Fr. Jay Scott Newman, a South Carolina priest whose parish bulletin letter gained national attention due to an inaccurate Associated Press headline “S.C. Priest: No communion for Obama supporters,” is receiving support from priests in his diocese. The show of priestly support comes after Fr. Newman was criticized by the diocesan administrator for pulling the Church’s teaching into the “partisan political arena.”
In the weekly parish bulletin, Fr. Newman emphasized the need for people to examine their consciences before receiving Communion and noted that self-described Catholics had played a role in electing Barack Obama as president.
“Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists 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,” Fr. Newman wrote.
He further added such persons should not receive Holy Communion until they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance. The pastor of Saint Mary’s Church in Greenville, South Carolina also told his parishioners that they must pray for the president-elect and cooperate with him “wherever conscience permits.”
Fr. Newman’s letter originally prompted a largely favorable reaction, with parishioners saying by a 9 to 1 margin that they appreciated his column on the election.
In fact, sources close to the matter told CNA that after Fr. Newman published his original column for the parish bulletin and provided responses to The Greenville News for an article on the column, he received a supportive email from the Diocese of Charleston Administrator Monsignor Martin Laughlin. In the email Msgr. Laughlin thanked Fr. Newman for his statement and said, “I wish the bishops would have been as forthright. Why did they not speak before the election?”
However, when the Associated Press picked up the story from The Greenville News, it twisted the facts in its headline, which reads, “S.C. Priest: No Communion for Obama supporters.”
The original article in The Greenville News correctly noted that Fr. Newman said 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.”
According to a letter from Fr. Newman to his parishioners, the AP reporter who wrote the misleading article received the same responses from Fr. Newman that he provided to The Greenville News.
Following the publication of the AP article this past Friday, Monsignor Laughlin did an about-face and issued a public repudiation of Fr. Newman’s statements based off of the inaccurate headline that accompanied the AP story.
In his statement, Msgr. Laughlin wrote that the Catholic Church’s “clear, moral teaching on the evil of abortion” was “pulled into the partisan political arena” by the priest’s letter and that Fr. 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.”
Fr. Newman responded to fracas surrounding his original column in this yesterday’s bulletin from St. Mary’s, saying that he never imagined that his bulletin would be read outside of the parish and that his comments must be read in light of “the teaching of the American bishops on ‘Faithful Citizenship’ which was distributed in the bulletin the week before the election and explained from the pulpit.”
Furthermore, the South Carolina pastor stated that, “From that document and the teaching of the Church's Magisterium, no one could conclude that a vote for Senator Obama is in itself or by itself a mortal sin. But from that same teaching, though, we must conclude that a vote for a pro-abortion candidate can be a mortal sin if the intent is to support abortion, that abortion is not merely one issue among other important issues, and that no Catholic should endorse a pro-abortion politician if a plausible pro-life alternative is available.”
He also pointed out that he purposely did not endorse a candidate, “make myself or any human authority the judge of an individual's conscience” or “presume to know or determine for others what constitutes being a "plausible pro-life alternative" to a pro-abortion politician; I asserted only that there can be such.”
Since the Diocese of Charleston does not have a bishop, Archbishop Gregory has the final say on diocesan personnel decisions and was likely consulted on the statement repudiating Fr. Newman’s remarks.In the wake of the statement from the Diocese of Charleston, a group of local priests is organizing a public statement of support for Fr. Newman. The priests’ statement will also criticize the way his words were distorted by the media, CNA has learned.