(RNS) Catholics who vote for politicians who support abortion rights
or gay marriage will be banned from Communion until they have "recanted
their positions" and confessed their sin, a Colorado bishop warned.
Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs said any Catholic who does
not reflect church teaching in the voting booth "makes a mockery of that
faith and belies his identity as a Catholic."
Sheridan's May 1 directive is believed to be the first in the nation
that would apply to voters the same controversial sanctions proposed by some
bishops against abortion-rights Catholic politicians.
It is also one of the most drastic -- equating a particular vote with
sinful activity. Sheridan's order applies only to his diocese of 785,000
"As in the matter of abortion, any Catholic politician who would promote
so-called `same-sex marriage' and any Catholic who would vote for that
political candidate place themselves outside the full communion of the
church and may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their
positions and been reconciled by the Sacrament of Penance," Sheridan said.
While Sheridan's letter appears to condemn any vote for likely
Democratic nominee John Kerry, Sheridan insisted that "the church never
directs 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 to
choose the procedure.
Sheridan's letter comes as Catholic bishops continue to debate the best
ways to treat Catholic politicians who dissent from church teaching, a
matter that is especially touchy during an election year.
St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke was the first to say he would deny
Kerry the Eucharist, while others -- including Archbishops Sean O'Malley of
Boston, 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 of
nearby Denver, who said last month that "real Catholics" should vote only
for Catholic politicians who "act Catholic in their public service and
Singling out either Catholic voters or Catholic politicians is
unacceptable, said Frances Kissling, president of the independent Catholics
for a Free Choice.
"To a secular mind-set, it's more offensive to tell someone how to vote
than it is to complain about a policy-maker," she said. "But from a
religious perspective, both are equally offensive."
Catholic leaders rarely equate votes with sin. In 1996, retired
Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans outraged Democrats when he said it
was a "sin" to vote for either President Bill Clinton or Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Other prelates, meanwhile, are urging caution. In an interview with the
National Catholic Reporter newspaper, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of
Cincinnati said he would not want to "deny the sacraments to anybody
"We need to be very cautious about denying people the sacraments on the
basis of what they say they believe, especially when those are political
beliefs," said Pilarczyk, an influential moderate voice and former president
of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who is heading a task force
that is examining the issue, reasserted that he does not want to use the
Eucharist as "a sanction."
"I do not favor a confrontation at the altar rail with the Sacred Body
of the Lord Jesus in my hand," McCarrick wrote on Thursday (May 13) in his
weekly column for his archdiocesan newspaper.
"There are apparently those who would welcome such a conflict, for good
reasons, I am sure, or for political ones, but I would not."
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, considered one of the church's
more progressive leaders, seemed perplexed by the controversy.
"I'm slightly mystified why all this is all coming up now," he told
Catholic News Service. "We've had pro-choice Catholic politicians going to
Communion since Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized