The Associated Press reported a story on November 13 about a South Carolina Roman Catholic priest, Reverend Jay Scott Newman, who told his parishioners at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, SC that they should permit themselves from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama, due to the Democratic president-elect’s support of abortion.
Rev. Newman informed his parishioners that supporting Obama “constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil.” He said that Catholic Church goers are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote.
On November 14, the Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, SC, Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin issued a statement saying that Rev. Newman’s comments “have diverted the focus from the church’s clear position against abortion,” further stating that “Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings.”
Monsignor Laughlin went on to say that Catholics should support President-elect Obama with a view to influencing policy in favor of the protection of the unborn child. He said that “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.”
He added, “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.”
National exit polls showed that 54 percent of Catholics voted for Obama, who is Protestant. In Greenville County, SC where Rev. Newman made his statement, McCain held a 61 percent to 37 percent advantage over Obama in the Catholic vote, as well as carrying the state.
In Pennsylvania, McCain also earned the Catholic vote by a 52 percent to 48 percent tally, but lost the state to Obama by a 55 percent to 44 percent margin.
At St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Tyrone, Father Joseph Orr shared the same ideology as Rev. Newman in Greenville. Father Orr told his parishioners that “when we do something that supports a person’s sin, we are guilty of that sin.”
He explained, “It’s called material cooperation, and that’s a key phrase in everything that Rev. Newman says. We don’t have to actually do something to be guilty of the sin. We can be guilty of sinning because we had helped somebody else do it, enabled them you might say, to do it.”
Father Orr stated that the person who pays for an abortion is as guilty of the abortion just as the doctor who performed the abortion.
“A politician who is going to pass laws to promote abortion, who is going to pass laws to fund abortion, is guilty of abortion,” said Father Orr. “The person who enables that politician to do it should go to confession.”
He added, “That’s what they should do, but what the priest doesn’t know is who actually voted for the politician.”
With the size of the St. Matthew’s parish, Father Orr was almost certain that at least some of his parishioners had voted for Obama, and he feels that they should go to confession just the same as people who shop on Sunday, which encourages businesses to make people work on Sunday instead of attending church.
“When I spoke to the people about this, I pointed out at least half a dozen ways in which they could be materially cooperating in sin, and therefore, to go to confession,” explained Father Orr. “The priest in South Carolina was pointing out that among the sins of material cooperation would be somebody supporting a person who is going to promote the destruction of innocent life.”
Father Orr said that the topic of abortion in the Catholic Church has created much division among the priests. There are “pro-life” and “pro-choice” priests, which doesn’t always make the church’s stance “clear” to people.
“A lot of times what you hear being spoken by one priest or another priest can seem so totally opposite of each other, because of their coming from totally different perspectives,” stated Father Orr. “Sometimes priests are not really being truthful to what the church says.”
Father Orr also said that people can be confused by what he and Rev. Newman told their parishioners. He noted that they are asking the parish to not take Communion if they voted for Obama, and not “excommunicating” them. Priests do not have the power to excommunicate anyone, only bishops can hand down such punishment.
“There are times when a person sets themselves outside the Sacraments if they are doing something that is seriously sinful,” stated Father Orr. “They need to seek reconciliation with God before they receive Communion.”
He said that the problem is when a priest knows that somebody is in the state of sin, and although he can’t excommunicate that person, he has to inform him or her that he or she shouldn’t be receiving Communion.
Bishops have the power to excommunicate someone – even a political figure, such as Obama – for his or her stance on abortion, but Father Orr said that it rarely happens because of there being “no clear outline” in the church that says that excommunication is necessary in a case like abortion.
“Abortion is an excommunication offense,” said Father Orr. “A doctor who performs an abortion automatically excommunicates himself, however, a politician or a judge who feels that the law permits abortion and decides in favor of an abortion or abortion measures, they’re not automatically excommunicated.”
Father Orr couldn’t recall any instances in Pennsylvania where a bishop excommunicated anybody on the abortion issue, but he thinks it’s important to understand that what he asked of his parish, as well as Rev. Newman’s, is different.
“When we do something which is inherently evil, we should go to confession before going to Communion,” said Father Orr. “The issue among Catholic Theologians is that voting for an abortion candidate is inherently evil, and we can’t vote for them in good conscience.”
Ultimately, the St. Matthew’s priest says that it’s a matter of making a choice. He compared supporting a pro-abortion candidate to voting for a politician who would reinstate slavery or would deny Jewish people citizenship into the United States.
Abortion follows along those same lines of exclusionary topics when it comes to drawing support from Catholic voters, according to Father Orr. He said that if a candidate supports such issues, then it shouldn’t matter if that person will balance the economy or promise peace in the Middle East.
“If you have the opportunity to save a child from being hit by a car or picking up a $100 bill on the sidewalk, we say you first have to always protect the child,” added Father Orr. “There are people who will pick up the $100 bill.”
With Obama’s win in the election, Father Orr doesn’t see a drastic shift in Democrat voting among Catholics. He thinks that the difficulties for the Catholic vote this past election was that Sen. John McCain R-Ariz. wasn’t really a strong pro-life candidate, because he only moved in that direction when he needed to.
“McCain really wasn’t giving us much hope,” said Father Orr. “Some people I think thought that if the Republicans aren’t going to do something about abortion and really tackle it, then the people who have been concerned about that issue are going to start asking themselves if the Republicans are really any better than the Democrats.”
Father Orr said that people would change their thoughts on abortion if more “truth” was recognized about the abortion process, the aftermath, what it does to the child, and also the victimization of the woman.
“Can you imagine when the girl realizes that she killed perhaps the only baby she will ever bear?,” questioned Father Orr. “This is something that’s rarely talked about.”
He continued, “When you start looking at it, you have the worst atrocity against humanity. There is no person more innocent than a child. A baby has never done anything wrong, it’s only sin is that it’s not wanted.”
Father Orr, and most Catholics, consider abortion “the silent crime.” He thinks that continuing down that path of allowing the most innocent and defenseless people to be killed, will lead to nobody being safe across the country.
“Much of what is taking place in the United States today is very similar to what took place in Nazi Germany,” added Father Orr.
He said that Catholic priests and bishops have been warning people that they shouldn’t vote for abortionists.