Diocese Repudiates Statement by Priest Who Said Obama Supporters Should Confess

By Kathleen Gilbert

GREENVILLE, South Carolina, November 17, 2008 ( - Following an explosion of national media attention, the Charleston diocesan administrator has distanced the diocese from a priest’s statement urging Obama supporters in St. Mary’s parish to receive absolution before receiving Holy Communion.

"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," wrote Msgr. Laughlin in a statement.  "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 full statement is available at

Fr. Jay Scott Newman had published a letter to parishioners two Sundays ago stating that "voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exits constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil." Therefore, he concluded, "Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation."  (To see the letter in St. Mary’s bulletin, go to:

"Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings. Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated," wrote Msgr. Laughlin.

After a media flurry that gave the impression that the parish priest was refusing Communion to Catholics who voted for Obama, Fr. Newman immediately published a statement to clarify his teaching (To read the clarification, see: He stated that his letter on the "enormously complex subject" could be easily distorted when taken out of the context of his fidelity to normative Church doctrine. Within this context, he said, "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."

The priest also condemned the Associated Press for distorting his words to give the impression that he intended to deny communion to parishioners who had voted for Obama. “The AP story was written to create the false impression that I intended to deny Holy Communion to those who voted for Senator Obama,” he said, adding, “I did not.”

Both the original letter and its clarification by Fr. Newman have been removed from St. Mary’s parish website.

When contacted the Charleston diocese, they were told Msgr. Laughlin’s statement should not be construed as a softening of the diocese’s pro-life advocacy.  According to an assistant to Msgr. Laughlin, Fr. Newman has spoken to Msgr. Laughlin and "is aware that Monsignor did not ‘throw him under the bus.’"

During Sunday Mass, about 50 people held signs both supporting and condemning Fr. Newman’s teaching outside his church. Their presence reflected the varied reaction to the priest’s letter from Catholics, both religious and laity (  While some accused Fr. Newman of crossing the line between religion and politics, others applauded him as an unapologetic witness to Church teaching on life, sin, and worthy reception of Holy Communion.

"Sometimes the question gets a little muddled, but pro-life is pro-life.  Abortion is murder.  It’s a very simple issue," one supporter told CBS 7 News.

Sharon Howey, a parishioner at St. Mary’s who attended Fr. Newman’s most recent homily, said she was struck by "this remarkable man’s humility," and noted that Fr. Newman again conceded that his original letter did not convey with enough exactitude the Church’s teaching on the reception of Communion.

"Fr. Newman chose to follow a long line of saints down the road of obedience and humility showing the signs of a truly holy man," wrote Howey.  "And in due form, I’m sure his attitude will bear tremendous fruit to the Glory of God."

See related coverage:

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

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