The following documents are useful in clarifying the truth of what Father Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina, said in the aftermath of the November 4 election about conscience, voting, material cooperation with intrinsic evil, repentance, and the reception of holy communion. The truth in this case has been distorted by media reports, which have unfortunately been taken at face value by certain ecclesiastical authorities and by those in the Catholic blogosphere supportive of the Obama candidacy. We publish these documents in order to set the public record straight on a matter of grave importance to both the Catholic Church and the United States—and as a challenge to all concerned in this matter, which has drawn worldwide attention, to tell the truth.
1. Pastor’s Bulletin Column, St. Mary’s, Greenville, November 9, 2008.
Dear Friends in Christ,
We the People have spoken, and the 44th President of the United States will be Barack Hussein Obama. This election ends a political process that started two years ago and which has revealed deep and bitter divisions within the United States and also within the Catholic Church in the United States. This division is sometimes called a “Culture War,” by which is meant a heated clash between two radically different and incompatible conceptions of how we should order our common life together, the public life that constitutes civil society. And the chief battleground in this culture war for the past 30 years has been abortion, which one side regards as a murderous abomination that cries out to Heaven for vengeance and the other side regards 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. We must also take note of the fact that this election was effectively decided by the votes of self-described (but not practicing) Catholics, the majority of whom cast their ballots for President-elect Obama.
In response to this, I am obliged by my duty as your shepherd to make two observations:
1. 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. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.
2. Barack Obama, although we must always and everywhere disagree with him over abortion, has been duly elected the next President of the United States, and after he takes the Oath of Office next January 20th he will hold legitimate authority in this nation. For this reason, we are obliged by Scriptural precept to pray for him and to cooperate with him whenever conscience does not bind us otherwise. 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. In the time of President Obama’s service to our country, let us pray for him in the words of a prayer found in the Roman Missal: God our Father, all earthly powers must serve you. Help our President-elect, Barack Obama, to fulfill his responsibilities worthily and well. By honoring and striving to please you at all times, may he secure peace and freedom for the people entrusted to him. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, how lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
II. Father Newman’s responses to an inquiry from the Greenville News, November 12, 2008.
Dear Mr. Szobody,
In response to your questions, here are my answers:
Question 1. In your letter, you refer to abortion as the “chief battleground” in the culture wars, and to Obama as “the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president.” You also note that the election was decided by self-described Catholics. In your view, does this result illustrate a disconnect between Catholic theology and the actual practice of parishioners?
Reply 1. In February 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published the results of a nationwide study which revealed that one quarter of all Americans who were raised as Catholics no longer consider themselves Catholics. And even among the 65 million Americans who still call themselves Catholics, fewer than 25 percent practice the Catholic by attending Mass each Sunday. These data point to a disturbing fact of life for the Catholic Church in the United States: the vast majority of baptized Catholics do not live as disciples of Jesus Christ in any observable way, and so we should not be surprised that so many people who call themselves Catholics do not live according to the teaching of the Catholic Church. A careful review of election data reveals a very strong correlation between Mass attendance and political choices. Practicing Catholics who attend Mass vote overwhelmingly for pro-life candidates, and lapsed Catholics who do not attend Mass usually vote for pro-abortion candidates.
Question 2. You say that voting for a pro-abortion politician, when there’s a plausible pro-life alternative, amounts to “material cooperation with intrinsic evil.” In speaking with the diocese spokesman today, he mentioned that this is church policy insofar as people vote deliberately and intentionally while knowing what’s at stake. Does this reflect your view (that a deliberate act, as opposed to an unknowing or ill-informed one, is what amounts to “material cooperation”)?
Reply 2. An uninformed vote is an irresponsible vote, and so I hope that no citizen would ever cast an uninformed vote. In this election, there was no way an informed voter could not be aware that Senator McCain is pro-life and Senator Obama is pro-abortion, and those who chose to vote for Senator Obama, whether because of or in spite or his position on abortion, nonetheless voted for a pro-abortion candidate who has pledged his vigorous support for the Freedom of Choice Act which will abolish current legal restrictions on abortion in every state of the Union, including parental notification requirements and the existing “conscience clauses” which allow Catholic doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and hospitals to refuse to be involved in any way with abortions. For this reason, no matter what the intention of the voter, support for Senator Obama was necessarily material cooperation with his clearly stated goal to extend the private and unrestricted use of lethal violence against unborn children throughout this nation and to export the same abroad as part of our official foreign policy. The other issues in this campaign (health care, education, immigration, education, and the war on terror) are all prudential matters over which reasonable people may disagree, but abortion is not the same. In the teaching of the Catholic Church, abortion is murder; it is evil in itself and can never be made good or even morally neutral by any intention or circumstance. A Catholic who gets an abortion, a Catholic who encourages or pays for an abortion, and a Catholic who performs or assists at an abortion are, by the fact of the abortion, automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church. This automatic penalty does not apply to any other form of murder, and the reason is that abortion is usually murder in secret and it lays the axe to human life at its root. President-elect Obama intends to do everything in his power to make this hidden murder (which has since Roe v. Wade cost nearly 50 million American lives) a fundamental right protected in law and enforced by the coercive authority of the federal government, and anyone who voted to give him this power will be complicit in the legal holocaust which will follow.
Question 3. To be sure I’m clear, are you saying that you’ll administer a no-communion policy unless Obama voters partake in penance, or is this a more broad matter of what parishioners “should” do, left to their own private discernment?
Reply 3. In my bulletin column, I taught that anyone complicit in an evil act must be reconciled to God and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion. That is, and has been from the beginning of Christianity, the teaching of the Catholic Church. But the Church also teaches that no one is to be denied Holy Communion unless grave scandal would be given by a notorious public sinner committing a sacrilege. An example might be a known gangster and murderer attempting to receive Communion at the funeral of a Mafia don. Accordingly, I cannot and will not refuse Holy Communion to anyone because of his or her political opinions or choices, even as I continue to teach what the Church teaches about the necessity of being in full, visible communion with the Church before receiving the sacraments. Only those who believe what the Catholic Church teaches and who seek to live according to that teaching should even be interested in receiving the sacraments of the Church, and on the question of the intrinsic and grave evil of abortion, there is and can be no doubt about what the Church teaches.
Question 4. You also note the Scriptural admonition to cooperate and pray for governmental leaders. In your view, should the Catholic Church at large and Catholic individuals in particular seek to work with the Obama administration to accomplish church goals?
Reply 4. Christians in every nation have the moral duty to respect legitimate authority, to cooperate with those in authority to promote the common good, and to pray for those in authority that they will discharge their duties in conformity with the law of God. For this reason, I insisted my bulletin column that Catholics in America must pray for President-elect Obama, respect the authority that will be his after his inauguration, and work with him in good faith on any matter that does not require us to oppose him, like his support of abortion. The Catholic Bishops of the United States have reiterated these principles at their meeting this week in Baltimore.
Question 5. What reaction have you received from parishioners?
Reply 5. The responses from the people of St. Mary’s to my bulletin column have been supportive and congratulatory by a margin by nine to one.
Finally, as background information for understanding the context in which the text of my bulletin column was written, please have a look at the eight principles which guide all pastoral practice at St. Mary’s.
III. Greenville News story, November 13, 2008. Note that the reporter misreports what Father Newman said in the written interview. Note also that the diocesan spokesman is supportive of Father Newman.
Priest advises penance for Obama vote
Parishioners shouldn’t take Communion until they do because of president-elect’s abortion view, he says
By Ben Szobody
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.
IV. Father Newman’s response to thousands of emails received after the AP story ran, making clear that both the Greenville News and the AP misreported what he had said.
Last Sunday, 9 November 2008, I published a column in my parish bulletin which attracted the attention of the local newspaper, the Greenville News, which published a story on Thursday 13 November. That story, in turn, attracted the attention of the Associated Press which was quickly picked up by news services throughout the English-speaking world. In the past twelve hours I have received over 4,000 emails from around the globe, and whether praise or blame is being assigned, it usually for something that I have not done. The AP story and, perhaps worse, the headline attached to the story gave the impression that I intended to deny Holy Communion to anyone who voted for Barack Obama last week. This, of course, is absurd is on its face, and the two documents I have attached to this email are a brief attempt to the falsehoods and misrepresentations present in the AP story and other based upon it. . . .
In truth, had I known while writing the original bulletin that my words would be read beyond my parish, I would have given much greater care to my formulation of the problem posed by voting for a pro-abortion politician. These columns are written every week for our little bulletin and are almost always written in haste against the deadline of getting the pages printed at the end of a busy week. Last week’s column was no exception to this rule and was not meant to be a careful or systematic treatment of even one part of a complex issue.
V. Statement of the diocesan administrator, November 14, 2008.
Statement of Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin
Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston
This past week, the Catholic Church’s clear, moral teaching on the evil of abortion has been pulled into the partisan political arena. The recent comments of Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C., have diverted the focus from the Church’s clear position against abortion. As Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, let me state with clarity that Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings. Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.” The Catechism goes on to state: “In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.”
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. 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.
We should all come together to support the President-elect and all elected officials with a view to influencing policy in favor of the protection of the unborn child. Let us pray for them and ask God to guide them as they take the mantle of leadership on January 20, 2009.
I ask also for your continued prayers for me and for the Diocese of Charleston.
VI. Greenville News on Msgr. Laughlin’s Statement, November 15, 2008.
S.C. diocese critical of Greenville priest’s Obama comments
By Eric Connor
South Carolina’s Charleston-based Roman Catholic Diocese said Friday that it doesn’t believe parishioners who voted for Barack Obama should have to seek penance before partaking Holy Communion, a condition a Greenville priest suggested this week because of Obama’s stance on abortion.
The priest, Father Jay Scott Newman of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, couldn’t be reached for comment late Friday.
“As administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, let me state with clarity that Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings,” Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin said Friday in a posting on the diocese’s Web site. “Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated.”
On Friday, Newman said in a message posted on St. Mary’s church Web site that his original statement had been misunderstood. Newman said that he didn’t intend for his comments to be seen beyond his parish and that he has received more than 3,500 emails from across the globe both in support of and condemning his comments.
In Friday’s posting, Newman said that voting for Obama isn’t “in itself or by itself a mortal sin” but 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.”
Earlier this week, Newman wrote to his parishioners in a church news bulletin that anyone “voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.”
Newman advised parishioners who voted for Obama to do penance before participating in communion “lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.”
On Friday, Laughlin said in his posting that “… 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.”
Laughlin said in the statement that “we should all come together to support the President-elect and all elected officials with a view to influencing policy in favor of the protection of the unborn child.”
Earlier this week, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charleston told The Greenville 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.
The spokesman, Stephen Gajdosik, said such a move is appropriate and in line with church teaching.
Obama opposes a constitutional amendment overturning the historic Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade.
During the presidential campaign, Republican John McCain and his vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, expressed support for overturning the high court’s abortion decision.