Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper accepted and ate a communion wafer at a Catholic mass and didn’t pocket it as critics have alleged, his spokesman said on Wednesday.
Harper, a devout Protestant, attended last week’s state funeral for Canada’s former governor general, Romeo LeBlanc, during which a Catholic priest offered him a communion host.
TV images, some of which have been posted on YouTube, showed Harper receiving the host. The camera remained on the prime minister for several seconds but it did not show him actually place the wafer into his mouth.
“At the end of the service, he was offered communion. He accepted communion and he consumed it,” Dimitri Soudas said on Wednesday, quoted by Canadian media.
Soudas spoke in L’Aquila, Italy, where Harper was attending a G8 meeting.
A Catholic official, vicar general Brian Henneberry, raised the controversy by openly wondering what Harper had done with the wafer.
Henneberry, who is chancellor of Saint John in New Brunswick, where the funeral took place, said it would be scandalous had the prime minister put it in his pocket.
The speaker of Canada’s Senate, Noel Kinsella, rushed to Harper’s defense.
“I would like to state that I personally witnessed Prime Minister Harper consume the host that was given to him by Archbishop Andre Richard,” Kinsella said in a statement. “As a Catholic, I was therefore pleased to see the prime minister of Canada express his solidarity and communion with all those present in the sanctuary.”
After the G8 summit, Harper is due at the weekend to have an audience with Pope Benedict.
According to Catholic tradition, the host is a representation of the body of Jesus Christ, and some critics of Harper’s actions point out that Church law dictates that non-Catholics abstain from receiving communion.