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COLE: Bishop Sheridan on Catholics, the pope and politicians

October 9, 2012

On Thursday, Oct. 4, I sat down with Michael Sheridan, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, to discuss Catholicism and politics.

Excerpts from our exchange follow:

Daniel Cole: In 2004, you made national headlines when you spoke out against Catholic politicians on the wrong side of four non-negotiables: abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. You said that these politicians, and Catholics who vote for them, may not receive Communion until they have recanted and confessed. Is that still your position?

Bishop Sheridan: It’s clear to me that the Code of Canon Law, Canon 915, says that a Catholic politician who publicly espouses positions that are contrary, not just to any teachings of the Church, but to serious moral teachings, should not receive Holy Communion until they recant those positions publicly. Voters needs a little bit more nuance, because there the question is, are we voting for those politicians precisely because of their positions on those non-negotiable issues? Here is what I would say: It would be very difficult for me to understand how, if there are two candidates quite far apart in their positions on these matters, I could vote for the one who consistently opposes these Church teachings, simply because he might be in favor of a few good things.

DC: Would support for the contraceptives mandate also disqualify Catholic politicians from receiving Communion? Is that a new non-negotiable?

Sheridan: I think we do need to add to that list (of non-negotiables) religious liberty. Absolutely, yes. I think a Catholic politician who publicly and consistently defends the mandate, which causes people to violate their conscience — yes, I think that’s right up there with the rest of them.

DC: If Vice President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, were to swing through Colorado Springs on a campaign tour and attend your Mass, would you deny him Communion?

Sheridan: He should know, and I would do everything I could do to make sure that he knows, he ought not to be receiving Communion. 

DC: In 2011, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared that it supports “comprehensive immigration reform,” including “earned legalization” for undocumented immigrants, or in other words, amnesty. Is that position binding on Catholics?

Sheridan: I believe that a good Catholic is always going to look out for the dignity, the welfare of every human being. There are always prudential judgments to be made about how that’s accomplished, whether it’s about immigration, or the economy, or fixing Medicare. There are going to be different opinions on that, so the simple answer is, if one person or one party proposes this plan, another proposes that plan, then you have to decide which one you believe is for the common good, for the good of the individual, etc. That’s very different, though, because you can’t make that kind of a prudential judgment on issues that are intrinsically evil. That’s a whole different category. 

DC: The USCCB has also called for an end to the death penalty, as did Pope John Paul II. Are Catholics obligated to share that position?

Sheridan: Catholics are bound to take that teaching seriously, but you’ll note that in the Catechism, it says there actually may be circumstances under which the death penalty can or should — I’m not quoting it exactly — be applied. As soon as you say that, you know you’re not talking about intrinsic evil, because there would be no circumstances under which it could be done. So again, I think a Catholic is obliged to take that seriously, but take Antonin Scalia. Very good Catholic, very bright man, defends the use of the death penalty. Is he a bad Catholic for that? I don’t think so. I think he’s a thoughtful man. So I think a Catholic is really not disagreeing if he says, “I can see circumstances in which it could be used.” But does one have to take what the pope said very seriously? Yes.

DC: Do the Church’s social justice teachings require Catholics to support government welfare programs?

Sheridan: Not that I’m not aware of. I think we recognize that the government can and should do things for people, especially people who are in great need. But really the obligation is for us as individuals, as Catholics, as believers, to be charitable toward our neighbor. I don’t know that that extends to supporting government welfare programs.

DC: With the contraceptives mandate and growing support for same-sex marriage, American culture seems to be rejecting Catholic principles. Yet for the first time, both the Republican and the Democratic candidates for Vice President are Catholic. What do you make of that?  

Sheridan: It certainly sets up an interesting contrast, doesn’t it? It really doesn’t permit us to say, well, he’s of a different religion, I can understand why he would think differently about this, and that muddies the whole comparison. Now you have two Catholics, two men who claim to be good, practicing Catholics, and they’re just diametrically opposed in so many areas. I’d say it gives us a pretty clear choice, that’s what I’d say. It gives me a pretty clear choice.

Daniel Cole is a regular opinion columnist for The Gazette. He is a local teacher and a translator.

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