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South Carolina diocese repudiates priest’s remarks; parishioners show support

Catholic World News - November 17, 2008

Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, has repudiated remarks made by Father Jay Scott Newman in which the latter said that supporters of President-elect Barack Obama must repent before receiving Holy Communion. The November 9 parish bulletin, in which Father Newman made his remarks, has been removed from his parish’s web site-- evidently as the result of orders from the diocese.

‘This past week,’ said Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin in a statement issued Friday, ‘the Catholic Church’s clear, moral teaching on the evil of abortion has been pulled into the partisan political arena. The recent comments of Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C., have diverted the focus from the Church’s clear position against abortion. As Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, let me state with clarity that Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings … 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. 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.’

‘The pulpit is reserved for the Word of God,’ Msgr. Laughlin concluded. ‘Sometimes God’s truth, as is the Church’s teaching on abortion, is unpopular. All Catholics must be aware of and follow the teachings of the Church.’

In his November 16 parish bulletin, Father Newman criticized the Associated Press for implying that he would deny Holy Communion to supporters of the president-elect and clarified his November 9 remarks: ‘What I wrote last week has to be read in light of the teaching of the American bishops on ‘Faithful Citizenship’ which was distributed in the bulletin the week before the election and explained from the pulpit. From that document and the teaching of the Church’s Magisterium, no one could conclude that a vote for Senator Obama is in itself or by itself a mortal sin. But from that same teaching, though, we must conclude that a vote for a pro-abortion candidate can be a mortal sin if the intent is to support abortion, that abortion is not merely one issue among other important issues, and that no Catholic should endorse a pro-abortion politician if a plausible pro-life alternative is available. I regret that I did not take time last week to parse out every stipulation of the Church’s teaching, because the failure to do so allowed those who oppose that teaching to ridicule it by falsely asserting that I intended to deny Holy Communion to anyone who voted for the president-elect or that I presumed to know or judge their conscience.’

‘As I write these words,’ added Father Newman, ‘I have received over 3,500 emails from around the world. Most of the people who wrote seem to regard me as either a mighty champion of reform or an evil tool of the devil, and I am naturally hesitant to accept either title. In truth, I am but a useless servant of the Lord Jesus trying, despite my frailty, to be a faithful witness to Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’ On Saturday afternoon, over 50 Catholics rallied outside the parish in support of the priest. When Father Newman celebrated Mass later in the day, his homily was interrupted by a lengthy standing ovation as his parishioners indicated their support. When his gestures for silence failed to stop the applause, Father Newman, fighting back tears, turned to kneel, facing the Blessed Sacrament, until the congregation finally quieted down.

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