Stephen Harper committed no etiquette blunder at the funeral mass of former governor-general Roméo Leblanc, his spokesman said, denying speculation that the Prime Minister pocketed a communion wafer offered to him by a priest.
The Prime Minister's Office was reacting after a high-ranking New Brunswick Catholic church official asked that Mr. Harper clarify what happened. Catholics consider that the host is the body of the Christ once it is consecrated by the priest and is supposed to be consumed after it is received.
Footage of the service, shown on Cable Public Affairs Channel, shows Mr. Harper receiving the wafer but the camera cuts away before the Prime Minister can be seen putting it in his mouth.
The two people who received wafers before and after Mr. Harper - Jean-Daniel Lafond, the spouse of the Governor-General, and New Brunswick Lieutenant-Governor Herménégilde Chiasson - can be seen putting the host in their mouths right away.
"He accepted it and consumed it," Mr. Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said from Italy where the Prime Minister is meeting G8 leaders.
"The camera was on for two or three seconds. One cannot assume that because the camera was not on him that he did not consume communion."
The Speaker of the Senate, Noël Kinsella, said he personally saw Mr. Harper consume the host.
"Sitting only a few seats behind him I had a full view of the proceedings," Mr. Kinsella, a Catholic and Conservative senator from New Brunswick, said in a statement released this afternoon.
Excerpts from the video have been posted on YouTube, where some viewers speculated that Mr. Harper looked like he wanted to shake hands with the priest and wasn't expecting to get the wafer instead.
"It's not the first time that he's attended a service," Mr. Soudas said however.
The issue was initially raised by Monsignor Brian Henneberry, vicar general and chancellor in the Diocese of Saint John.
"It's worse than a faux pas, it's a scandal from the Catholic point of view," he told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal.
Father Henneberry, who spoke up after receiving a call from a concerned Catholic, was not available for comment today, the diocese said.
The other matter is whether Mr. Harper should have declined the wafer since he is as an evangelical Protestant, a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.
"Who is the Prime Minister to question a priest offering him communion?" Mr. Soudas said.
Following the G8 summit, Mr. Harper is to have an audience with the Pope on Saturday.