Quashing Truth In South Carolina

November 20, 2008 09:00 AM

Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina, recently advised his parishioners, 

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. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.

When he made this statement, I am positive he did not realize it would make him a nationally known figure and that it would be condemned by his own diocese. How could he?

The final sentence of the paragraph above was commented on by highly qualified theologians who were concerned that Father Newman had oversimplified the matter and needed to address the theological arguments differently.

Father Newman realized, within a day, that a more complete explanation was in order so that his parishioners would understand fully what he was teaching. He immediately posted that expanded clarification of Church teaching on the parish web site.  But you won't find it there now!

Why? The reason is that the administrator for the Diocese of Charleston repudiated Father Newman  and has prohibited him from talking to the media. The administrator, Msgr. MartinLaughlin, contributed to misrepresentations in the media by distorting what Father Newman actually said. And he silenced this priest, rather than giving him the support he surely deserved for taking such a courageous position in the first place.

As Phil Lawler wrote in his blog,

Unfortunately the Charleston diocese ordered Father Newman not to release that clarification, and the excellent statement that was posted on the St. Mary's parish web site has been removed. So the confusion endures.

This campaign season saw the debate over abortion, and more particularly, over the duty of Catholic voters to resist legal abortion. Imagine if Father Newman had issued the same sort of pastoral warning regarding some immoral behavior that does not carry such strong political implications. Suppose, for instance, he had said that men who use pornography, or women who have undergone voluntary sterilization, should not receive Communion before making a good Confession. Would such a warning draw a rebuke from the chancery, too? If a pastor cannot warn his people about the moral consequences of their behavior, then the Church cannot instruct the faithful.

Father Newman's statement was a powerful challenge, not only to his own parishioners, but to countless thousands of Catholics and even non-Catholics who read it. He forcefully reminded us all that abortion is not an abstraction (as those who pound home the slogan of "choice" would have us believe) but a concrete reality. Our attitude toward abortion is not only a matter of personal opinion but a moral decision, for which we shall all be held to account.

This action by Msgr. Laughlin exposes, in a way I could never have imagined, the problems we are facing in this age of media posturing, political maneuvering and mediocre clarifications of the most crucial questions of our day. It would seem that watering down truth has become the modus operandi for far too many diocesan administrators and bishops, not to mention moral theologians.

An excellent commentary, "South Carolina Priest Thrown Under the Bus," in the Remnant newspaper brings to light a situation that every single American, not only Catholics, should find troubling. For when the Remnant contacted Father Newman for comment, he said, "I have been instructed not to distribute my bulletin column and letter which I wrote earlier today and to refer everyone who asks to the diocesan website and Msgr. Laughlin's statement."

The Remnant continues,

So, in other words, the diocese has shut him down, referred all reporters to the diocese, which is not going to return calls or grant interviews, but instead refers everyone to their "statement" which selectively quotes parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about a Catholic's conscience formation to "refute" Father Newman's clear and orthodox Catholic teaching.

The official statement of the Charleston diocese, dated November 14, states, 

This past week, the Catholic Church's clear, moral teaching on the evil of abortion has been pulled into the partisan political arena. The recent comments of Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C., have diverted the focus from the Church's clear position against abortion. As Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, let me state with clarity that Father Newman's statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church's teachings. Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated. . .

Christ gives us freedom to explore our own conscience and to make our own decisions while adhering to the law of God and the teachings of the faith. Therefore, if a person has formed his or her conscience well, he or she should not be denied Communion, nor be told to go to confession before receiving Communion.

I am not a moral theologian, but clearly the diocese has chosen to undermine the truth by muddying the waters and abandoning a wonderful Catholic priest and shepherd who is indeed concerned for the souls entrusted to his care. How can anyone argue that, because a Catholic pastor has clearly taught his people the reasons why voting for a pro-abortion person is sinful, that he is a pastor who "has diverted the focus from the Church's clear position against abortion"?

Sharon Howey, a parishioner at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C., quotes Fr. Newman's homily from this past Sunday, "Fr. Newman also mentioned his regret that the larger part of his letter, which asked for prayers for Obama, was completely ignored by the media." Her commentary for Lifesitenews had much to say about Fr. Newman and his "Letter from the Pastor."

A priest who knows Father Newman quite well e-mailed this to a friend of mine: "Now Fr. Newman finds himself climbing his own Calvary, carrying a heavy cross, given his refusal to live a cowardly priestly existence – including enduring a wishy-washy Pontius Pilate-style diocesan administrator who changes his mind, based on whatever forces are controlling him at the moment."

Amen and amen!

If you agree with this eloquently stated assessment, I hope you will let Msgr. Laughlin know your opinion of Father Jay Scott Newman's actions. And I suggest you also send a note of thanks to Father Newman as well. Use their submission form, and perhaps all of the e-mails will show the Diocese of Charleston what kind of support he has.

Fr. Jay Scott Newman: http://www.stmarysgvl.org/ Click on the link below his name to send him the e-mail.

Msgr. Laughlin:

It will interest you to know that according to Rev. Dwight Logenecker that the parish web site for St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C. did in fact, pull Fr. Newman's e-mail address for his own protection and privacy. However, he did receive more than 5,000 e-mails! 

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