On May 1, 2004, Bishop
Michael J. Sheridan of the Diocese
of Colorado Springs issued a pastoral letter to the Catholic faithful
in his diocese "On
the Duties of Catholic Politicians and Voters."
In it the bishop noted the importance of the upcoming November 2004 election
and addressed the often-distorted or misunderstood teaching of the Church
on the formation of conscience. He then stated:
"There must be no confusion in these
matters. 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 for this reason that 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."
Concluding his letter, Bishop Sheridan wrote:
"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.
"Finally, I wish to affirm my brother bishops who have proclaimed the
truth of these critical matters and who have admonished those Catholic
politicians who place themselves at odds with the truth of God. May that
truth which is the foundation of genuine freedom prevail in our country."
In this exclusive interview
with IgnatiusInsight.com, Bishop Sheridan discusses his May 1 letter, the
reaction to it, and what Catholics should always keep in mind when voting.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You issued
a pastoral letter in which you stated that Catholic politicians who support
abortion rights should not receive Holy Communion. You were fiercely criticized
in the media for your stance, with some commentators suggesting that you
were acting contrary to Catholic teaching. Then Cardinal Ratzinger issued
a memo regarding some general principles on worthiness to the receive Holy
Communion, which essentially supported your position. Do you feel vindicated
by Cardinal Ratzinger's memo in the pastoral stance you took?
Bishop Sheridan: I do. However, this
is the opposite of what some in the media are saying. Clarifications will
continue to come and will need to be made, but basically were on track.
IgnatiusInsight.com: In your
letter, you stated that Catholics who vote for pro-abortion rights politicians
should also refrain from receiving Holy Communion. Some people interpreted
your letter to mean that you were excommunicating Catholics who under any
circumstance voted for a candidate who supported abortion rights. Is that
a correct interpretation of your position?
Bishop Sheridan: Well, no. Excommunication
is a specific canonical penalty. The Church has always taught that anyone
who is in mortal sin should refrain from communion. To refer to what I stated
as "excommunication" is misleading and incorrect.
IgnatiusInsight.com: In a recent
column, you wrote that an incorrect notion of conscience was behind some
of the opposition to your comments about pro-abortion rights Catholics refraining
from receiving Holy Communion. What is that incorrect notion of conscience?
Why is it incorrect?
Bishop Sheridan: To put it succinctly,
what I wanted to do, based on pastoral experience and years of listening
to people, was to talk to them about what some people seem to think "conscience"
is and to address this matter. So very often they say that conscience involves
paying attention to Church teaching, but as one part of a great mix of personal
ideas, feelings, and emotions. Frankly, in the end, some people believe
it is possible to make an authentic moral decision that is contrary to what
the Church teaches and still say they have followed their conscience.
So Church teaching, though in the mix, tends to be overwhelmed and lost.
But there is no teaching on the conscience that says you can choose against
Church teaching but still be true to conscience. In some cases, for some
people, I dont know if Church teaching is even brought into the picture.
People will say they that thought about Church teaching, but it ultimately
takes a back seat to other criteria.
Some people have criticized you and some other bishops as being concerned
with a single issue--abortion. How would you respond to that charge?
Bishop Sheridan: In fact, if you wanted to group together non-negotiable
issues, theres more than abortion; its really four or five
issues. But the point of the main question is: what about everything else?
Other issues are not unimportant, but I believe that some issues do trump
others. I also think that for a number of people, they would buy that
belief as long as the issue was the right issue for them. But these issuesincluding
abortionarent the right issues for these people. But bring
up the "right" issue and they would say that a persons
rejection of that issue would disqualify them as a worth candidate.
The example I give is that of a theoretical candidate who has all of the
answers to the worlds problems, but supports the restoration of
slavery. Of course people would say, "I wouldnt stand for that."
Then people would become one-issue voters. So while there is more than
one issue, some take precedence over others.
With respect to how a Catholic's views on certain political issues
can affect whether that Catholic should receive Holy Communion, is Church
teaching on abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage different from
Church teaching on such things as capital punishment and whether to go
to war in a particular instance?
Bishop Sheridan: Im not aware
of Church teaching that capital punishment is evil in and of itself. The
Pope has called for an end to it, and Im with him on that. But he
hasnt stated that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. And
there is also the just war doctrine in the Catholic tradition. But there
is a difference between things that are always evil and thing that could
be, but may not be.
What are some basic principles that Catholics as voters should keep
in mind in assessing candidates for office?
Again, we have to be clear about non-negotiables. Those are abortion,
euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and same sex marriage. I mention
at least those four because theyve reached a certain level of political
discussion and legislation. We have to know the difference between those
and other issues that may not have a "Catholic" answer. I think
that so often, too when we discuss these principles, we think that they
are an imposition of Catholic teaching on the public. But were talking
about basic issues of human rights, of natural law, and these are not
sectarian religious doctrines we are trying to call others to.
What is the first issue of justice? The right to
life. Someone may go to the wall in working to abolish capital punishment,
but why set it against the killing of innocent human beings? We need to
be consistent in these matters.
How would you respond to the objection that the Church should stay
out of politics?
Bishop Sheridan: This statement: "The
Church should stay out of politics" is often times a way of saying
that people of faith should just keep their mouths shut, because they
have nothing to say about the promotion of the common good. Or they will
hold up the separation of Church and state as a way of saying that religious
institutions have nothing to add to the political discourse and process.
Its simply a way of telling us to shut up.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What has been
the response, in general, from other bishops to your statements and actions
in this matter?
Bishop Sheridan: Ive received
no negative responses. A number of bishops have causally, in informal
conversation, expressed a supportive stance. But I think to that the whole
thing is such a hot item we are waiting to see how this shakes out. And
now Cardinal Raztinger is part of the discussion, so many bishops are
waiting to see how it resolves itself. But no negative things have been
said at all.
Other documents from
Bishop Sheridan's column in the June issue of the Catholic Herald,
responding to questions about his Pastoral Letter, can be read here.
More responses to questions can be found in
the bishop's column in the July issue of the Catholic Herald.
Recommended resources from Ignatius Press about the
culture of death, abortion, the Church's moral teachings, and natural law:
of the Culture of Death
Authors: Donald DeMarco and Benjamin Wiker
Length: 410 pages
Your Price: $16.95
The Culture of Death has become a popular phrase, and is much
bandied about in academic circles. Yet, for most people, its meaning remains
vague and remote. DeMarco and Wiker have given the Culture of Death high
definition and frightening immediacy. They have exposed its roots by introducing
its architects. In a scholarly, yet reader-friendly delineation
of the mindsets of twenty-three influential thinkers, such as Ayn Rand,
Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alfred Kinsey, Margaret Sanger,
Jack Kevorkian, and Peter Singer, they make clear the aberrant thought and
malevolent intentions that have shaped the Culture of Death.
Still, this is not a book without hope. If the Culture of Death rests on
a fragmented view of the person and an eclipse of God, hope for the Culture
of Life rests on an understanding and restoration of the human being
as a person, and the rediscovery of a benevolent God. The Personalism
of John Paul II is an illuminating thread that runs through Architects,
serving as a hopeful antidote.
Read an interview with Dr. DeMarco and Dr. Wiker here.
Three Approaches to Abortion:
A Thoughtful and Compassionate Guide to Today's Most Controversial Issue
Author: Peter Kreeft
Length: 101 pages
Your Price: $9.95
The popular author and professor, Peter Kreeft, tackles the most controversial
issue of our times in his always unique and compassionate style. He presents
approaches to the abortion issue from a logical, psychological and dialogical
explanation of the pro-life position. Kreeft hopes that clear reason, rather
than force, will help convince people of the truth of abortion and the need
to protect innocent human life. He presents the objective logical arguments
against abortion, the subjective, personal motives of the pro-life movement,
and how these two factors influence the dialog between the two sides of
the abortion issue.
Read the introduction to Three Approaches to Abortion here.
Peter Kreeft, a Professor of Philosophy
at Boston College, is one of the most widely read Christian authors of our
time. His more than 25 best-selling books include Back to Virtue, Love
is Stronger than Death, Catholic Christianity, Prayer for Beginners
and A Summa of the Summa.
Questions on the Natural Law:
What It Is and Why We Need It
Author: Charles Rice
Length: 335 pages
Your Price: $17.95
Charles Rice, professor of the jurisprudence of St. Thomas Aquinas for
the last twenty years at Notre Dame Law School, presents a very readable
book on the natural law as seen through the teachings of Aquinas and their
foundations in reason and Revelation. Reflecting on the most persistent
questions asked by his students over the years, Rice shows how the natural
law works and how it is rooted in the nature of the human person whose
Creator provided this law as a sure and knowable guide for man to achieve
his end of eternal happiness.
This book presents the teachings of the Catholic
Church in her role as arbiter of the applications of the natural law on
issues involving the right to live, bioethics, the family and the economy.
Charles Rice has produced a firmly grounded and accessible handbook which
touches on the most important topics regarding natural law that will benefit
readers of all backgrounds.