Right or wrong?

Posted by: ST on November 14, 2008 at 11:10 am

CBS News reports on a controversial stance that a South Carolina Roman Catholic Church priest has taken on Catholics in his church who supported Barack Obama:

(CBS) A priest at a South Carolina Roman Catholic church says his parishioners shouldn’t take Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because of the Democrat’s stance on abortion.

The Reverend Jay Scott Newman said Thursday that church law doesn’t allow him to refuse parishioners the sacrament at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville.

But, reports CBS affiliate WSPA, Newman said his congregants shouldn’t take communion until they do penance for supporting the man he called the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president.

“We cannot leave our faith outside the voting booth,” Newman told WSPA.

“It was absolutely inconceivable that a Catholic could say, ‘I could vote for this otherwise extraordinary man and hope that the consequence won’t be a widening of the abortion license and an increase in the number of abortions,'” Newman said.

Newman said that if a voter through his or her political action (“whether intended or not”) contributed to the promotion of abortion, they need to “deal with it in the sacrament of penance.”

Click here to see the letter he wrote to his parishioners.

This is an issue that has gotten prominent Catholic politicians like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Ahhhnold in CA, and former NY mayor Rudy Giuliani in trouble with the Catholic church before.

Now, I’m not a Catholic, so I’ll need to defer to Catholic readers on the subject. But is what this priest is doing something similar to a traditional Christian church informing someone who is interested in being a deacon at their church that they can’t do so unless they repent for their sins and ask the Lord into their hearts? Furthermore, do you think it’s wrong of him to suggest they do penance over their support of Barack Obama before taking communion?

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22 Responses to “Right or wrong?”


  1. I’m a long-lapsed Catholic, but Church doctrine and canon law is absolutely clear on the matter: any support for abortion means automatic excommunication — the Church doesn’t have to do anything, the support itself is an act of self-excommunication. It’s been that way from the beginning. I’d say the priest is even waffling a bit: any Catholic who voted for Obama knowing his position on abortion is excommunicated and cannot receive communion, but Fr. Newman may be waiting to see what his bishop says.

    Ed Morrissey at Hot Air has written quite a bit about this, ST. You might want to dig through the archives there.

  2. Great White Rat says:

    If I understand the sacrament of penance correctly, it involves admitting a sin and making it right with God (Catholics here, please correct me if that’s wrong). If that’s the case, then this priest is saying that voting for any pro-abortion politician – not only Obama – is a sin.

    I think it’s a bit of a stretch for the priest to suggest that casting such a vote means a parishioner is sinning, although I can understand that Church doctrine might hold that tacitly endorsing more abortions is wrong. I have no problem with him suggesting that this should be on the conscience of the individual believer and should be confessed to God.

    I have a big problem with the idea that everyone who voted for Obama needs to come to a priest and personally own up to it. We aren’t in a theocracy where church officials get to check how you vote. My view is that owning up to my sins is between me and God, not to any intermediary.

  3. Larry Sheldon says:

    As long as he doesn’t try to impose his directive on non-parishioners (and as long as all doors in the building can be opened from the inside), what he does not any of my business, or yours.

  4. Patrick the Paragraph Farmer says:


    I am Catholic, and I think your analagy is pretty good. I’d only quibble about your implicit assumption that Catholicism isn’t a “traditional Christian church.” :d

    Rev. Newman is calling parishioners who voted for Obama to repentance, not because Obama is a bad person, but because Obama’s well-known support for abortion puts him at odds with both “Natural Law” and the foundation of Catholic social teaching, which might be summarized as “choose life” — and yes, the scriptural echo is intentional.

    Because we Catholics believe that it is really the Lord Jesus whom we receive in Communion, and because the church teaches that abortion is a grave evil, Rev. Newman is basically paraphrasing what Saint Paul wrote in First Corinthians chapter 11 about inviting God’s condemnation if we receive the Lord unworthily. Anyone who abets evil by voting for a politician who publicly supports it (esp. when a pro-life alternative exists) has sinned, and per Mt. 16:19 and other verses, should repent of that sin before presenting him- or herself at the altar. The sacrament of Penance — sometimes called “Reconciliation” — is that Catholic way to do that.

    Needless to say, although the moral logic involved is unassailable, this is not a popular position.

  5. ew says:

    I hear the argument and still think it’s ridiculous. This preist can have his opinion and should indeed encourage his congregation to vote their conscience and think about issues that would conflict with their faith. BUT he can’t say voting for a candidate is a sin that need penance. Why could one not vote for Obama and still be strongly against abortion. Abortion isn’t the only issue. I know the liberal illuminati did a lot to not talk about this issue during the election, because it is a major issue but it’s not the only issue. And strongly believe that one could vote for Obama for many religiously righteous reason despite a strong disagreement on the Abortion issue.

  6. Lorica says:

    Patrick you are absolutely correct. It is not ridiculous to believe that by enabling evil, you yourself are committing evil. Voting for people who are so committed to abortion/infanticide is voting for that to continue uninhibited. We decry the Nazi’s for Hitler’s sins don’t we?? How many babies were sacrificed on the alter of Asher when she was worshipped?? How many babies are being sacrificed on the alter of convenience today???

    If you are a Catholic, and you voted for Barack, you should have expected this. It is silly to think that this comes as some sort of surprise to Catholics anywhere. – Lorica

  7. The Watcher says:

    I’m not Catholic, but I understand the importance of not compromising Christian doctrine. Taking this from a more secular standpoint, think on this: when you join an organization, you agree to abide by their rules and regulations. If you don’t agree, you either don’t join or you stand the risk of being ousted. Now, think of Christianity (in this case, the Catholic Church) as an organization. One of their rules is that abortion is a sin (this is based on almost-2000-year-old doctrine, by the way). Now, if you vote for someone who wants free-reign for abortion, are you not supporting that person’s platform, in essence, supporting abortion? And if you’re supporting abortion (in this case), you are going directly against Catholic church doctrine. Therefore (as with any other organization), you stand the risk of being ousted from your membership – in this case, excommunication from the Catholic Church.

    In this case, I don’t think Reverend Newman is at all in the wrong. In fact, I applaud his effort. At least he’s willing to take heat for not compromising the faith he professes, unlike Pelosi, Biden and their ilk.

  8. BUT he can’t say voting for a candidate is a sin that need penance.

    EW, as far as Catholics and Roman Catholicism go, you’re wrong. Abortion is a bedrock, foundational issue for the Church, and any Catholic who does not follow that teaching excommunicates himself from the Church. Here are two paragraphs from the catechism:

    2274. Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.


    2322. From its conception, the child has the right to life. Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, is a “criminal” practice (GS 27 § 3), gravely contrary to the moral law. The Church imposes the canonical penalty of excommunication for this crime against human life.

    A Catholic who enables abortion, in this case by voting for a candidate sworn to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (as Obama has promised), becomes a participant in the act and, by Church teaching, is automatically in a state of mortal sin and excommunicated.

    You may disagree with the policy. That’s fine. As I wrote, I’m an ex-Catholic who left the Church over other disagreements. But, to put it in modern terms, an organization has the right to determine the terms of membership and to draw lines the crossing of which end that membership. Abortion is one such issue for the Catholic Church, and has been for nearly 2,000 years. The priest was doing his duty when, in effect, he warned his parishioners that, in the eyes of the Church, they were endangering their immortal souls.

    At the same time, Catholics who disagree with Church teaching are free to find another sect of Christianity to join, or another religion altogether. No one’s holding a sword to their necks and demanding they obey. But they can’t logically violate Church teaching on so fundamental an issue and expect to remain part of the Church.

  9. Dana says:

    Anthony wrote:

    I’m a long-lapsed Catholic, but Church doctrine and canon law is absolutely clear on the matter: any support for abortion means automatic excommunication — the Church doesn’t have to do anything, the support itself is an act of self-excommunication.

    Anthony is incorrect. Actually procuring an abortion or performing one or paying for one incurs a latae sententiae excommunication, but simply supporting abortion rights does not. The operative statute is Canon 1398. Even there, there are exceptions.

  10. Nina says:

    If you are a real Catholic you are against abortion. Abortion is a sin in the Church and punishable by excommunication. As a Catholic Ob/Gyn my priest many times explained to me the sanctity of life. No difference from the teachings I received while in Catholic school.

    The problem is with American Catholics like Pelosi and the Kennedys. They should be thrown out of the Church as you cannot be pro choice and be a Catholic. It is a shame the Church does not throw them out. The Church needs to stop playing politics with these idiots that do not follow it’s doctrine. A vote for Obama is a vote for abortion and no penance can eliminate your facilitating a death by supporting his policies.

  11. Dana says:

    I’m your Mass every Sunday Catholic reader. The Church holds that there are many things in secular life which should be influenced by our religious faith, but the Church has put a special emphasis on being pro-life. Pope Benedict noted that none of the other things matter if the basic right to life is denied, and that was strongly noted in many dioceses before the election.

    If you were to look at Catholic social positions, you’d find that the majority fall more closely with the Democrats than Republicsns, but the bishops have said that the pro-life position is of paramount importance.

    Please note that the Catholic position is that all life must be respected from conception until natural death; that includes opposition to capital punishment.

  12. Dana, isn’t there a fundamental line yet to be crossed in your argument? I can support abortion rights intellectually, yet refrain from any action of support. In that case I would say you’re right. However, if I vote for a candidate who has promised to sign FOCA and I know what that entails, then I would think that is indeed grounds for excommunication latae sententiae. From the article you cite:

    Conspirators who incur the excommunication can be defined as those who make access to the abortion possible. This certainly includes doctors and nurses who actually do it, husbands, family and others whose counsel and encouragement made it morally possible for the woman, and those whose direct practical support made it possible (financially, driving to the clinic etc.).

    (Emphasis mine.)
    That, I think, would include Catholic voters who voted for Obama, should he sign FOCA.

  13. Dana says:

    Anthony, your comment takes the argument to its logical conclusion, but that is further than canon law goes. The entire text of Canon 1398 is:

    A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

    That’s it, ath’s all there is. In November of 2002, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who now reigns as Pope Benedict XVI) published the Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life, and it did not go so far as to say that Catholic politicians who support abortion-enabling legislation should be excommunicated.

    There was considerable debate during the 2004 presidential campaign about whether John Kerry, nominally a Catholic, ought to be denied the Eucharist due to his support for abortion. A couple of bishops made noises along those lines, but just a couple. There was similar talk this year, though less of it, concerning whether Joe Biden, a Catholic, should be denied the Eucharist, for the same reasons; nothing came of it. As it happens, the Bishop of Wilmington, the Most Reverend Michael Saltarelli, retired earlier in the campaign season, and his successor, the Most Reverend Francis Malooly, was new to the diocese and wasn’t about to take on this issue.

  14. Dana:

    Fair enough, and far be it from me to get ahead of the Vatican. :">

    Thanks for the education. :)

  15. Gabby says:

    I think the good Father in South Carolina was spot on.

    BHO has said that the very first thing he would do would be to reverse every executive directive that he could in order to make abortion of every sort as available as possible.

    The Catholic Church equates abortion with murder. Enabling murder (and voting for BHO did just that) of any sort puts a parishoner in direct opposition to church doctrines in such a fundamental way that they in fact ex-communicate themselves until they come back to the church via repentance. (The act that separates one from communion with the church is referred to a serious SIN–not a polite word these days).

    At least the priest understands the issues clearly and has had the courage and clarity of thinking to speak out. Too bad half of professed Roman Catholics in the US don’t or don’t want to. I cannot understand their thinking–assuming that they even allowed themselves to think about it.

  16. K says:

    The Catholic Church has teachings. It is a Church of teachings, not merely opinions, and you can read those teachings in The Catechism of the Catholic Church. One of the Church’s teachings is that persons who have engaged in serious sin and have not yet availed themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (aka Confession, Penance) may not receive the Eucharist.

    Catechism Paragraph 1415: Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.

    Obama’s record of beliefs and actions on abortion is clear — total permission, 9 months, no restrictions. He had the chance to modify that by voting in favor of Born Alive Infants Protection, and four times he passed up that opportunity. Four Times. He is already engaged in daily communications with Planned Parenthood, preparing to revoke the Mexico City restrictions on federal funding of abortion worldwide. It’s clear where he stands and voting for him facilitates all he does for free and open abortions, 9 months, worldwide.

    The salient question is this: does voting for someone with a clear and consistent record on a moral evil constitute support for that evil? I say yes, and the priest in question apparently agrees with me. Here are the teachings right from the Catechism:

    Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

    You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75

    God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76

  17. BeachBabe NC says:

    WELL… Im Catholic. I have many issues with this subject. I dont recall anyone saying anything like this if or when they voted for Bill Clinton. I think it is appalling that someone especially a Priest say that at a Mass. Abortion has always been one of those issues that gets too much hype. I do not believe that abortion should be used as a form of birth control. I also do not believe that someone who voted for Obama as President should be left out of getting the Holy Communion. THE ONLY TIME YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO GET THE EUCHARIST IS IF YOU HAVE DENOUNCED GOD!

    Thats my story and Im sticking to it. I asked my Priest that question not too long ago when I was filing for my anullment last year. I thought because I was DIVORCED and Catholic that me taking the Eucharist was wrong. Opinions are everywhere they are like buttholes… EVERY one has one!!

  18. MissJean says:

    BeachBabe, abortion being wrong is NOT an opinion. It’s the Church teaching.


    It’s a shame, because that’s just plain wrong. You can’t receive the Eucharist if you’ve committed a mortal sin, which includes any time you know you’re doing something wrong and do it anyway.

    Besides, if you’re Catholic, you know that the Eucharist is Christ, not just a piece of bread. You also know that Catholics should receive the Sacrament of Penance regularly. So what’s the problem if the priest tells his parishioners that yes, they are culpable for putting into office a man who intends to make abortion a “right”.

    As for “abortion getting too much hype” – do you feel the same way about rape? How about murder? Child molestation? I mean, there are plenty of people who have the OPINION that the age of consent should be abolished. There are plenty of men (far to many) who think that a 13-year-old is “asking for it” if she’s dressing like she’s older.

  19. BeachBabe NC says:

    Miss Jean….Well then I guess women who use birth control instead of the “natural way” is a sin in your book as well. Should they be allowed to get Communion?
    As Catholic church teaches you should use Natural birth control. It is called the Rhythm method.
    Miss Jean NO WHERE in my post did I say that the Eucharist was just a Piece of bread that came from YOUR lips not mine. I know what it is when I receive it on Sunday. I know that WITHIN MYSELF I deserve it. Abortion getting too much hype is one thing. Nothing has been done to stop it under a Conservative President. Yes they can appoint a judge, but have they? NO. I wasnt talking about Rape, Child molestation, although dont go there because Im sure if you commit child molestastion you will NOT be allowed to take communion. Some Priest have had that problem already. Im sure they are tucked away from Society so that it will never happen again. A Priest where Im from was taken out of MY church for that very reason not too long ago. ( FYI after that happened I didnt go back to that church )

    My stance on Abortion is morally wrong for ME. I tell you what Miss Jean, You give me YOUR ovaries so that I can carry a child because for some reason GOD didnt want me to have working ones. Am I a sinner, am I a bad person because I can not have children.? Under Catholic laws it states that when I get married in a Catholic church every time I make love to my husband it should be for the purpose of creating a child. Hmmm what does that mean in my case? Should I still be allowed to have Communion on Sunday? I tell you what… You go out there and gather up all the babies that people dont want and give them to me.. I would GLADLY take all of them. I do think it is wrong for someone else to tell their parishioners how to vote. That is a right that WE as Americans have earned. Maybe I go to a more laid back Catholic church. I dont know. My Priest sometimes says a bad word too.. :o He takes communion.
    I do not agree with BO on the abortion stance. I do not agree with BO on anything just as of yet. I dont not think that anyone 16, 17, or 18 yrs old should be able to go and get an abortion without parents consent. I personally think it is the job of the parents to teach the child between right and wrong. If parents did that I think our country would not be having some of the problems it is having.
    But I do feel however it is not right that someone bring politics into the church! PERIOD!!!!! You know as Methodist, Baptist, Catholic etc.. what your personal beliefs are, and that of your church. you do what you feel PERSONALLY would work best for you.If you need extra guidence Im sure the church would be there for you if you asked for it. But for him to say that to his parishioners I think was wrong and Im glad that my church isnt like that!

  20. MissJean says:

    “Am I a sinner, am I a bad person because I can not have children.? Under Catholic laws it states that when I get married in a Catholic church every time I make love to my husband it should be for the purpose of creating a child. Hmmm what does that mean in my case?”

    That’s ludricrous. You should know that the Church says married couples should be “open to children” when they have sex. It doesn’t say that if you’re childless you can’t have sex with your husband. And it certainly doesn’t say that nuns can’t receive communion because they’re childless.

    I never said anything about the Eucharist being just a piece of bread. I typed it. :) My point was that people are acting as if it’s something they’re entitled to, not something to make themselves worthy of.

    Seriously, you’re coming across as so angry, I’m not sure if you mean any of your post to be taken seriously or not.

    But I really do think that’s politics HAS to be a part of church, just as it was during the time of abolition and during the fight for Civil Rights. Human rights is Christian business, after all.

  21. BeachBabe NC says:

    Not Angry at all.. I did mean every thing I said/ typed. :d
    I think you are mis reading some of my text. Its alright.. It is just a miscommunication. Me being childless I dont think is a sin. Ahh never mind.. I feel like Im beating a dead horse with this subject..
    We disagree Miss Jean on this subject. You are for the Priest bringing politics in church and I am against it. I think they should be kept separate. I agree to disagree with you

  22. MissJean says:

    BeachBabe, I can’t have children myself, something I’ve known since I was 19. It’s genetic, so it’s been a common topic in my family. Therefore, I thought you were seriously being scrupulous Sorry.