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Threatening politicians & members
with denial of communion, and worse

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According to ReligionLink, a major conflict surfaced within the Roman Catholic Church as a result of the Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme court in 1973. It legalizing abortion access.

ReligionLink wrote:

"Lay Catholics - and Catholic politicians - increasingly began to support abortion rights, while the bishops, especially under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II (elected in 1978), became increasingly active in opposing them. Although Catholic politicians once worried about a Protestant backlash, they now worry about internal opposition."

"Since Roe vs. Wade, the only Catholic on a major-party ticket was Democrat Geraldine Ferraro of New York in1984, who was drawn into a widely covered dispute with the late New York Cardinal John O'Connor. In 1990 O'Connor wrote that Catholics who opposed the Church's teachings on abortion 'must be warned that they are at a risk of excommunication. If such actions persist, bishops may consider excommunication the only option'."

"The conflicts prompted New York Gov. Mario Cuomo - another Catholic politician, and one-time presidential contender - to address the issue in a famous 1984 speech at Notre Dame University titled 'Religious Belief and Public Morality: A Catholic Governor's Perspective'." 10

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Action by the bishop of Colorado Springs, CO:

The Most Reverend Michael Sheridan, the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Colorado Springs, CO announced in his 2004-MAY pastoral letter that anyone voting for a politician who supports same-sex marriage, access to abortion, some stem cell research or physician assisted suicide will be denied communion in the church. 1 He wrote:

"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." 2

Later in his letter, he extended this prohibition to include politicians who support same-sex marriage.

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Roman Catholic Church teachings on these matters:

The Church opposes:

bullet Same-sex marriage: In the U.S., the federal and state governments automatically grant on the order of 1,400 rights and benefits to all opposite-sex couples who marry. The church opposes these being granted to same-sex couples. Their interpretation of the Bible precludes any form of same-sex marriage or civil union. Unlike other conservative religious denominations, the Roman Catholic Church does teach that, in most cases, a person's sexual orientation is not chosen and is unchangeable. However, in common with other religious conservatives, it regards minority sexual orientations as abnormal, unnatural, and disordered. They expect persons with a homosexual orientation to remain celibate. They expect persons with a bisexual orientation -- those who are sexually attracted to both men and women -- to restrict their sexual relationships to a member of the opposite sex, and then only within marriage. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines homosexuality as: "...Sexual activity between persons of the same sex. It is not a normal condition, the acts being against nature are objectively wrong." 3 Bishop Sheridan writes: "no one has a right to that which flies in the face of Godís own design. Marriage is not an invention of individuals or even of societies. Rather it is an element of Godís creation. It is God who created us male and female. It is God who joined man and woman so that they could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Every civilization known to mankind has understood marriage as the union of a man and a woman for the procreation and rearing of children." 2 This statement appeals to conflict with the description of eight types of marriages and families mentioned in the Bible.
bullet Abortion access: The Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest supporters of the pro-life movement in the U.S. They teach that human life, in the form of an ovum and spermatozoon, becomes a human person at the instant of conception. Thus, they teach that abortion causes the murder of an innocent human person -- whether it be a pre-embryo, embryo or fetus. They believe that human life must be preserved from conception to natural death.

In his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI wrote: "It is not licit, even for the gravest reasons to do evil so that good may follow there from, that is, to make into the object of a positive act of the will something which is intrinsically disordered, and hence unworthy of the human person, even when the intention is to safeguard or promote individual, family or social well being...directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons [is] to be absolutely excluded." 9

When a delivery goes terribly wrong, and the attending physicians have the choice of:
bullet Killing the fetus, and saving the life of the woman, or
bullet Allowing nature to take its course, and watching both the woman and fetus die,
the moral decision in the eyes of the church is the latter.

The church does make exceptions in a few unusual cases, like ectopic pregnancies, where the death of a fetus is an indirect result of a medical procedure.

bullet Stem cell research: Human stem cells are primitive cells that can theoretically be coaxed to develop into any of the over 200 cell types in the human body. Some can be extracted from adult humans; others are removed from pre-embryos. The church opposes the extraction or use of the latter, because they regard pre-embryos as human persons, and because the removal of the stem cells results in its death. Unfortunately, adult stem cells have limited potential, whereas stem cells from pre-embryos have great potential to treat and cure many diseases which cause disability and premature death.
bullet Physician assisted suicide: The church opposes all suicide, whether it is performed by an individual alone or with the help of their physician. They teach that all human life must be protected, from conception to natural death. A person has no right to terminate their life, even if they are in intractable, untreatable pain from a terminally illness.

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Implications of this announcement:

Since almost all of the politicians who support one or more of the forbidden activities and who stand a chance of being elected to office are Democrats, this statement effectively prohibits Roman Catholics from voting for almost all Democratic candidates. Bishop Sheridan wrote in the diocese's newspaper 2 that the 2004 Presidential election will be one of the most important in history -- "critical in the battle to restore the right to life of all its citizens, especially the unborn and the elderly and infirm." This was an apparent a reference to the expected appointment of three or four replacement justices to the U.S. Supreme Court by the next president. The choice of appointees will have a profound effect on the American culture for decades in the future.

The church teaches that any Roman Catholic who commits a moral sin and who does not have access to church sacraments, will spend eternity in Hell, which the church considers to be both a place and a state of being. To a believer, denial of sacraments is a matter of paramount importance.

In order for a sin to be classified as a mortal sin, three requirements must be met:

bullet It must be a considered a serious sin by the church. This criteria is certainly met in the above matters.
bullet The individual must be aware of the sin. All political leaders and most Catholic voters would be aware of the Church's position.
bullet The person must have freely decided to sin. External pressures, such as politicians inevitably experience, may give them some wiggle room here.

John Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee is both a Catholic and a supporter of abortion access. Independent candidate Ralph Nader supports the availability of the abortion medication RU-486, and a woman's access to abortion. 8 Devout Roman Catholics -- at least those who live in the diocese of Colorado Springs and who follow the instructions of their bishop -- have little option but to vote Republican in the 2004-NOV elections.

Other bishops have threatened to deny communion to politicians who deviate from the church's teaching in social matters. However, this is the first instance in the U.S. where a bishop has threatened voters with sanctions.

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Freedom of conscience:

In his pastoral letter, Bishop Sheridan describes the limits imposed on Roman Catholics when they make individual moral decisions. The Church teaches that an adult "...has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions." 4 This belief is held in common by followers of essentially all secular and religious movements. However, to Catholic believers, this freedom does not mean that an individual has the right to analyze a situation using all available sources of information, consider all possible options, decide which is the the most moral -- or the least immoral -- alternative, and act on their decision. Rather, the church teaches that "Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator." 5 Thus, a Catholic's moral decisions must adhere to the truth, as found in natural law and God's revelation. Further, they must follow the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church, because: "to the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls." 6 The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has outlined the proper behavior for Catholic politicians. They stated that, "...a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals." 7

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Proposed document by the U.S. Bishops: reported on 2006-OCT-20:

The U.S. bishops will vote on a proposed document, "Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper: On Preparing To Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist" during their annual November meeting in Baltimore, Nov. 13-16.

The document, addressed to all the faithful, points out that Catholics may not receive communion if they are do not accept Church teaching on matters such as abortion and homosexuality.  Catholics should refrain from Holy Communion, says the document, "when they lack adherence to what the Church authoritatively teaches on matters of faith and morals."

The document is designed to help Catholics properly prepare to receive Holy Communion.  It is organized as a series of questions and answers, and explores topics such as what the Catholic Church believes about the Eucharist, who may receive Holy Communion, and how Catholics can prepare to receive the sacrament more worthily

The statement reiterates Church teaching that with "few exceptions, only those who are members of the Catholic Church may receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Eucharist." Catholics should strive "to receive Holy Communion regularly, gratefully, and worthily," but should refrain from the sacrament when they find themselves no longer in a state of grace because of mortal sin, which is an act violating God's law that involves grave matter and that is performed with both full knowledge and complete consent of the will. Catholics who are conscious of committing any mortal sin must receive the Sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion, it says.

In addition to preparations by prayer and scripture reading, confession and fasting, the document also suggests that Catholics should prepare for communion by "wearing modest and tasteful dress during the liturgy."

While this document to the faithful did not address it, the current Pope Benedict XVI while still as Cardinal Ratzinger the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told the US Bishops that "Apart from an individual's judgment about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone." 

The letter from Cardinal Ratzinger to the US Bishops continued, "Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist."

"When these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible," concluded the Cardinal "and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it." 11

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  1. "U.S. voters warned by bishop," Los Angeles Times, reprinted in the Toronto Star, 2004-MAY-15, Page A16.
  2. Michael Sheridan, "A pastoral letter to the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Colorado Springs on the duties of Catholic politicians and voters," at:
  3. Robert Broderick, Ed., "Catholic Encyclopedia: Revised and updated edition," Nelson, (1987), Page 272.  Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  4. "Catechism of the Catholic Church," Topic 1782.
  5. Ibid., 1783.
  6. Ibid., 2032 and Code of Canon Law 747.2.
  7. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "Doctrinal note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life," Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002-NOV-24, at:
  8. "Ralph Nader on Abortion," at:
  9. Pope Paul VI, "Humanae Vitae. Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the regulation of birth," 1968-JUL-25, at:
  10. "KENNEDY TO KERRY: Kerry, Catholics and the White House,", 2004-MAY-03, at:
  11. John-Henry Westen, "US Bishops Set to Tell Catholics Opposed to Teaching on Abortion or Homosexuality not to Receive Communion", LifeSiteNews, 2006-OCT-20, at:

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Copyright © 2004 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-MAY-15
Latest update: 2006-OCT-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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