Saturday, November 15, 2008

S.C. Priest bans Obama Supporters from taking the Eucharist, and Pope Prohibits Kentucky Priest from supporting Women's Ordination!

Well, I've heard it all now. A priest in South Carolina, one Jay Scott Newman (no relation, I suppose, to John Henry Newman) has decided that parishioners who voted for Barack Obama are not entitled to the grace of Jesus Christ through communion until they've done penance. In a pastoral letter to his Greenville S.C. flock he wrote:

"Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ's Church and under the judgment of divine law,"

Here is the link to the full story which my son sent me from D.C.:

David Waters, who wrote the story commented as follows:

"Perhaps I'm not the best person to question any clergy person's right to deny the body and blood and grace of Christ to any Christian. I'm a Methodist and we'll serve communion to just about anyone with a pulse.

But really?

Newman is denying communion not to those who have conducted or received an abortion, and not to those who enact laws that allow for abortion, but to those who cast a vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. In effect, he's saying that thinking is now mortal sin. He's saying that having an opinion is a mortal sin. He's saying that freedom of speech and thought is a mortal sin."

Meanwhile on another front, excommunication has been threatened for a priest right here in Kentucky who merely attended the priestly ordination of a Catholic woman:

Here is Father Ray Bourgeois' letter of response to the Vatican:


I was very saddened by your letter dated October 21, 2008, giving me 30 days to recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church, or I will be excommunicated.

I have been a Catholic priest for 36 years and have a deep love for my Church and ministry.

When I was a young man in the military, I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. I entered Maryknoll and was ordained in 1972.

Over the years I have met a number of women in our Church who, like me, feel called by God to the priesthood. You, our Church leaders at the Vatican, tell us that women cannot be ordained.

With all due respect, I believe our Catholic Church's teaching on this issue is wrong and does not stand up to scrutiny. A 1976 report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission supports the research of Scripture scholars, canon lawyers and many faithful Catholics who have studied and pondered the Scriptures and have concluded that there is no justification in the Bible for excluding women from the priesthood.

As people of faith, we profess that the invitation to the ministry of priesthood comes from God. We profess that God is the Source of life and created men and women of equal stature and dignity. The current Catholic Church doctrine on the ordination of women implies our loving and all-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, somehow cannot empower a woman to be a priest.

Women in our Church are telling us that God is calling them to the priesthood. Who are we, as men, to say to women, "Our call is valid, but yours is not." Who are we to tamper with God's call?

Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral.

Hundreds of Catholic churches in the U.S. are closing because of a shortage of priests. Yet there are hundreds of committed and prophetic women telling us that God is calling them to serve our Church as priests.

If we are to have a vibrant, healthy Church rooted in the teachings of our Savior, we need the faith, wisdom, experience, compassion and courage of women in the priesthood.

Conscience is very sacred. Conscience gives us a sense of right and wrong and urges us to do the right thing. Conscience is what compelled Franz Jagerstatter, a humble Austrian farmer, husband and father of four young children, to refuse to join Hitler's army, which led to his execution. Conscience is what compelled Rosa Parks to say she could no longer sit in the back of the bus. Conscience is what compels women in our Church to say they cannot be silent and deny their call from God to the priesthood. Conscience is what compelled my dear mother and father, now 95, to always strive to do the right things as faithful Catholics raising four children. And after much prayer, reflection and discernment, it is my conscience that compels me to do the right thing. I cannot recant my belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our Church.

Working and struggling for peace and justice are an integral part of our faith. For this reason, I speak out against the war in Iraq. And for the last eighteen years, I have been speaking out against the atrocities and suffering caused by the School of the Americas (SOA). Eight years ago, while in Rome for a conference on peace and justice, I was invited to speak about the SOA on Vatican Radio. During the interview, I stated that I could not address the injustice of the SOA and remain silent about injustice in my Church. I ended the interview by saying, "There will never be justice in the Catholic Church until women can be ordained." I remain committed to this belief today.

Having an all male clergy implies that men are worthy to be Catholic priests, but women are not.

According to USA TODAY (Feb. 28, 2008) in the United States alone, nearly 5,000 Catholic priests have sexually abused more than 12,000 children. Many bishops, aware of the abuse, remained silent. These priests and bishops were not excommunicated. Yet the women in our Church who are called by God and are ordained to serve God's people, and the priests and bishops who support them, are excommunicated.

Silence is the voice of complicity. Therefore, I call on all Catholics, fellow priests, bishops, Pope Benedict XVI and all Church leaders at the Vatican, to speak loudly on this grave injustice of excluding women from the priesthood.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated because of his defense of the oppressed. He said, "Let those who have a voice, speak out for the voiceless."

Our loving God has given us a voice. Let us speak clearly and boldly and walk in solidarity as Jesus would, with the women in our Church who are being called by God to the priesthood.

In Peace and Justice,
Rev. Roy Bourgeois, M.M."

So all you bloggers out there in the blogosphere I ask you---is Father Newman right? Is Father Bourgeois right? Can they both be right? Are they both wrong? Let me know what you think? Whatever you think, there's never a dull moment in the Roman Catholic Church!



Sandalstraps said...

While I myself am a proponent of a woman's right to reproductive choice (which includes the right to terminate a pregnancy, at least under certain conditions) I have always respected the consistency of the Catholic pro-life position, a "seamless garment" that includes not only opposition to abortion, but also to the death penalty, and to unjust wars. Yet Father Newman has clearly rend that seamless garment in two.

How can he argue that voting for a candidate who supports the right to reproductive choice a mortal sin, yet not apply that same standard to a candidate who supports an unjust and immoral invasion and occupation? I'm Methodist, not Catholic, yet to my lay ears his position seems decidedly un-Catholic.

As for Father Bourgeois, his courage knocks me out. It would be a shame if the Roman Catholic church excommunicates him, though that church has a long and sordid history of silencing its prophetic voices. I suppose, however, that's the nature of all institutions, and not a uniquely Catholic sin.

Anonymous said...

I agree with sandalstraps that this is not a uniquely Catholic problem, so I won't just blanket condemn the Catholic church for its current injustices. But injustices they are. I am appalled at the actions both of Father Newman and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Refusing communion on the basis of who a person voted for (and let's be clear: Obama is NOT Hitler, despite the currently popular analogy with which fearful, parochial right-wingers rationalize their rejection of a real candidate of change) is the lowest kind of politicization of Christianity.

Is supporting a pro-choice candidate equivalent to cooperating with intrinsic evil? I cannot see how. What Obama supporters were thinking of was the candidate's potential to inspire the nation to real progress on all fronts, including energy, education, climate, race, world affairs, etc. They certainly were not thinking: Ooooh, goodie, this guy supports the killing of unborn babies. I think a good argument could be made that this falls under the means vs. side-effects scenario. Obama supporters did not vote for him IN ORDER to facilitate the abortion of fetuses. While this may be a side effect in the long run, at the end of a very complex political process, it was not the voters' primary intention.

I maintain that it is perfectly possible to be a good Christian and vote for Obama. His platform is just too vital to the nation's interests on most (if not all) other issues. Father Newman is abusing his priestly authority and succumbing to a shameless political parochialism that casts his ministry in a very negative light. I don't think he should be a priest. Replace with him with one of the women prophetically called to the ministry. Now THAT would be change I could believe in.

Krissi said...

That is nuts about the Obama thing. I mean, good grief. Really.

But I love the letter by the other guy. It was moving and brought tears to my eyes. And it gave me just a little more hope for the Roman Catholic Church...and maybe Kentucky, too. I pray his words are seriously considered and not just tossed out.

Rob Penn said...

The matter of women in ministry is a very difficult one for me.

I grew up in an uber conservative family, stopping just short of "women don't pray in front of men." Thank God they never got there...

Any way, I don't hold that view that I used to which said that women should never be ordained as ministers. I believe that there should be a majority of Men in the leadership positions of a church, but I don't believe that women should not be leaders.

Deborah might disagree with the idea that women shouldn't be leaders. But even she tried to make the men lead first, and shamed them when they said "we won't go into battle without you."

The majority of people called into leadership positions in the NT were men, but they weren't only men.

Having said that, when I see a woman in the pulpit, something in me just sends up flags. I suppose it's just hard to undo that sort of conditioning, ya know? I know that God uses women in ministry, but when I see a female minister something in me just automatically turns a smidge apprehensive.

Don said...

That KY priest is amazing.

D said...

Three cheers for Father Bourgeois! As an Anabaptist, I would gladly serve by his side in this cause!

CT40207 said...

I adamantly disagree with a priest witholding communion on the basis of an individual's political preference.

Obama's platform, however, is not unique or worthy of calling "real change". He ran on center-right policy positions once he desposed of Hillary, not the least of which is the promise that all of the "non-rich" will get tax cuts. And of course the Obama supporters weren't looking at the abortion issue as the main reason they voted for him. Very little was said by his camp on the issue during the general. There's good reason for that: Obama's record is the most radical on this single issue of anyone who matters in American politics. Regardless of this, Obama will soon be president and should be the subject of every Christian's prayer life.

On the issue of women in the clergy, I've not heard very compelling arguments for or against it. One thing I'd say the Catholic Church might want to tackle before ordaining women is to allow priests to marry. HELLO...

Mike Mitchell said...

I think the priest in South Carolina was wrong for denying Obama voters communion, but I do sympathize with him.

It often seems like many Christians have forgotten just how serious an issue abortion is. I can see why the priest would have such a strong reaction (though maybe misappropriated) to the fact that many Christians thought the belief that adults should have the "right" to kill unborn children at will does not disqualify a person from one of the most powerful offices on the planet.

As for women in ministry, I recently began serving as an associate pastor in a United Methodist Church, which, of course, does ordain women. The thing that has struck me is the disproportionate number of women clergy who are extremely liberal. Those women who are faithful to scripture, who will take a stand against immoral, Scripturally forbidden behaviors like homosexuality, are apparently few.

The ordination of women in and of itself may be a good thing, but definitely not as one part of a left wing package which ultimately seeks to affirm and ordain just about any behavior under the sun as long as it's not "exclusionary."

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Mike:
Actually there are many Evangelical women clergy in the UMC. You should come to Asbury and meet some of them.



Mike Mitchell said...

I know. I'm an Asbury grad (2204). It just seems that once you get off campus, the percentage of evangelical women clergy changes?

Ben Witherington said...

Well no, but the majority of Evangelical UMC women are from the south, and serve in either the south central or southeastern jurisdictions.


James W Lung said...

I can think of a number of reasons why voting for Barack Obama is cooperating with intrinsic evil.

1. Obama is the most radically pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President. He even is opposed to efforts to mandate life-saving treatment to save the lives of infants who survive saline and prostaglandin abortions.

2. Among the first executive orders the newly installed President Obama will sign will be orders reversing dozens of executive branch policies which affirm life. This will happen before the sun sets on his first day in office.

3. Obama will most certainly nominate at least two Justices of the Supreme Court during his first term. He will most certainly appoint Judges who will oppose restrictions on the abortion right and expand the silly notion of reproductive freedom far beyond the silliness expounded by Justice Souter's infamous opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

4. Obama will most certainly, probably again before the sun sets on his first day in office, remove the carefully crafted Bush policies on stem cell research.

That Obama may espouse other policies that may have a benificent effect on our country does not justify putting him in a position to further entrench the culture of death which Roe v. Wade implements.

Unknown said...

Imagine taking the sin of abortion (or sin period) as a serious issue! The nerve of that priest for following the teaching of his Church! BTW, in the Catholic Church, means something different than in Protestant churches. To take communion means you agree with EVERYTHING the Church teaches and that you will uphold them without compromise, always and in every situation. The issue of abortion is not up for debate in the Catholic Church. There's no endless debating or situational ethics involved here. Its wrong...period. The priest is right. I wish the UMC would do the same thing but that would take a commitment not to live in a world differents shades of gray and actually speaking with authority on issues other than such serious "justice" issues as the evils of the interstate sale of monkeys (I don't know if the denomination has dealt with this issue. I just thought it was funny...and possible that it had been debated a GC with much passion). Abortion is THE justice issue of our day. Without life, there is no justice. I hope all the precious liberal Christians who voted for Obama will enjoy the bloodbath that FOCA will bring about. Don't know what FOCA is? It's the radical abortion bill that Obama said he would sign as his first act in office. It makes abortion a fundamental human "right" and removes ALL restrtictions no matter how common sense. Illegal would be all parental notification and attending laws, conscience clauses for physicians and nurses, informed consent laws, and any other federal, state and local restriction. It also seeks to defund crisis pregnancy centers. Is this change you can believe in? Visit

The priest is a Saint.

Ben Witherington said...

Hmmm... so Cody you think Methodists should ban Christians from taking communion for a sin that is nowhere mentioned in the Bible nor explicitly said to be a sin in the Bible! Incredible.

If you're going to ban someone from communion at least pick a sin that is actually banned in the Bible-- say like murder!!!


CP said...

cody, cody, cody.....*shakes head in disbelief*

G said...

Blogger Ben Witherington said...

"Hmmm... so Cody you think Methodists should ban Christians from taking communion for a sin that is nowhere mentioned in the Bible nor explicitly said to be a sin in the Bible! Incredible.

If you're going to ban someone from communion at least pick a sin that is actually banned in the Bible-- say like murder!!!"

Dr. Witherington, are you really willing to say that partial-birth abortions are not murder? The only question that remains in some peoples mind is when does the life of a child really begin?

Ben Witherington said...

In my view partial birth abortion is probably a form of murder, but my point is simply that the Bible says nothing explicit about this matter at all, and so I have to draw a theological conclusion based on inference. This is second order ethical discourse, and my point is that if you are going to ban somebody from something like the Lord's Supper at least make it something explicit from the NT, otherwise there is a huge danger of your being badly wrong.

I will just add that in the one OT story which could be of possible relevance to that issue, the pregnant woman who is attacked and has a miscarriage is not compensated life for life.


Brett R said...

Women in our Church are telling us that God is calling them to the priesthood.

--Father Ray Bourgeois

What kind of a standard of truth is that?

Maybe God is telling me that red shirts should be banned.

That letter was an emotional appeal, and nothing more.

Unknown said...

I admire the priest for actually believing what his church teaches.

I don't wish that UM pastors would ban people from communion. We have a different understanding of communion than the CC. I just wish pastors would take abortion seriously as an issue. I don't even think it is on most of their radars, though, while a lot of silliness of little consequence is treated with much gravity. You are more likely to hear a UM pastor speaking "prophetically" on the evils of low taxes or the damaging effects of the use of non-inclusive language than on anything to do with life issues.

Obama's abortion policies will lead to about 250,000 more abortions a year in the U.S. We will also be exporting abortion again with the revocation of the "Mexico City Policy." He also wants to use federal funds to pay for abortions; we all get to chip in! He is an abortion absolutist and is a disaster for pro-lifers. Every modest advance won by the pro-life movemen since 1973 will be gone with the stroke of a pen.

BTW, the BOD condemns partial-birth abortion. FOCA makes it legal once again. If the statements in the BOD means anything, the UMC will speak out against this bill. I won't hold my breath for that.

James W Lung said...

Sandalstraps: 1) "(s)eamless garment" is not catholic dogma. It is a notion proposed by some -- Cardinal Bernadin (of blessed memory) among others put forth the notion.

The answer to your question is quite obvious. Reasonable christians can (I would hope) differ on whether or not going to war with Iraq is justified as a just war. Reasonable christians cannot (I would argue) differ on the question of the morality of abortion and the proper treatment of abortion under the law. Perhaps you are the one with the problem, not the priest.

Ben apparently has the same problem. Scripture has far more to say about abortion than it does the notion of "second order ethical discourse." "Probable" leaves room for reasonable doubt. Upon what basis could one argue that a partial birth abortion performed for any reason other than a direct and immediate threat to the life of the mother's life is not murder?

Brett R said...

Random thoughts-

They can't both be right, but they can both be wrong.

I don't think it is for the Church to decide who we can vote for, but I agree with the RCC holding politicians accountable that support abortion "rights" as it is an affront to Christ. They are publicly teaching and promoting a heresy.

Is certain types of thinking a “mortal sin”? Well, I hardly buy into the venial/mortal sin distinction, but an unregenerate mind certainly doesn’t think as does a renewed one. OTOH, our sin nature remains and corrupts us all, but certain beliefs do condemn. For example, if I privately believe that Jesus was just a man, I have embraced a damnable heresy.

Ordination of women – So, the RCC has allowed a great travesty (the abuse of children). I think we all agree on that, but does that in fact mean that they should overturn the order of creation? If I commit adultery, should I then go to a strip club with my friends? I can see the logic being used now; “You already cheated on your wife, why are you saying going to a strip club is wrong.”

Really, most of the logic or illogic in that letter rests on the idea that there is no standard of truth. That is why he resorts to emotion, hyperbole, equivocation (see racism), and idea that the calling of ministry is a merely individualistic feeling not based on Biblical grounds.

wnpaul said...

Without entering into the discussion of whether abortion is a first-order issue (and obviously the RCC teaches it is), I would like to object to BW3's characterization of this as "thinking is mortal sin" and "having an opinion is mortal sin" -- when someone votes, he's gone beyond thinking and having an opinion, and has acted upon his thoughts and opinions.

On Fr Bourgeois' letter, I concur with the commenter who questions Fr Bourgeois' standard for determining true doctrine: "Women are telling us they are called ..." Without equating the issues, it is not unlike Gene Robinson telling us he is called to divorce his wife and "marry" his boy friend, while continuing as an Episcopal priest and evenutally bishop. Again without equating the issues, it is also not unlike Mr Phelps and his clan telling us they are called to preach hatred at the funerals of servicemen killed in action, or at the funerals of aids victims. The issues are completely different, but the standard of truth we are asked to listen to is the same: someone's subjective claim to some word of the Lord which is no-where to be found in the Scriptures. I have full sympathy for those who reject these claims.

Ben Witherington said...

Whoa Nelly WN Paul, it was not me who characterized thinking as a mortal sin. Check the string of comments....


CP said...


In australia we HAVE TO VOTE...we do not get the choice to not make a in our world you cannot say "when someone votes, he's gone beyond thinking and having an opinion, and has acted upon his thoughts and opinions."
as it is not an accurate reflection of our context.

i get tired of the same arguments with the same hard nosed tone that many continue to post on this blog...thank goodness i come to read BW3 posts and not the many ahhhhhh....others who wish tooo ahhhhh....hmmmmm....i think i will leave it there :o)
Woman in ministry - Yes!
Priest refusing communion - No! lets hope his request for entry into the kingdom is not the same as his response to obama supporters comming to the table to feast....pure and utter disgrace in my opinion....but oh well i guess we all fall short at some point don't we...take care people.

James W Lung said...

James Kushiner has an editorial in the latest issue of TOUCHSTONE discussing the seamless garment.

FIRSTTHINGS blog has the original letter from Father Newman in full. We should note that the Priest did not say that he would deny communion to Obama voters. As their Pastor he was admonishing them to reconcile with Christ before partaking of the Body and Blood. The communicant is free to reject his counsel. Here is the link:

James W Lung said...

In case anyone is still interested in this line, Fr. Newman points to Obama's support for the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) as a reason why voting for Obama is material participation in intrinsic evil.

FOCA would abolish all state regulation of abortion, such as parental notification requirements, waiting periods, restrictions on medicaid funding, and the like. If enacted, the number of abortions performed each year would definitely increase.

I would hope we could all agree that an additional 100,000 abortions a year is change we can do without.

Anyone interested can check Obama's website:

As to the estimated increase in the number of abortions:

James W Lung said...

Here, much too late for the election but relevant to the discussion, is one UM Pastor's "soft-nosed" (for AG) take on the issue:

wnpaul said...

My apologies to BW3 -- it indeed was not him but the author of the article he quotes. Misread the commas.

To "ag": Even if voting is compulsory, I presume it is possible to check nothing, or more than one choice, all of which would invalidate the vote while fulfilling the requirement to vote.

So there is still a difference between thinking and holding an opinion on the one hand, and translating it into a vote or other action.

Even if they checked the ballot to make sure you didn't invalidate it somehow, and threatened you with a fine or other sanctions for doing so, would not change the fact that voting one way or the other goes beyond thinking or opinions, and that's all I was trying to say.

CP said...

fair enough wnpaul,
but really not voting and 'sitting on the fence' is not really an option...the way our system works is we have preferences, sooooo....i could vote for someone as a dummy vote and in effect their preferences could go to another whos preferences could go to another whos preference would go to the party i was trying not to vote for in the first but i hear what you are saying and disagree...
To James Lung,
Mate it is simply hypocritical and ridiculous to carry on about abortion yet ignore the huge log of war in your eye, or the huge log of disgraceful guantanamo bays tortures that is your can go on about abortion as much as you like, of hich i agree should be an issue to think about, but not the ONLY issue. Guantanamo Bay held one of our citizens for 5 years without charge, but i guess that really isnt an issue of human rights abuse hey?
So i have heard all the abortion arguments under the sun, however, it means nothing too me to quote stats until those who argue realise that there are MANY MANY other things that are of equal concern.
Frankly, IMO, the majority of the World is Happy with Obama being elected because we see a man who understands who and what america really is and looks like, NOT what it think it is and look like to the rest of the world.
Anyway all the best and hope i have helped each of us remove a log or two out of our own
Take care

Unknown said...

This is what the UMC supports:

CP said...

and......? what has that site got to do with anything that has been posted? i for one do not act as God on earth and think i have absolute authority to refuse someone access to particpate in communion because of what candidate they voted for, i wonder if Judas was denied for the 'candidate' he chose? Come on, blow the anti abortion trumpet somewhere else...somewhere it is more relevant to the topic....
*shaking my head in disbelief*
In case you forgot it is about woman being ordained and the refusal of communion to obama supporters......

James W Lung said...

AG: You're the one missing the point of the thread. Fr. Newman, as previously noted, did not ban anyone from communion. As a Pastor and teacher, he pointed out to his parishoners that their vote for Obama was, in his view, knowing participation in evil.

Numerous posts, including yours, have noted disagreement with RC teaching on abortion. None have refuted the argument that the Priest makes.

The RCRC (Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) is relevant for those of us who are Methodist. Our Denomination founded the precursor to RCRC in the late 1960's (Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights) with funds from organized abortionists and the Playboy foundation.

Our Board of Church and Society continues to fund the RCRC. The priorities of the RCRC include passage of the Freedom of Choice Act.

Methodist Christians who believe abortion is probably murder in most cases need to examine the extent that they are supporting the evil of abortion through our church's support of RCRC.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
IlĂ­on said...

I'm not Catholic ... so, of course, the doings of the Catholics and their bureaucracy is no more my business than it is yours.

Nevertheless, Fr. Newman is in the moral right and you are in the moral wrong in your criticism of him. At the same time, I've seen claims that the Catholic bureaucracy, in the person of his bishop, has over-ruled him.

As for Fr. Bourgeois ... what a pantywaist! He *knows* the Catholic rules on this and now he wants to whine about is his potential punishment for breaking those rules. And he wants *us,* none of whose business it is, to get involved ofr "justice."

Really! Is it any wonder the world seems to be falling apart when Christians ... and Christian leaders ... have willingly co-opted themselves to the erroneous-and-frequently-unChristian assumptions of "the world."