Priest advises penance for Obama vote
Parishioners shouldn’t take Communion until they do because of president-elect’s abortion view, he says
The priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in downtown Greenville has told parishioners that those who voted for Barack Obama placed themselves under divine judgment because of his stance on abortion and shouldn’t receive Holy Communion until they’ve done penance.
The Rev. Jay Scott Newman told The Greenville News on Wednesday that church teaching doesn’t allow him to refuse Holy Communion to anyone based on political choices, but that he’ll continue to deliver the church’s strong teaching on the “intrinsic and grave evil of abortion” as a hidden form of murder.
Both Obama and Joe Biden, the vice president-elect, support legal abortions. Obama has called it a “divisive issue” with a “moral dimension,” and has pledged to make women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a “priority” as president. He opposes a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court decision.
At issue for the church locally and nationwide are exit polls showing 54 percent of self-described Catholics voted for Obama, as well as a growing rift in the lifestyle and voting patterns between practicing and non-practicing Catholics.
In a letter posted on St. Mary’s Web site, Newman wrote that “voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.”
Catholics who did so should be reconciled to God through penance before receiving communion, “lest they eat and drink their own condemnation,” Newman wrote, echoing a I Corinthians admonition for anyone who partakes “without recognizing the body of the Lord.”
The response from parishioners has been supportive by a margin of 9 to 1, Newman said. He also cited Scripture in urging parishioners to pray for Obama and cooperate with him wherever conscience permits.
Bishops in Baltimore for their annual meeting this week are wrestling with how to explain church teaching on abortion in light of voters’ choice of Obama, who is Protestant, and Biden, who is Catholic, according to The Associated Press.
Francis Cardinal George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told colleagues that “the common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed.”
Bishops have more vocally spoken about abortion this election season, though the issue hasn’t generated as much public debate as the decision in 2004 to deny then-presidential candidate John Kerry communion because of his abortion views.
Stephen Gajdosik, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, told The News that calling parishioners who voted for a candidate who supports legalized abortions to penance is a question of how best to deepen a flock’s relationship to God and a move left up to local priests. He said such a move is appropriate and in line with church teaching.
In an e-mail interview, Newman cited a survey earlier this year by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that showed fewer than 25 percent of the 65 million Americans who call themselves Catholic attend Mass each Sunday, a “disturbing fact of life” that he said shows the vast majority of those baptized into the church “do not live as disciples of Jesus Christ in any observable way.”
Mass-attending Catholics, he said, “vote overwhelmingly” for candidates who oppose legalized abortion.
The Catholic dilemma coincides with a split in Protestant circles between those who consider abortion as a non-negotiable moral concern when voting, and emerging groups such as Sojourners who call for candidates to be evaluated on a “consistent ethic of life,” abortion and the Iraq war included.
Newman calls abortion the “chief battleground” in the so-called culture wars, and different from “prudential” matters such as health care, education or the war on terror. A Catholic who gets an abortion, encourages one or assists in the procedure is automatically excommunicated from the church, Newman said, a penalty he said doesn’t apply to other forms of killing.
“The reason is that abortion is usually murder in secret and it lays axe to human life at its root,” he said. With nearly 50 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, Newman said Obama would seek to make “hidden murder” a legally protected right, and anyone who voted to give him such power “will be complicit in the legal holocaust which will follow.”
Asked about the moral weight of abortion, Gajdosik said that if only three abortions per year took place in the United States, while an objectively immoral war took thousands of innocent lives, then the war might outweigh abortion as a moral concern.
As it is, he said, the weight of large numbers of innocents “slaughtered” should be the overwhelming issue of concern to Catholics.
Gajdosik said that for someone to be guilty of cooperating with evil, a person would have to know what’s at stake and purposefully vote anyway for the candidate who supports legalized abortion.
Newman said, “An uninformed vote is an irresponsible vote,” and that no informed voter this year could have mistaken the candidates’ abortion positions.
No matter the intention of the voter, Newman said a vote for Obama is “material cooperation” with his goal of extending the use of lethal violence against unborn children.
Asked if he would actively deny the sacraments to Obama voters, Newman said he won’t because the church teaches that no one is denied communion unless it would cause “grave scandal,” such as in the case of a notorious public sinner.
However, he said he’ll continue to teach the necessity of being in “full, visible communion” with the church before receiving the sacraments.
*** What I love most about this is the pure boneheadedness of it all. Here’s a priest who won’t give communion to those who support abortion rightsâ€”and yet, he’ll not only acknowledge, but encourage, those people who vote for less environmentally friendly positions; the ongoing Iraq war; the horrors of Gitmo; on and on.
Hey, the priest has a right to believe whatever he feels important. But, Jesus, have some perspective.