Bishop’s gambit

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, where at least three priests have been accused of sexual abuse, is headed by Bishop Michael Sheridan.

Sheridan, The Denver Post reports, has recently found a way for his diocese to make national headlines about something other than the buggering of adolescent boys:

The bishop of Colorado's second-largest Roman Catholic diocese has issued a pastoral letter saying Catholics cannot receive Communion if they vote for politicians who support abortion rights, stem-cell research, euthanasia or gay marriage.

Only after citizens reverse their positions and repent for their sins in the confessional would access to the central ritual of the church be restored, Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan instructed 125,000 Catholics in his charge.

(The full text of the letter can be found here, along with another creepy photo of Sheridan.) Some excerpts:

This coming November we Americans will participate in one of the most important national elections in recent history. … I consider it my duty as your bishop to write to you about these matters so that you might go to the polls this fall with a well-informed conscience. …

The right judgment of conscience is not a matter of personal preference nor has it anything to do with feelings. It has only to do with objective truth. … As Catholics we have the further obligation to give assent to the doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church. …

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.

For the record, I do not know of a single Catholic politician in the history of the United States who has "advocated for abortion."

Abortion, divorce and adultery are three things the Catholic Church opposes which remain legal in the United States. Most Catholic politicians do not advocate changing the law — and dispensing with the Constitution — in order to make these things illegal. Their position cannot said to be "advocating for abortion" any more than they can be said to be "advocating for divorce" or "advocating for adultery." One can certainly agree with the Catholic Church's teaching that these three things are undesirable, even that they are sins, while also agreeing that attempting to criminalize them would succeed only in producing additional grievous problems.

Sheridan's real complaint is not with Catholic politicians or with Catholic voters, but with the wisdom of the American legal system and the Constitution. He's either not smart enough to realize this himself, or he is cynically shrewd enough to realize that a frontal assault on the Constitution might not play as well in the media as his clerical grandstanding. He's attacking the Constitution diagonally, as any bishop would.

Let's be very clear: This poor man's Richelieu has commanded Catholics in his diocese to vote as he instructs them to on threat of eternal damnation.

Diocesan spokesman Peter Howard says exactly this: "Some people will accuse us of using this as a political maneuver to vote a certain way. It's for their own spiritual salvation."

Howard does not deny that Sheridan's commands to the 125,000 Catholics in his diocese are "a political maneuver to vote a certain way." He only explains why the bishop is commanding how they vote: "It's for their own spiritual salvation."

This sort of thing has lots of historical precedent. It's why my French Huguenot ancestors came here in the first place.

You must vote according to conscience or be damned, the bishop says. Conscience is a matter of objective truth; objective truth is a matter of church teaching; church teaching is what I tell you it is. Therefore you must vote as I say or be damned.

The next step — always — is "Therefore you must vote for me."

Perhaps this ridiculous, impious little cross-dresser in Colorado Springs is not himself quite ambitious enough to take that next step. But someone will if we don't convincingly shout down these foolish little Napoleon wanna-bes as they arise.

That next step doesn't mean bishops ordering the faithful to elect a particular president. It means ordering the faithful to anoint a particular king.

That's not Catholic. It's just medieval.

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  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden

    He doesn’t have control — or even access to — the Holy Spirit’s appointment book.
    Free moral agency necessarily means you have the ability to screw up. Lo, he has.

  • Surreal

    In late-breaking news, I have heard from a source close to Sheridan that he will tell his constituents not to vote for anyone who advocates for masturbation.

  • Legomancer

    I’m a former Catholic and just don’t get them. A Cyclops has better depth perception than this bunch. I have no love for this antique Beast, but maybe someday it will rise like a Phoenix and join us in the 21st century. I know it’s a Longshot, but maybe if enough priests go Rogue and start meeting the needs of their parishoners instead of an old man in Rome, this Colossus will stir and once again be relevant.
    An X-Catholic

  • Rebecca Allen, PhD

    My understanding is that all of this stuff is being driven by a right-wing cardinal in Rome who wants to be the next Pope, and sees aligning with the right wing in the US as a way of advancing his ambitions. Assuming this is correct, I think it’s helpful to publicize this, since doing so exposes that this is all about politics and ambition, and has nothing to do with spirituality or salvation.

  • Marley

    Funny you should say that…
    I was just discussing with someone yesterday how much control the Pope actually has these days. He’s pretty decrepit, and I figure it would be easy for some well-placed Cardinals to flex their muscles. That’s not to say John-Paul II wouldn’t approve, but I don’t know about that.

  • The Roman Catholic bishop of Colorado Springs has said Catholics should not receive Communion if they vote for politicians who support abortion rights , stem-cell research, euthanasia and gay marriage.

    slacktivist has a good bit on this and a slightly related on C.S. Lewis’ views on “theocracy”

  • Tim

    Can I still be a Catholic if I believe that the most important thing Jesus ever said was:
    “The kingdom of heaven is spread out upon the earth and men do not see it.”

  • pfc

    I would suggest that the Bishops are using this as a ploy to divert attention away from the abuse scandals. I think its a poor choice and will backfire, but they haven’t exactly been atuned to the tone of the country lately, have they?

  • Mr. McFeely

    Fred, while I agree wholeheartedly that Bishop Sheridan’s demands are an affront to all thinking people in this country, as a Catholic, I’m deeply disappointed that you have decided to use the mode of dress of the priestly orders as part of the (otherwise deserved) ad hominem attack on the bishop.

  • REV

    In addition to pfc’s comments, the Catholic Church hasn’t been atuned to the plights of the world in the last 200 years. The bishop’s letter is another sad commentary on the state of affairs in the Vatican; another vain attempt to stick its perverbial nose where it doesn’t belong. Perhaps the Church has realized that it has outlived its usefulness, so it sides with the ideals of ultra right wing conservatives, which happen to be in power, by damning tnis country’s fundamental tenets of individuality. I say if they want to get involved in U.S. politics, then its time to step up to the plate and pay your taxes like everyone else. Would probably help with some of this deficit mess we are all currently enduring.

  • Fred

    Mr. M —
    My bad. I mainly meant that as a pun on “cross” — as in he wears one, but it’s not what he really seems to be about. (Constantine wore one too.) I have no respect for Sheridan, but I didn’t intend the mockery to extend beyond him. My apologies.
    By the way, saw Sheridan on Nightline — he looks even more like Herbert Lom live. He even had that eye twitch thing. I kept waiting for him to start muttering about Clouseau.

  • Zibblsnrt

    I’m fairly certain excommunication isn’t one of the powers a mere bishop has…

  • Ab_Normal

    I’m an ex-Catholic, but my mother, sister, and brother-in-law are all observant Catholics. I discussed this issue with my Mom last night, and she thinks Bishop Sheridan is being unbelievably stupid. She told me this story: A few weeks ago, the priest basically said, “Don’t worry, the Bishop will tell you how to vote in November.” (We’re in Washington state, not Colorado.) They haven’t been back to church since, they’re that pissed. It’ll be interesting to see what affect Sheridan’s pronouncement has on church attendance…

  • Stuart Buck

    Sheridan’s real complaint is not with Catholic politicians or with Catholic voters, but with the wisdom of the American legal system and the Constitution. He’s either not smart enough to realize this himself, or he is cynically shrewd enough to realize that a frontal assault on the Constitution might not play as well in the media as his clerical grandstanding. He’s attacking the Constitution diagonally, as any bishop would.
    Attacking the Constitution? You do know that abortion isn’t in the Constitution, don’t you? Those who think (actually, who know) that abortion kills human lives dislike the pretense that the Constitution protects that activity, just as abolitionists of a different sort disliked the pretense that the Constitution protected slavery. I doubt that abolitionists — even religious ones — would have been deterred by accusations that they were “attacking the Constitution.”