Fr. Newman Responds to Diocesan Concerns about Pro-Abortion Voting Letter

Commentary by Sharon Howey, parishioner at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C.

GREENVILLE, S.C., November 17, 2008 ( - “I don’t know about you guys, but I had an interesting week,” began Fr. Jay Scott Newman’s Saturday night homily, after a week of national and international attention gained from last Sunday’s ‘Letter from the Pastor,’ printed in the parish bulletin. In that letter Fr. Newman had said that persons who voted for a pro-abortion politician should not receive Holy Communion until they are reconciled to God, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation. 

Prior to the 5:00 Saturday mass, a group of parishioners had gathered to pray the rosary in support of their beloved Fr. Newman outside the church, with a sign reading “this church is pro-life,” until the priest requested that they go inside to pray.

The congregation laughed at his “interesting week” statement and the clapping quickly turned into a spontaneous standing ovation.  Fr. Newman turned toward the Blessed Sacrament and genuflected.

This was a homily to remember - one on unity and humility that was lived out. (You can listen to it by podcast at where it should be available by Tuesday.)  Indeed, what stood out most to me was this remarkable man’s humility.

Fr. Newman’s initial Letter did not address the fact that a person needs to “have full knowledge” in order for a sin to be mortal for them. This technicality, as well as the political nature of the address, led the Diocese to intervene and make a statement repudiating Fr. Newman’s letter, while also calling for the protection of unborn life.

In his homily Fr. Newman shared that his ‘Letter from the Pastor’ is written on a deadline and he was writing for his congregation (who, if they were listening the last two months, were fully informed). He never imagined the letter would spark national, and even international debates on the separation of church and state.  He graciously conceded that he did not adequately reflect church teaching on this complex issue and said that he “joyfully submits” to Diocesan input in the matter. 

Fr. Newman quoted from Philippians 2 on preserving unity in humility. “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. ... Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, rather He emptied Himself.”

Fr. Newman also mentioned his regret that the larger part of his letter, which asked for prayers for Obama, was completely ignored by the media. It is very beautifully stated and I will reproduce it here as it is no longer available online:

“Barack Obama, although we must always and everywhere disagree with him over abortion, has been duly elected the next President of the United States, and after he takes the Oath of Office next January 20th, he will hold legitimate authority in this nation. For this reason, we are obliged by Scriptural precept to pray for him and to cooperate with him whenever conscience does not bind us otherwise. Let us hope and pray that the responsibilities of the presidency and the grace of God will awaken in the conscience of this extraordinarily gifted man an awareness that the unholy slaughter of children in this nation is the greatest threat to the peace and security of the United States and constitutes a clear and present danger to the common good. In the time of President Obama’s service to our country, let us pray for him.”

Listening to Fr. Newman’s gracious words, I was reminded of the conversion of the woman who was Roe in Roe vs. Wade. The thing that always struck me about the conversion story of Norma McCorvey, was that it was Flip Benham’s humility and love that won her over. 

Flip worked next door to the abortion clinic Norma worked at and he yelled out to her one day, “You should be ashamed of yourself. How do you sleep at night?” and he saw in the look in her eyes that he had really hurt her. So the next chance he got, he apologized (not for being pro-life, of course, but for hurting her) and asked, “Will you forgive me?” It was this personal concern for her well-being, not his initial (though true) statements that won her over to the truth.

In his Saturday night homily 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. And in due form, I’m sure his attitude will bear tremendous fruit for the Glory of God.

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