By Kathleen Gilbert

MODESTO, California, December 1, 2008 ( – A California priest has garnered international attention and strong praise for pointing out the moral peril of Catholics who voted for President-elect Barack Obama despite being aware of his agenda to aggressively promote abortion.

“If you are one of the 54 percent of Catholics who voted for a pro-abortion candidate, you were clear on his position, and you knew the gravity of the question, I urge you to go to confession before receiving communion,” wrote Fr. Joseph Illo, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in the Stockton diocese, in a letter to his parishioners.  “Don’t risk losing your state of grace by receiving sacrilegiously.”

Fr. Illo’s kind but firm letter, dated November 21, mapped out at length the complex but grave moral situation, and took pains to outline the extent to which his admonition pertains to any particular Catholic voter. 

“If you voted for a pro-abortion candidate, I cannot say for certain if you should refrain from Holy Communion. I don’t know what you were thinking,” wrote Fr. Illo.  “But voting for a candidate who promises ‘abortion rights,’ even if he promises every other good thing, is voting for abortion. It is a grave mistake, and probably a grave sin. No issue can compare with the legalized destruction of a mother’s child.

“I am writing to you because I love you and I care about your relationship with God,” said the letter.  “I am also writing because God requires this of me as a Catholic priest.”

Fr. Illo also addressed the common objection that in demanding that Catholics vote pro-life the Church is promoting “one-issue” voting that oversimplifies a complex choice.  He said that “if the issue is grave enough, no one would object to ‘one-issue voting.’” He pointed to support for slavery as another example of a clear “deal-breaker.”

Illo affirmed that abortion was an even graver injustice than slavery, as unborn children have become “an entire class of Americans who are targeted for focused attack, a people with no rights, whose very lives are at the whim of judges and politicians.”

“We Catholics, and all people of good will and sound reason, must defend the lives of these poorest of the poor,” he said.

(To read Fr. Illo’s letter in full, go to:

The priest told the Modesto Bee that his letter sparked a deluge of feedback, which was “about 12-to-1 in favor of what I said.”  The Bee interviewed several parishioners leaving a Mass celebrated by Fr. Illo Saturday evening, with none saying they objected to his remarks. Many expressed warm support for their pastor.

During his homily the next day, Fr. Illo mentioned the wide attention received by his letter and reaffirmed his message to the standing-room-only crowd.  “It’s not about whom you vote for as much as it is what you vote for,” he said.  “We as Catholics have the duty to protect the rights of all people. We have a precious opportunity as Catholics and Christians to promote a culture of life.”

According to the Bee, the bishop of Stockton disagrees with Fr. Illo, saying Catholics should not feel compelled to disclose how they voted to their priest.

Bishop Stephen Blaire said Catholics who weighed several issues and nonetheless settled on Obama were not in need of confession, unless “someone voted for a pro-abortion or pro-choice candidate – if that’s the reason you voted for them.”

In a statement released today, Bishop Blaire emphasized his commitment to Church teaching that abortion is “an intrinsic evil,” but added that he “will not tell the Catholic people of this diocese for whom to vote” and that each must “weigh our decisions carefully, pray to God for guidance, and make the best choices we can for the common good.”

A South Carolina priest made headlines in November and earned praise from pro-life leaders when he wrote a similar, shorter letter to parishioners that warned of the “material cooperation with intrinsic evil” that Catholics who vote for Obama may incur, and urged such Catholics not to approach the altar until they first went to confession.

See related coverage:

Diocese Repudiates Statement by Priest Who Said Obama Supporters Should Confess

Bishops React to Priest who Told Obama-Supporting Catholics to Confess before Receiving Communion


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