To eat or not to eat

Harper and the holy host highlights the protocol minefield facing modern leaders


harperAmazing, the trouble one wafer can create. Stephen Harper took a rhetorical drubbing yesterday when footage surfaced of him palming a communion host during the funeral of former Governor General Romeo LeBlanc. Monsignor Brian Henneberry, the vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint John, described the incident as a “scandal.”

PMO officials quickly issued assurances claiming the Prime Minister ate it off-camera, leaving lay people to wonder exactly what Harper did that was so terribly blasphemous.

Nothing, say experts experienced in government protocol. In fact, Harper may have been wrong to eat the wafer—assuming the PMO’s version of events was anything more than an after-the-fact whitewash. “If you are not a Catholic, you should not, in fact, you cannot take holy communion,” a retired senior federal protocol official—who happens to be Catholic—told “It’s considered apostate, and it’s hypocritical to do it.”

“Ideally, the prime minister’s team would have informed the organizers what time he would be arriving, asking them where he would sit, what he would be expected to do. And when told he will be invited to take a communion host, they would say, ‘He is not Catholic and therefore it would be ideal for him to recuse himself.’”

The key word here, of course, is “ideal.”  Sometimes unplanned incidents arise, and the official, who asked not to be named because he is still working in public service, acknowledged there are no black-and-white rules when those moments occur during religious rites. In this case, Harper found himself stuck in a front pew of dignitaries receiving communion from the priest; it wasn’t as if he were invited to line up in the aisle. So, faced with this awkward situation, “the right thing to do would be to accept it with his hands,” said the official.

Whatever the correct reaction, the controversy highlights the protocol minefield modern leaders face as they try to appear inclusive, tolerant and diplomatic in the modern public arena. Elected officials are increasingly pressed to participate in religious ceremonies that fall outside their own denominations and faiths, notes Peter Donolo, the former communications director to Jean Chrétien. Donolo, who also served as Canada’s consul general in Milan, recalls countless instances in which Chrétien was asked to join rites that could easily have gone awry. That’s why the former PM’s handlers usually spent hours poring through protocol documents to ensure he didn’t touch the wrong person, say the wrong thing, kneel in the wrong direction.

Not least among the concerns in such preparations, of course, is ensuring the leader doesn’t look silly to his own voters. For that reason, says Scott Reid, a longtime aide to former prime minister Paul Martin, the work of advance teams is critical to ensure a proper balance between the integrity of the rite and the politician’s dignity. Think of it as the “no silly hats” rule. “For years, politicians of all stripes have found themselves wearing a scarf when visiting a mosque,” Reid noted in an email by way of example. “That’s because it’s the tradition, as dictated by the faith hosting the event. The fundamental rule of thumb is two-fold: know what to expect, and honour the faith of which you are a guest.”

As for those rare occasions when the unexpected does arise? Well, a lot hangs on the poise of the leader involved. And let’s face it: Harper has a long history of standoffishness in what would otherwise be poignant moments (remember him shaking hands with his kids?). As such, Reid—ever the partisan warrior—doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for the PM in this case. “Palming your wafer like you’re a pulling a street corner card trick,” he said, “is something that many who take the sacrament would find offensive—as the PMO has been reminded.”


To eat or not to eat

  1. I watched the vid. Poor guy. He could have done a lot worse.

    I can't blame him for not knowing how to decline. He obviously hadn't been prepped. That would be the Bishop's fault too, btw.

    He showed enough respect. My guess is he quietly asked the nearest available Catholic what to do next and they're actually showing some class by not mentioning he was given the wrong answer. (the Catholic should have consumed it for him)

    • Are you saying that Harper has never been to a catholic service before? He was at the Popes funeral for godsakes.

      • so?

  2. A manufactured story.

    Did Michael Ignatieff the athiest accept a blessing?

  3. Why is this a story! Must me a slow summer for Macleans. Would their be a video if this is Iggy instead?

  4. Did the uneelcted leader of the opposition even go to the funeral?
    No photo ops, so I guess not.

    Sad sad gotcha journalism, that's all this is.

    From the priest who delivered the homily at the funeral mass of former governor-general Romeo LeBlanc:

    “The Prime Minister did consume the host; he did not put it in his pocket,” said Father Arthur Bourgeois, who had been a friend of Mr. LeBlanc for 30 years.

    He also said Mr. Harper may have been caught in an awkward position. Usually Catholics walk up to the priest to receive communion but at the funeral mass the priest approached everyone sitting the first pew so Mr. Harper may have been caught off guard.

    “We were so flattered that the Prime Minister took the time to come down so we feel embarrassed by the whole controversy he faced,” he said.

    Now move along the next earth shacking news story….Harper arrives 100 seconds after Obama for photo op..!!

  5. Without the preparation, St.Paul indicates in the Bible, the Eucharist will bring Harper condemnation instead of blessing.The Catholic Church teaches that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation (Ad Gentes 7,Lumen Gentium 14).All people need to enter the Catholic Church through Catholic Faith and the Baptism of water to go to Heaven and avoid Hell.(Ad Gentes 7,Vatican Council II,Holy Office 1949 Fr.Feeney,CCC 1257 ).The Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus. Jesus, is Christ the King and Sovereign over all political and social systems (Quas Primas).Those non Catholics who know this and yet do not enter the Catholic Church are outside the Mystical Body of Jesus,they are oriented to Hell(Lumen Gentium 14,Vatican Council II).They include prominent Protestants like Stephen Harper,who need to enter the Catholic Church for salvation(Ad Gentes 7).He is educated and knows about the Catholic Church.In this state of mortal sin he is not permitted to receive the Eucharist.Without the preparation, St.Paul indicates in the Bible, the Eucharist will bring Harper condemnation instead of blessing.

  6. The issue is not offence.A report today says the prime Minister consumed the Eucharist.
    Sadly the Archbishop and clergy in Canada are making it seem as if it just was not the proper thing to do, a slip up in etiquette or something.
    What is clear is that the Catholic clergy in Canada :
    1) Need to make it clear that the Catholic Church is the sole moral authority and not the secular government in Canada. Jesus gave the KEYS to the Catholic Church.
    The Church still teaches that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation.Jesus said that those who believe will be saved. Those who do not will be condemned. Jesus founded only one Church. He called it MY CHURCH. It is in this one Church that he wants all people to enter John 3:5. The teachings of the Catholic Church are still the same.
    2) The Bible says that some people will not enter Heaven( Galatians-fornicators etc). The Church still teaches that there are also FAITH requirements

  7. The faith requirement is God wants all people to worship Him in the Catholic Church(CCC). The Church is like the only Ark of Noah that saves in the Flood.
    The moral requirement is the Ten Commandments. The First Commandment demands that we worship God in the way he wants to be worshipped.Otherwise we are making are ego an idol.
    Those who follow the moral and faith requirements within the Catholic Church are prepared to recieve Our Lord. Otherwise it is a profanity, a sacrilege something evil if done intentionally.
    Stephen Harper's intentions are not be judged here.I am pointing out that he like many other non Catholics,especially those who participate in inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism, are informed and educated and are not Catholic, they are oriented to Hell according to the Bible and the Vatican Council II.
    Lionel Andrades

  8. Speaking as a Catholic – albeit one who attends church regularly but is hardly an authority on the minutiae of the catechism – I can say that I am not at all offended by Harper's actions, and would not have been by anyone else having taken the same actions, as long as it was done respectfully. I would point out that earlier comments indicating that this would mean condemnation for Harper would then follow that he is condemned simply in the fact that he is not Catholic. Therein lies the problem with putting emphasis on religion rather than faithfulness and/or good works.

  9. God does not discriminate. The rules of the Catholic Church are man made. Stephen Harper ( not my choice for prime minister) was within his rights as a human being and a man of faith. Again….God does not discriminate, only the Roman Catholic church.

  10. As a Christian, and not a catholic, I have to ask, why is it so wrong for Harper (also a Christian) to take communion? Our church does communion and I have been to other denominations and have taken part in communion. I should be able to take part no matter what church I show up in. And Lionel, I am sorry but you are so wrong. Nowhere in scripture does it say that you must worship God in a Catholic Church. Just because I am not a Catholic, doesn't mean I am "oriented to hell". John 3:16-178 16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[f] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.[g
    As for the Commandments, the most important commandment was given in the new testament: Love the Lord your God with all your Heart, mind and soul, and Love one another. If you do these two simple things, you can't help but follow the ten in the old testament.