Press Coverage of SC Priest's 'Repudiation' Ignores Superior's Earlier Support, Clever Dodges in Official Letter

The plot surrounding Father Jay Scott Newman's admonishment to Barack Obama-supporting parishoners has thickened.

On Friday (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), I noted news that Fr. Newman, a Catholic priest and pastor at St. Mary's Church in Greenville, South Carolina, had informed parishoners who voted for Barack Obama in full knowledge of the Illinois Senator's aggressively proabortion positions that they "should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance."

This is not a controversial position, but rather, as shown at BizzyBlog earlier today, bedrock Catholic teaching, to the point where if you vote for a known proabortion presidential candidate or any other candidate in a position to meaningfully influence the law and do not repent, you're not a legitimate practicing Catholic. Period.

Well, it turns out that Father Newman originally had the full support of Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin, the acting administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, which currently does not have a bishop. But two days later, Msgr. Laughlin reprimanded Fr. Newman in what appeared to be fairly harsh terms (they really weren't; I'll get to that).

Most of the press has covered the story as if Msgr. Laughlin's initial support never existed. But Carolyn Click's report at The State on Friday (HT Catholic Culture) shows otherwise:

While Newman has been the most outspoken of South Carolina priests in the wake of the election, the administrator of the diocese of Charleston, Msgr. Martin T. Laughlin, supports him fully, said diocese spokesman Steve Gajdosik.

“I think it’s fair to say that Father Newman’s letter echoes the sentiments of Father Laughlin,” he said.

In October, Laughlin wrote a letter on faith and citizenship to the state’s Roman Catholics that urged the faithful to be “moral voters.”

“It was more of a positive exhortation to do good, to do the right thing,” Gajdosik said.

Further, Catholic Culture reports the following (bold is mine):

..... other priests of the Charleston diocese had already indicated their support for Father Newman. On November 12, for example, Father Newman received this message:

Thank you for your statement. I wish the bishops would have been as forthright. Why did they not speak before the election?

That email message was sent to Father Newman by... are you ready?... Msgr. Laughlin.

Totally oblivious to all of this (or perhaps pretending to be), Fox News's James Abrams and the Associated Press's Meg Kinnard reported yesterday that, in Abrams's words, Fr. Newman had been "officially repudiated."

But read Kinnard's AP story, smugly headlined "Communion For Obama Voters? Yes We Can!" at CBS News's web site, and you simply will not find the "repudiation" the writers claim is there:

A Roman Catholic South Carolina priest should not have told parishioners who voted for President-elect Barack Obama to refrain from taking Holy Communion because of his stance in support of abortion, the church's senior officer in the state said Friday.

"This past week, the Catholic Church's clear, moral teaching on the evil of abortion has been pulled into the partisan political arena," Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin, administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, said Friday in a statement posted on the diocese's Web site. Recent comments by the Rev. Jay Scott Newman, Laughlin wrote, "diverted the focus from the Church's clear position against abortion."

Earlier this week, Newman said in a letter to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Greenville that they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion without first doing penance for voting for the Democrat.

Sorry, AP and Fox, "He shouldn't have done it" is miles away from "what he said was wrong." There's a reason for that: What Father Newman said is right, and in total accordance with Catholic doctrine.

Nor will you find repudiation of Father Newman's positions in the full text (PDF found here) of Msgr. Laughlin's release. The good Monsignor "cleverly" stayed within the strict letter of Catholic doctrine while seeming to placate Fr. Newman's earthly critics when he wrote that:

Christ gives us freedom to explore our own conscience and to make our own decisions while adhering to the law of God and to 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.

That's cute, Msgr. Laughlin. As shown earlier today, the "teachings of the faith" are that abortion is intrinsically evil, and that voting for candidates who support abortion (and, in Obama's case, advocate extending its practice beyond where it is today) is also intrinsically evil. A "Catholic" who claims that a vote for a known proabortion candidate is defensible if their conscience says so is only demonstrating that he or she has not "formed his or her conscience well"!

Msgr. Laughlin surely knows all of this. Yet in his "clever" statement pretending to undercut a parish priest while not really doing so, he deliberately missed an important teachable moment.

Why?

Voting Catholic in 2008 dissects it well, and deserves a full reading. But it would seem to boil down to this -- a "higher authority" is exerting its authority in a manner that is not consistent with the wishes of THE Higher Authority:

Bishops who are differing on whether voters and lawmakers should refrain from receiving Communion are not in communion with the Catholic Church, and one ought to mosey on down the road if they are at all interested in their own salvation and that of their children.

Indeed. Catholic Culture asks a question conscientious reporters, if they still exist, would be attempting to answer:

Wouldn't you love to see Msgr. Laughlin's phone log for November 12-14?

The full text of Father Newman's letter is also at the BizzyBlog link (originally found at the Boston Globe; HT Voting Catholic in 2008).

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.