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Catholic Priests Denying Obama Supporters Communion Over Abortion Issue

November 17, 2008 02:32 PM
by Christopher Coats
A South Carolina priest waded into the debate over denying the Eucharist to pro-choice politicians by extending the punishment to supporters as well.

Expanding Ban to Supporters

A South Carolina priest became the latest to deny supporters of President-elect Barack Obama the Eucharist due to Obama’s pro-choice stance on abortion. 

Criticizing Obama directly in a letter to parishioners, Rev. Jay Scott Newman argued that voting for a pro-choice candidate when an anti-abortion alternative is available “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.”

Quickly rebuked by the Diocese of Charleston, according to The State, Newman became the latest to suggest that the support of a candidate whose political beliefs differed from those of the Catholic Church should result in the denial of the Holy Eucharist.

An issue in previous election years, the debate has usually focused on whether Catholic politicians should be given communion if their beliefs differ from the Church, including John Kerry in 2004.

However, this year, the question of communion spread to those private citizens who voiced their support for the Democratic candidate.

Earlier this year, a staunch Republican and member of the Reagan Justice Department, Douglas Kmiec, was denied communion after voicing his support for Obama, despite his anti-abortion stance. 

A law professor at Pepperdine University, Kmiec defended his support of Obama, stating that he had not given up his anti-abortion stance but was disturbed by what he saw as the church’s use of “Communion as a weapon,” according to The Washington Post.

Kmiec later said that he would renounce his support of Obama if Pope Benedict told him to, addressing a Vatican stance that critics and supporters have interpreted in different ways.

Background: A clear opinion but no instructions

In 2004, a document prepared by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger stated that it was “not necessarily sinful for Catholics to vote for politicians who support abortion, as long as they are voting for that candidate for other reasons.”

The document was leaked and printed in an Italian newspaper, and although the Vatican did not deny it, it did not fully endorse it.

According to BeliefNet, around the same time, Ratzinger sent a letter to U.S. Catholic bishops stating that abortion trumped all other sins, but generally left the question of whether or not to deny communion up to the individual bishop.

As pope, Ratzinger appeared to take a harder stance on the issue, telling reporters in May 2007 that pro-choice politicians should not only be denied communion, but face the possibility of excommunication for supporting “the killing of a human child.” 

Opinion & Analysis: Sharp words from both sides

While the Vatican has stopped short of issuing an official opinion on supporters of the Obama campaign, high-ranking Catholic officials have not shied away from offering sharp criticism for the president-elect. Addressing a crowd of students at the Catholic University of America, James Francis Cardinal Stafford called Obama “aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic” mainly for his stance on abortion rights.

Largely silent on the issue of denying communion thus far, Congressional Democratic Catholics were far more vocal when the issue arose in 2004, drafting a statement on behalf of 48 members of Congress to voice their concern about what they saw as “miring the Church in partisan politics.”

Related Topic: GOP not safe

Deflating the suggestion that the denial of communion is a party-based issue, a priest from the New York church where former mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani married his second wife said that he would not allow him to take communion, citing his public support of abortion.

Hardly relegated to the United States, last year saw Angel Lagdameo, president of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, declare support for an archbishop who had denied communion to politicians based on their support for abortion rights.

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