(RNS) Catholics who vote for politicians who support abortion rightsor gay marriage will be banned from Communion until they have "recantedtheir positions" and confessed their sin, a Colorado bishop warned. Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs said any Catholic who doesnot reflect church teaching in the voting booth "makes a mockery of thatfaith and belies his identity as a Catholic." Sheridan's May 1 directive is believed to be the first in the nationthat would apply to voters the same controversial sanctions proposed by somebishops against abortion-rights Catholic politicians. It is also one of the most drastic -- equating a particular vote withsinful activity. Sheridan's order applies only to his diocese of 785,000Catholics. "As in the matter of abortion, any Catholic politician who would promoteso-called `same-sex marriage' and any Catholic who would vote for thatpolitical candidate place themselves outside the full communion of thechurch and may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted theirpositions and been reconciled by the Sacrament of Penance," Sheridan said. While Sheridan's letter appears to condemn any vote for likelyDemocratic nominee John Kerry, Sheridan insisted that "the church neverdirects citizens to vote for any specific candidate." Kerry, the first Catholic with a shot at the White House in 44 years,has said he personally opposes abortion but supports a woman's right tochoose the procedure. Sheridan's letter comes as Catholic bishops continue to debate the bestways to treat Catholic politicians who dissent from church teaching, amatter that is especially touchy during an election year.
St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke was the first to say he would denyKerry the Eucharist, while others -- including Archbishops Sean O'Malley ofBoston, Alfred Hughes of New Orleans and John Vlazny of Portland, Ore. --have urged dissenting politicians to not approach the Communion rail. Sheridan's instructions echo those of Archbishop Charles Chaput ofnearby Denver, who said last month that "real Catholics" should vote onlyfor Catholic politicians who "act Catholic in their public service andpolitical choices."Singling out either Catholic voters or Catholic politicians isunacceptable, said Frances Kissling, president of the independent Catholicsfor a Free Choice. "To a secular mind-set, it's more offensive to tell someone how to votethan it is to complain about a policy-maker," she said. "But from areligious perspective, both are equally offensive." Catholic leaders rarely equate votes with sin. In 1996, retiredArchbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans outraged Democrats when he said itwas a "sin" to vote for either President Bill Clinton or Sen. Mary Landrieu. Other prelates, meanwhile, are urging caution. In an interview with theNational Catholic Reporter newspaper, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk ofCincinnati said he would not want to "deny the sacraments to anybodyunjustly." "We need to be very cautious about denying people the sacraments on thebasis of what they say they believe, especially when those are politicalbeliefs," said Pilarczyk, an influential moderate voice and former presidentof the U.
S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who is heading a task forcethat is examining the issue, reasserted that he does not want to use theEucharist as "a sanction." "I do not favor a confrontation at the altar rail with the Sacred Bodyof the Lord Jesus in my hand," McCarrick wrote on Thursday (May 13) in hisweekly column for his archdiocesan newspaper. "There are apparently those who would welcome such a conflict, for goodreasons, I am sure, or for political ones, but I would not." Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, considered one of the church'smore progressive leaders, seemed perplexed by the controversy.

"I'm slightly mystified why all this is all coming up now," he toldCatholic News Service. "We've had pro-choice Catholic politicians going toCommunion since Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalizedabortion.