Priest clarifies meaning of Obama letter; Says if support intentional, confession 'may' be needed

Reply Tue 2 Dec, 2008 11:20 am
Priest clarifies meaning of Obama letter; says if support intentional, confession 'may' be needed
By Sue Nowicki - Modesto Bee
last updated: December 01, 2008

The Rev. Joseph Illo, pastor of Modesto's St. Joseph's Catholic Church, wants to make this clear: He never told his parishioners that if they voted for Barack Obama, they needed to go to confession.

He interrupted his homily on the first Sunday in Advent to clarify his position.

He began by saying, "All of life is an advent -- preparing for the second coming of Christ. ... Christmas is about a baby born. At this point, the first Sunday in Advent, Mary's child, Jesus, is still in the womb."

Then he switched gears and said, "I have to speak to the attention my little letter to you has gotten."

That letter, dated Nov. 21 and first mentioned in The Bee on Saturday, led to stories picked up by news media around the world. In the letter, Illo told the parish's estimated 15,000 members that they risked their "state of grace" if they received communion without having attended confession - but only if they voted for Obama knowing his position on abortion.

The letter read, in part, "If you are one of the 54 percent 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."

Though many Catholic leaders across the country spoke out against the president-elect's abortion stance, Illo is thought to be the only priest in Central California to send a letter to his parishioners.

The Most Rev. Stephen Blaire, bishop of the Stockton Diocese, has said there is no need for Catholics to share how they voted with their priests.

Illo said he has received phone calls and e-mails from people on the East Coast and even from a man in Japan. Television and radio stations have called for comment, including one San Francisco radio station that asked him to answer comments from listeners between the 9 and 10:30 a.m. services.

"This is a serious issue," he said from the pulpit Sunday to a standing-room-only crowd. "But it's not about whom you vote for as much as it is what you vote for. We as Catholics have the duty to protect the rights of all people. We have a precious opportunity as Catholics and Christians to promote a culture of life."

Intentional support an issue

Abortion long has been considered immoral by the Catholic Church. Obama has publicly supported the Freedom of Choice Act, passed by the last Congress, which would among other things use taxpayer money to subsidize abortions, eliminate all state parental notification laws and would not protect the lives of infants born alive after an abortion attempt.

So if parishioners intentionally had supported any candidate who is an abortion rights advocate -- not just Obama - that attitude is what Illo said "may" need confessing.

"Abortion clinics don't like to do sonograms showing the life that exists," Illo said in his sermon. "That's what Christmas is all about -- we want to see the baby, we want to see God; no one can resist the baby. About God who made himself so close to us."

After the service, his parishioners stood in a long line to greet him and utter words of support.

One woman said the parish is behind Illo "100 percent" and a man thanked him for having the "courage to stand."

Support for Obama affirmed

Later, Illo sat down with The Bee to expand on his views.

"I affirm and support President-elect Obama and every good thing he will do for this country," he said. "He has the charisma of leadership, the gift of speech. We have hope that he will end this war and that he'll bring stability to our economy. He's a tremendously gifted man.

"We, as Catholics, pray (for) and support all of our elected leaders. And we believe that our elected officials will someday recognize the rights of all Americans, including those who are not yet born.

"I never condemned Barack Obama. But we must condemn a policy that eliminates the rights of a whole class of people. We are behind him in everything good, but we can't support him in this thing that is bad."

The Bee sent an e-mail to Obama's headquarters in Chicago requesting a response to Illo's letter, but the office was closed Sunday.
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