I don't want to start a poltical debate, I really don't. And perhaps it would be best if no one replied to this, but I want people to know that at least one Catholic Bishop is standing up for the Church's teaching.
Bishop draws line for voters
Communion tied to politics
By Eric Gorski
Denver Post Staff Writer
The Gazette via AP / file
Bishop Michael Sheridan on Colorado Springs in a 2003 photo.
The bishop of Colorado's second-largest Roman Catholic diocese has issued a pastoral letter saying Catholics cannot receive Communion if they vote for politicians who support abortion rights, stem-cell research, euthanasia or gay marriage.
Only after citizens reverse their positions and repent for their sins in the confessional would access to the central ritual of the church be restored, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan instructed 125,000 Catholics in his charge.
Sheridan's letter is the strongest statement yet from a U.S. bishop in a simmering debate over how Catholics apply their faith this election year.
He is believed to be the first to raise the specter of withholding Holy Communion to people in the pews, a discussion previously limited to politicians.
Other Catholic bishops, including Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, have stressed that Catholic politicians must adhere to church teachings, especially against abortion. Chaput also urged Catholic voters to hold candidates accountable.
Nationally, the presidential candidacy of Democrat John Kerry, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, has reignited debate about how Catholic politicians balance the demands of their faith with their civic responsibilities in a pluralistic society
St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke barred Kerry from accepting Communion, and bishops in Boston, Portland and New Orleans have taken general stands that dissenting politicians should avoid taking it.
Sheridan's May 1 letter, "On the Duties of Catholic Politicians and Voters," was published in the diocese's newspaper and sent to each parish in the diocese, which spans 10 south-central Colorado counties, including Douglas County.
The letter sounds themes consistent with other recent bishops' statements on politics: that the right to life trumps all other rights and acting with an informed Christian conscience is not the same as exercising personal preference.
Sheridan singles out politicians who support abortion rights, stem-cell research and euthanasia, saying those candidates "ipso facto place themselves outside full communion with the Church and so jeopardize their salvation."
Sheridan goes a step further than most bishops by saying Catholics who vote for such candidates will "suffer the same fateful consequences."
He continues: "these Catholics, whether candidates for office or those who would vote for them, may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their positions and been reconciled with God and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance," or confession.
Sheridan gave similar weight to same-sex marriage, which he called "deviancy" that flies in the face of God's design. He said the same Communion rules should apply to candidates and voters who clash with the church on that position.
In an interview Thursday, Sheridan said he chose those issues because the church considers them "intrinsically evil."
He said some Catholics have challenged him on why he did not highlight the church's positions against the death penalty or the war with Iraq, but he does not believe those matters carry the same weight.
In the case of war, Catholic doctrine teaches it can be used as a last resort if certain conditions are met. Sheridan said he plans to write on the Iraq war.
The bishop said his Communion stand is not new but is in keeping with the church's position that people living in deep sin should not accept Communion without being absolved.
"This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age."
"Any Catholic politicians who advocate for abortion, for illicit stem cell research or for any form of euthanasia ipso facto place themselves outside full communion with the Church and so jeopardize their salvation. Any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for abortion, illicit stem cell research or euthanasia suffer the same fateful consequences."
"It is God who created us male and female. It is God who joined man and woman so that they could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. ... No one can simply redefine marriage to suit a political or social agenda. ... The future of our world depends upon the strength of the family, the basic unit of society. The future of the family depends on the state of marriage. The family - father, mother and children - reflects the nature of God Himself."
"It is by your prayers and by your votes that politicians who are unconditionally pro-life and pro-family will serve our country. Conversely, if our voices remain silent or if, God forbid, we vote contrary to our informed consciences, we will see our country led down a short path to ruin."
"Let us all pray for those politicians who claim to be Catholic yet continue to oppose the law of God and the rights of persons that, by the grace of God, they will be converted once again to the full and authentic articulation and practice of the faith."
"I might get a reaction, but this is absolutely the constant teaching of the church, which over the last several decades has simply gone into disuse," he said.
Sheridan, 59, formerly served as an assistant bishop in his native St. Louis and was appointed to head the Colorado Springs diocese in January 2003, replacing retiring Bishop Richard Hanifen, who was considered more moderate doctrinally.
With Chaput in Denver, Sheridan is part of a younger generation of bishops appointed by Pope John Paul II who are urging Catholics to follow church teachings rather than picking and choosing what suits them.
His letter, which is slowly gaining national attention, will undoubtedly provoke passionate replies.
Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, a Catholic Democrat who sides with the church against abortion rights but supports candidates who take the opposite view, sharply criticized Sheridan's letter.
"I just think this is a tragic direction for the bishop to take," Ritter said. "My great fear is that it will drive Catholics away from the church, Catholics who abide by the church teaching in everything they do, but look at candidates and vote on a range of issues."
Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat and Catholic who supports abortion rights, declined to comment through a spokesman. Salazar, who is running for U.S. Senate, has criticized Chaput as going too far in telling Catholic politicians how to serve the public.
Other Catholics applaud Sheridan for a bold stand. Bob Sallee, lay chairman of the Colorado Springs diocesan pastoral council, which advises the bishop, praised Sheridan's letter - particularly its condemnation of abortion - and supports the Communion ban.
But Sallee, who is a Eucharistic minister, also raised the practical issue of enforcement: "I am not in a position to judge someone who is coming up the aisles, how they voted, whether they're worthy or not. That's not my call. It's a call for individuals to whether they are acting on informed conscience or something that sounds good."
Peter Howard, a diocese spokesman, concurred, saying there will be no "liturgical police force" out monitoring. The only time the church would intervene would be in cases where it's public knowledge that an official has taken a position in conflict with church teaching, Howard said.
Sheridan said that to his knowledge, there are no Catholic politicians in his diocese flouting church teaching.
Said Howard: "Some people will accuse us of using this as a political maneuver to vote a certain way. It's for their own spiritual salvation."
Howard said Communion "is more than the belief that you are accepting the body and blood of Christ. Communion is also the communion of accepting the entirety of Catholic teaching. For someone to knowingly reject that puts themselves, logically, out of communion with the church."