Modesto Priest Clarifies Stance on Obama Votes

By Sue Nowicki
Fresno Bee
November 30, 2008

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

The Rev. Joseph Illo interrupted his homily on the first Sunday in Advent to clarify his position, outlined in a Nov. 21 letter sent to 15,000 members of the St. Joseph's parish and picked up by news media around the world.

That letter told parishioners that if they were clear on Obama's position on abortion and "knew the gravity of the question, I urge you to go to confession before receiving communion."

On Sunday, Illo told parishioners that "I have to speak to the attention my little letter to you has gotten."

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."

The Catholic Church considers abortion to be immoral. Obama is an abortion-rights supporter.

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

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%" and a man thanked him for having the "courage to stand."

Later, Illo said in an interview that he considers Obama a "tremendously gifted man" and supports every good thing Obama will do for the country.


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