The Roman Catholic bishop of Colorado Springs has said Catholics should not receive Communion if they vote for politicians who support abortion rights (search), stem-cell research, euthanasia and gay marriage.
Bishop Michael Sheridan (search) said voters should receive the sacrament only if they recant and repent in the confessional. However, he said no one will be enforcing the rule in the Communion line.
While several U.S. bishops have issued similar warnings to Catholic lawmakers who defy church teaching in policymaking, Sheridan is believed to be the first to expand that directive to voters this election year.
Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis said previously he would not give Communion to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) because the senator backs abortion rights.
Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans and Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston are among those who say Catholic politicians who dissent from church teaching should not seek to receive the sacrament.
Sheridan made his comments in a May 1 pastoral letter published in the diocese's newspaper and sent to each parish in the diocese. It is the second-largest in Colorado, covering 125,000 Catholics in 10 counties.
The bishop's statement drew sharp criticism from some quarters.
"I think it is an outrageous intrusion into what is supposed to be the separation of church and state. It is frightening," said Michael Merrifield, a Democratic state lawmaker who is not Catholic but represents part of the heavily religious Colorado Springs area. "It goes against everything that we believe is important to democracy since we founded this country."
In his letter, Sheridan said the separation of church and state does not mean that the "well-formed consciences of religious people should not be brought to bear on their political choices."
"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," he said.
Sheridan did not return a call Friday from The Associated Press. But he told The Denver Post he singled out abortion and the other topics because they are "intrinsically evil." He also decried same-sex marriage as deviant behavior.
In practice, his warning will probably not have much impact on Catholics taking Communion because no questions are asked beforehand.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver has not taken a stand so far on whether defiant Catholic lawmakers should receive Communion, but he has criticized them, saying they offer a "dishonest public witness."
Several other bishops have said they would not be comfortable denying Communion to Catholic politicians.
A special panel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (search) is developing guidelines for church leaders in their relationships with Catholic lawmakers. But it's not clear whether any action will come before Election Day.