More Bishops Inject Faith into Catholic Political Life
Two more Catholic bishops have waded into election-year politics by telling members of their dioceses they should stop taking Communion if they are at odds with church teachings and if they vote for politicians who advocate policies contrary to church teachings.
Portland, Ore., Archbishop John G. Vlazny declared in a May 6 column in his diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Sentinel, that any Catholic in his 298,000-member diocese who is “publicly” at odds with church teachings on abortion and same-sex “marriage” should refrain from the sacrament.
Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs went even further by saying in a May 5 pastoral letter that he will deny Communion to any Catholic politician who advocates abortion, “illicit” stem-cell research or any form of euthanasia.
Four Catholic bishops have now forbidden Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians. Besides Bishop Sheridan, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., and Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden, N.J., have also taken this stance.
Archbishop Vlazny is one of 15 additional bishops who have taken a softer stance by asking politicians to abstain from the sacrament.
Bishop Sheridan added that the Catholics within his 125,000-member diocese who vote for such politicians, would “suffer the same fateful consequences” and would be denied Communion.
Neither of the two groups may receive Communion “until they have recanted their positions, and reconciled with God and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance,” he wrote.
His position goes further than that of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, chairman of a bishops task force that is attempting to deal with pro-choice Catholic politicians.
The cardinal, who met secretly April 15 with presumptive Democratic Party presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said Thursday in a diocesan newspaper column that individual Catholics must make their own choices on whether they should receive Communion.
Referring to a series of recent full-page newspaper ads criticizing him for not withholding Communion from pro-choice Catholic politicians, Cardinal McCarrick said he had conferred with his superiors about the matter during a recent visit to Rome.
“It was clear that so many of the highest authorities in the church are in agreement with my position,” he said. Although some believe the Eucharist should be denied as a public sanction, he added, “as a priest and bishop, I do not favor a confrontation at the altar rail with the sacred body of the Lord Jesus in my hand.”
But Bishop Sheridan disagrees. He defended his position by saying that Catholics should approach the polls this November “with a well-informed conscience.”
“Not all issues are of equal gravity,” he wrote. “The right to life,” he added “is the right that grounds all other human rights. That is the issue that trumps all other issues.”
He also criticized same-sex “marriage” in his letter, saying that any Catholic politician in his diocese who promotes it and any Catholic who votes for that candidate cannot receive Communion until they have repented.
“Sheridan is the first bishop to extend this prohibition to ordinary Catholics,” said Joe Giganti, spokesman for the American Life League. “It’s long been debated among Catholic theologians as to whether voting for someone who supports these positions is at the level of a mortal or a grave sin.”
The key document that makes note of this, he said, is the 1995 papal encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” which instructs Catholics that “in the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it.”
But Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice said “Evangelium Vitae” is not an infallible document that is binding on Catholics.
“The bishop has gone beyond the pale as to what the church teaches,” she said of Bishop Sheridan. “There is nothing in church law that indicates that how you vote is a matter of sin as opposed to civic responsibility. The bishop has gotten it completely and absolutely wrong.”
But, judging from a recent Orlando Sentinel guest editorial by Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, the coadjutor bishop for Orlando, Catholic bishops are increasingly willing to get involved in politics.
“Some self-identified Catholic politicians prefer to emulate Pontius Pilate’s ‘personally opposed but unwilling to impose’ stance,” Bishop Wenski wrote.
“Perhaps, they are baiting the Church, daring an ‘official sanction’ making them ‘bad Catholics,’ so as to gain favor among their secularist, ‘blue state’ constituencies,” the editorial concluded. “Such a sanction might turn their lack of coherent Catholic convictions into a badge of courage for people who hold such convictions in contempt.”
This article originally appeared in the 15 May 2004 edition of the Washington