Giuliani Evokes Catholic Upbringing on Campaign Trail, Yet Wants to Keep Faith Private

WASHINGTON (AP) - Rudy Giuliani evokes his Catholic upbringing as he campaigns for president, yet he refuses to say whether he is a practicing Catholic.

When a voter asked this week if he is a "traditional, practicing Roman Catholic," Giuliani insisted his faith should be private.

"My religious affiliation, my religious practices and the degree to which I am a good or not-so-good Catholic, I prefer to leave to the priests," the former New York mayor responded in Davenport, Iowa.

It would be difficult for him to answer yes. Someone who, like Giuliani, divorces and remarries without getting an annulment from the church cannot receive communion or other church sacraments.

Religion plays an influential role in presidential elections. John F. Kennedy's Roman Catholic faith provoked curiosity and concern when he was elected president in 1960. Today, Republican Mitt Romney is facing similar questions about his Mormon faith.

Candidates try hard to woo religious voters. Surveys show that people who go to church weekly are more likely to vote; that is especially true of Republicans and even more true of Catholics.

Faith is not necessarily their main concern. In an Associated Press-Ipsos poll in March, 4 percent of those surveyed said faith or belief in God was an important quality in a presidential candidate; among Republicans, the number was 8 percent, while among Democrats, the number was 1 percent.

About 25 percent of Catholics support Giuliani, while 22 percent are undecided, AP-Ipsos surveys in June and July found.

While Republicans have been more successful with religious voters - President Bush, a Methodist, won the Catholic vote over John Kerry, a Catholic, in 2004 - Democrats have taken a page from the GOP for 2008 and are clamoring to talk about their religious beliefs.

Republicans, at least Romney and Giuliani, are not. Yet Giuliani brings up his Catholic upbringing when it suits him.

"My first class without prayers was my first day of law school," he said last month in Le Mars, Iowa, drawing chuckles from voters at a family restaurant. An audience member had asked Giuliani to talk about his faith.

"I believe in God," Giuliani said. "I pray and ask him for help. I pray like a lawyer. I try to make a deal - get me out of this jam, and I'll start going back to church."

Giuliani's was a devoutly Catholic boyhood. He signed up for the priesthood after graduating in 1961 from Brooklyn's Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. He changed his mind a couple of months later, deciding he was more interested in girls, he wrote in his 2002 book "Leadership."

In 1968, he married his cousin, Regina Peruggi. They divorced 14 years later, and Giuliani obtained an annulment from the Catholic Church on the grounds that as second cousins, they should have received a dispensation to marry.

Giuliani married TV newscaster Donna Hanover in 1984. She, too, had been divorced and obtained an annulment, and they wed at St. Monica's Catholic Church in Manhattan.

St. Monica's, a few blocks from the mayor's residence, was their home parish, although Giuliani has described himself as an occasional but not a regular churchgoer. He also attended midnight Mass on Christmas at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

"No, I don't attend Mass regularly, but I go to Mass occasionally," he told American Enterprise magazine in 1999.

At key moments in his church life, Giuliani's close friend, Monsignor Alan Placa, has been at his side. Placa was best man at Giuliani's first wedding, officiated at the second and baptized Giuliani's son and daughter.

Placa was barred from the ministry after he was accused of sexual abuse, but he received special permission to preside at the funeral of Giuilani's mother, Helen, in 2002. Placa has been working for his friend's consulting business, Giuliani Partners, despite the urging of abuse victims that he be terminated.

Giulani's third wedding, to Judith Nathan, took place at the mayoral residence, Gracie Mansion, in 2003, after the nasty and public fight waged over his 2002 divorce from Hanover. Hanover learned that Giuliani wanted to split when he announced his decision at a news conference.

His marital history puts him in a different position than Kerry, who obtained an annulment before marrying his second wife, Teresa Heinz, and regularly attends Mass.

Both are at odds with the church because they favor abortion rights. In 2004, several bishops said they would refuse communion for Kerry, the Democratic nominee, over the abortion issue. And already, Providence, R.I., Bishop Thomas Tobin has criticized Giuliani's position, calling it pathetic, confusing and hypocritical.

However, while the church lets individual bishops decide whether an abortion rights candidate may receive communion, priests have no such discretion when confronted with someone who remarried without getting an annulment.

Some of Giuliani's critics, such as conservative blogger Stephen Dillard, believe his marital history is fair game. Dillard started a "Catholics Against Rudy" Web site that raises that issue, among several others.

"The way he treated his wife gives us insight into how he views the role of family, how he views marriage, how he views the church's teaching on adultery and divorce," Dillard said.

Religious scholars say that Giuliani's willingness to talk about some, but not all, aspects of his faith is inconsistent.

"If you identify yourself that way in a public forum and then try to shut down any questions, that's not going to work," said the Rev. James Heft, religion professor and president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California.