AD), the first great defender of Church teaching, sums up the custom from earliest days as follows:

"No one may share the eucharist with us unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ" (First Apology, 155 AD).

If the American president's baptism is valid by Catholic standards (I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, with water flowing over the recipient's head three times, accompanied with the intention of the Church), Mr. Clinton fulfils the second condition.

As for the third condition, Mr. Clinton was reported to have squirmed uncomfortably during the homily which on the fifth Sunday of Lent dealt with adultery on the occasion of the gospel of St. John 8:1-11, the woman to whom the Lord said "Go and sin no more."

Cardinal John O'Connor of New York took the stand that the President, who once studied at the Catholic University of Georgetown, Washington, D.C., was wrong in receiving Communion, because he knew he didn't fulfil the first condition. Said the Cardinal on Palm Sunday, April 5: "The sacrament of Holy Communion cannot be given or received merely as an act of courtesy or a spiritual gesture . . . To receive Holy Communion in a Catholic church means one believes he is receiving not a symbol, but Christ Jesus himself."

Southern Baptists reject the doctrine of the Real Presence. Later on, the President said he had no regrets. Perhaps he thought that the reception of Holy Communion by an adulterous, pro-abortion, non-Catholic would have little political fall-out, while his visit to a predominantly black church will serve the Democratic cause in the next election.
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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