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Kerry: Bush's Vatican appeal 'inappropriate'

• TIME:  Battling the bishops
• Archbishop enters communion debate
• Gay supporters denied communion at Chicago Mass
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
John Paul II

HEBRON, Kentucky (CNN) -- President Bush was out of line to ask the Vatican to get U.S. bishops more involved in promoting his conservative social agenda, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Tuesday.

"I think it was entirely and extraordinarily inappropriate, and I think it speaks for itself," the Massachusetts senator, who is Catholic, told reporters in a question-and-answer session outside Cincinnati, Ohio.

A Vatican official privy to discussions between Bush and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state to Pope John Paul II, said Bush "complained that the U.S. bishops were not being vocal enough in supporting him on social issues like gay marriage and abortion."

The discussion took place June 4 during Bush's visit to the Vatican.

The Vatican official said that Bush, a Methodist, asked Sodano to "push the bishops to become more actively involved" in promoting those issues that are part of his social agenda. The official said Sodano did not respond to Bush's request.

Bush supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and opposes abortion rights.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan confirmed that Bush met with Sodano, but would say only that it was "a good private discussion" in which "they discussed a number of shared priorities."

Pushed to give details about the discussion, McClellan said, "The positions of the president and the Vatican are well-known on those issues. ... I would just leave it at that."

Some U.S. church leaders have criticized Kerry's support for abortion rights, which the Vatican opposes.

The Roman Catholic archbishops of St. Louis, Raymond Burke, and of Colorado Springs, Michael Sheridan, have said Kerry should be denied communion over his support for abortion rights.

Sheridan went further, telling parishioners in a pastoral letter in May that voters who support candidates whose positions are in opposition to church teachings should be denied communion, as well.

Bishops are expected to discuss the issue in a meeting this week in suburban Denver, Colorado.

Kerry said he welcomes the meeting, but noted "we have a separation of church and state in the United States."

"There are many things that are of concern and taught by the church with respect to war, with respect to the environment, with respect to poor people, our responsibilities to each other, and I am very comfortable with where I am with respect to those," he said.

"But I am not a spokesperson for the church, and the church is not a spokesperson for the United States of America."

Last month, 48 Catholic members of Congress sent Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, chairman of the Task Force on Catholic Bishops, a letter to protest the idea that politicians who support abortion rights should be denied communion.

McCarrick's task force is considering recommendations on how the church should react to legislators who vote contrary to church guidelines. The church opposes abortion, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, unjust wars and a host of other issues that are debated in the political mainstream.

The letter was signed by legislators on both sides of the abortion issue.

The legislators said denying communion to Catholics based on political beliefs would have "the effect of miring the church in partisan politics and allowing the church to be used for partisan purposes," and would "bring great harm to the church." (Full story)

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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