A Catholic priest who broke church norms by giving Holy Communion to President Clinton, a non-Catholic, said Thursday he believes he did the right thing.
"I'm ready to put my head on the block for that," said the Rev. Mohlomi Makobane.The priest said he had little choice when Clinton lined up last Sunday in his church in Soweto, a black township, to receive a wafer believed by Catholics to be Jesus Christ's body.
"If the president stands up to come receive Holy Communion, how much embarrassment would it have caused him by my saying `Please sit down,' " Makobane said in a telephone interview.
"Let's be practical. He's a child of God and came willingly to share the Eucharist with us and pray with us," he added. "And he's the most powerful man in the world."
"If I had denied him communion when he came with the procession . . . there would have been much more noise," the priest said. "I'm ready to put my head on the block for that."
As news photographers snapped their shutters and dozens of parishioners in Regina Mundi church looked on, Clinton bowed his head and clasped his hands reverently in front of him as Makobane placed the wafer in the president's mouth.
The incident drew criticism earlier this week from the archbishop of Philadelphia. Asked about that on Wednesday, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said Clinton and other non-Catholics in his party had been invited to receive communion.
"In the printed program for the service, all baptized Christians were invited to partake in communion," McCurry said. "The president felt that was an invitation that he wanted to accept, as did many of the Protestants who were attending."
The Rev. Tony Bailey, of the Catholic Diocese in Johannesburg, said giving Holy Communion to a non-Catholic is "definitely not church policy at all."
"It really shouldn't have happened, actually," Bailey said.
But apparently no one wants to make Makobane a sacrificial lamb, understanding that he may have had little leeway.
One official at the Vatican, which made no formal comment, said under customary anonymity that the "scandal" would have been greater if the priest had denied Clinton the sacrament.