WASHINGTON, DC ( - During President Bill Clinton's visit to South Africa last weekend he stopped at a Catholic church in mostly black Soweto township where he received Holy Communion and ignited controversy over the action.

      President Clinton and his wife Hillary attended Mass at Regina Mundi Church where Father Mohlomi Makobane allowed the couple, who profess Baptist and Methodist beliefs, respectively, to come forward to receive the Eucharist. Father Makobane said he followed the Directory on Ecumenism in South Africa, which was promulgated by the South African bishops' conference in January, as his guide for allowing the First Family to receive Communion, normally reserved only for practicing Catholics in a state of grace. The priest said he gave a copy of the bishops' document to the organizers of Clinton's visit when discussing the possibility of Clinton wanting to receive Communion.

      Bishop Geraldo M. Angelo, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments at the Vatican, said: "Since this is a person who is not a Catholic, he cannot be admitted to eucharistic Communion. This is a canonical norm .. and therefore no bishops' conference can advance a different rule."

      In the US, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia told listeners of his weekly radio show that the president's actions were wrong. The cardinal said he believed Clinton had done "something unlawful, but I don't believe he did it intentionally. I don't believe there was malice on anyone's part."

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April 2, 1998 volume 9, no. 66         DAILY CATHOLIC