"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.
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?
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?
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?
Other documents from
Recommended resources from Ignatius Press about the culture of death, abortion, the Church's moral teachings, and natural law:
Architects 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:
Questions on the Natural Law:
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