The Diocese of Charleston is distancing itself from the actions of a Catholic priest in Greenville, South Carolina, who made remarks in a letter to parishioners suggesting that those who voted for Barack Obama should not receive Holy Communion until they go to Confession.
Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin, Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, said on Friday afternoon that the Catholic Church’s “clear, moral teaching on the evil of abortion” has been “pulled into the partisan political arena” by the priest’s letter which was posted on the web site of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville.
Writing in his November 9 letter, Father Jay Scott Newman said that the election has revealed “deep and bitter divisions within the United States and also within the Catholic Church in the United States.” Saying the divisions can be compared to a “culture war,” he named abortion as the “central battleground” of the conflict.
In the priest’s description of the abortion debate, one side regards abortion as “a murderous abomination that cries out to Heaven for vengeance” while the other regards it as “a fundamental human right that must be protected in laws enforced by the authority of the state.”
“Between these two visions of the use of lethal violence against the unborn there can be no negotiation or conciliation, and now our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president,” Father Newman claimed.
Noting that a majority of self-described Catholic voters helped President-elect Obama win the election, the priest declared:
“Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exits constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ’s Church and under the judgment of divine law.”
He said such persons should not receive Holy Communion until they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance.
In judging the sinfulness of acts, moral theology distinguishes between “formal” and “material” cooperation. In the former, a person directly wills and assists in an evil act. In the latter, a person indirectly assists in an evil act without intending that act be done. Whether material cooperation is sinful depends on its proximity to the evil act.
In a September 9 joint pastoral letter, Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas John Naumann and Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph Robert Finn said that “remote material cooperation” like voting for a candidate who supports intrinsic evils is permissible for “proportionate reasons.” However, they questioned whether consideration for a candidate’s sound positions on other issues could ever outweigh considerations regarding the candidate’s support for intrinsic evils.
Father Newman’s letter continued its discussion of Obama, saying “we must always and everywhere disagree with him over abortion” but he insisted Catholics must pray for the President-elect and obey him where morally permitted.
“Let us hope and pray that the responsibilities of the presidency and the grace of God will awaken in the conscience of this extraordinarily gifted man an awareness that the unholy slaughter of children in this nation is the greatest threat to the peace and security of the United States and constitutes a clear and present danger to the common good,” the priest wrote.
Father Newman told The Greenville News that the responses to his actions have been positive by a ratio of about 9 to 1. The priest said he would not actively deny sacraments to Obama voters, explaining that the Church denies no one Communion unless doing otherwise would cause “grave scandal.”
Soon after the priest’s actions were reported, Stephen Gajdosik, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, told the Greenville News that calling to penance those parishioners who voted for a pro-abortion rights candidate is a question of how best to deepen a flock’s relationship to God and a matter left up to local priests. He reportedly said such a move is appropriate and in line with Church teaching.
He added that for someone to be guilty of cooperating with evil, a person would have to know the consequences of their action and purposefully vote anyway for the candidate who supports legalized abortion.
Monsignor Laughlin, the diocesan administrator, in his Friday statement charged that Father Newman’s actions have “diverted the focus” from Catholic teaching on abortion and “do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings. Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated.”
The monsignor then cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the topic of conscience, stating “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.” He also quoted a passage on the formation and examination of conscience.
“Christ gives us freedom to explore our own conscience and to make our own decisions while adhering to the law of God and the teachings of the faith,” the monsignor commented. “Therefore, if a person has formed his or her conscience well, he or she should not be denied Communion, nor be told to go to confession before receiving Communion.”
“The pulpit is reserved for the Word of God. Sometimes God’s truth, as is the Church’s teaching on abortion, is unpopular. All Catholics must be aware of and follow the teachings of the Church,” Monsignor Laughlin continued.
He closed his Friday statement with an exhortation to pray for the president-elect and all elected officials “with a view to influencing policy in favor of the protection of the unborn child.”