"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.
"Our nation has chosen for its chief executive the most radical pro-abortion politician ever to serve in the United States Senate or to run for president," Newman wrote, referring to Obama by his full name, including his middle name of Hussein.
"Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ's Church and under the judgment of divine law."
However, Laughlin wrote that Newman's statements "do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church's teachings."
"Christ gives us freedom to explore our own conscience and to make our own decisions while adhering to the law of God and the teachings of the faith," Laughlin wrote. "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."
Newman told The Associated Press on Thursday his missive was not intended to be partisan.
"If the Republican candidate had been pro-abortion, and the Democratic candidate had been pro-life, everything that I wrote would have been exactly the same," he said.
Newman did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Friday.
[While Rev. Newman's original letter has been removed from the church's Web site, a Google cache version of it may be found here.]
Conservative Catholics criticized Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 for supporting abortion rights, with a few Catholic bishops saying Kerry should refrain from receiving Holy Communion because his views were contrary to church teachings.
Four years later, many bishops spoke out on abortion more boldly, telling Catholic politicians and voters the issue should be the most important in deciding which candidate to back. Some church leaders said parishioners risked their immortal souls by voting for candidates who support abortion rights.
In their annual fall meeting, the nation's Catholic bishops vowed Tuesday to forcefully confront the Obama administration over its support for abortion rights.
According to national exit polls, 54 percent of Catholics chose Obama, who is Protestant. In South Carolina, which McCain carried, voters in Greenville County - traditionally seen as among the state's most conservative areas - went 61 percent for the Republican, and 37 percent for Obama.
By Associated Press Writer Meg Kinnard