Father Joseph Illo: "God Requires This Of Me"

December 9, 2008 09:00 AM

I have been awestruck by the heroic Catholic priests who have asserted Catholic teaching without apology, particularly on the subject of Obama and those Catholics who voted for him. In fact, one might say that there is a new breeze blowing through the Church, and it is so refreshing that I can only pray it becomes a full-force wind.

Father Joseph Illo, pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto, California, first came to my attention the week after Thanksgiving, when someone sent me a live news report about him. The remarkable capacity of the internet makes it possible, as you know, to see the news and listen to it instead of merely reading it. The particular news report I saw was from KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The accompanying photo caption states, "The Rev. Joseph Illo sent a letter on Nov. 21, 2008, to 17,000 parishioners of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto, Calif., saying those who voted for a pro-abortion candidate on Nov. 4 need to repent."

What I found most interesting about the televised news report was the reporter's claim to have spoken with parishioners who, in her words, said that his message "was not necessarily appropriate"! What?
Rather than commenting on this amazing letter, I am using this column to reprint it so that you can read it for yourself. It is so rich in theology, love of truth and the stuff of which great messages of hope are made. Enjoy it.


November 21, 2008
Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Dear Parishioners of St. Joseph's,

Recently I said at Mass: "If you voted for a pro-abortion candidate on November 4, and you knew what you were doing, you need to go to confession before receiving communion." Have I spoken out of turn? I will answer that question, as best as I can, at the end of this letter.

All Catholics have the grave obligation to defend every innocent human life, but in particular the poorest and neediest. Jesus said: "What you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me." There are many kinds of poor in Stanislaus County. The homeless, the incarcerated, the elderly poor, the infirm and those in nursing homes all need our special love. I am privileged to pastor a parish that lovingly serves all of these types of needy people. But there is an entire class of Americans who are targeted for focused attack, a people with no rights, whose very lives are at the whim of judges and politicians. I of course speak about Americans before they are born. The abortion industry, and our legal system, refuses to recognize the humanity of the human fetus. But if a human fetus is not human, what is it?

We Catholics, and all people of good will and sound reason, must defend the lives of these poorest of the poor. Protecting unborn people from abortion is the defining issue of our time, as constantly clarified by our Church: "Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable," wrote John Paul II in the Gospel of Life (1995). "Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name."

Many Catholics voted for candidates on November 4 who stated clearly that they would promote abortion. President-elect Obama, for example, promised Planned Parenthood that the first thing he would do upon taking office is to sign the so-called "Freedom of Choice Act," which would grant unlimited access to abortion in all 50 states up until the moment of live birth. Many Catholics voted for such pro-abortion candidates thinking that their good positions on other issues, such as the war or health care, outweighed their deplorable stand on abortion. Many discount "one-issue voting," but if the issue is grave enough, no one would object to "one-issue voting." For example, if the issue were legalizing slavery, no one would hesitate to vote against a candidate on this one issue. In fact, this election was a largely one-issue vote anyway, and that issue was the economy. What we Catholics, and all people of sound reason, must understand is that a refusal to protect all human life is a deal-breaker. Abortion is a much graver issue than slavery.

My dear brothers and sisters, I know many were confused about the issues. It is a difficult time for us all, and we are facing new social and cultural issues. Neither have your pastors and bishops spoken clearly and with one voice on these issues. But one thing is clear and certain: we can never vote for a candidate who promises to promote abortion. No one who promotes the killing of unborn people can be entrusted with the public good. "The greatest destroyer of peace in the world today," wrote Mother Teresa, "is abortion." It is not the economy, war, health care, poverty, or terrorism. It is abortion. "Human life," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception….the inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of civil society and its legislation." In other words, this is a civil rights issue, We have to speak for those who have no voice. We must demand honesty from our public officials, who are clearly dishonest when they pretend that the human fetus is not human.

If you are one of the 54% of Catholics who voted for a pro-abortion candidate, you were clear on his position, and you knew the gravity of the question, I urge you to go to confession before receiving communion. Don't risk losing your state of grace by receiving sacrilegiously. I appeal to your conscience, grounded in Church teaching. To some degree we all have the blood of these children on our hands. I myself have confessed sacramentally, and I confess to you now, that I have not done enough to defend these children. Their blood is on my hands too. We will see them in the next life, and they will ask us why we let them die.

Pope Benedict wrote in 2004 (as Cardinal Ratzinger) that Catholic public officials who "consistently campaign and vote for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" are guilty of grave evil. If they have been warned to abstain from Holy Communion and persist in promoting abortion, he wrote, "the minister of holy Communion must refuse to distribute it" to them. In
2002 he had written that "a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program … that contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals."

If you voted for a pro-abortion candidate, I cannot say for certain if you should refrain from Holy Communion. I don't know what you were thinking. But voting for a candidate, who promises "abortion rights," even if he promises every other good thing, is voting for abortion. It is a grave mistake, and probably a grave sin. No issue can compare with the legalized destruction of a mother's child. I am writing to you because I love you and I care about your relationship with God. I am also writing because God requires this of me as a Catholic priest….

We do not have to settle for "pro-abortion" candidates. We can and must demand that our public officials protect the inalienable right of all Americans to live and flourish. If every Catholic in his district told Congressman Dennis Cardoza, for example, that we support him and most of his policies, but that we will not vote for him unless he defends all human life, he would change his position. All of us Catholics, all people of sound reason and good will, can and must simply require our public officials to act reasonably and responsibly in respect to human life.

If you need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our priests hear confessions on Fridays from 6:30-7:30pm, and Saturdays from 8:30-9:30am and 4-5pm. May God bless you, our families, our parish, and our nation.

Yours sincerely in Christ, Fr. Joseph Illo, Pastor

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