A dispute within the Catholic Church over whether politicians who support abortion rights should be allowed to receive the sacrament of Communion is hitting close to home.
State Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat, tweeted Saturday morning he was denied Communion on Friday “based on [his] political office.”
“My new parish priest has indicated he will do the same after the last [priest] was run off,” Cervantes wrote in a tweet that has generated more than 1,000 responses. “Please pray for church authorities as Catholicism transitions under Pope Francis.”
Cervantes did not return a message seeking comment Monday but issued a statement about the incident, which has been receiving attention from various publications.
“Since voting to eliminate an unconstitutional and never used New Mexico law, which would imprison women for abortion, some new clergy have decided I am unwelcome at their communion,” said Cervantes, referring to a vote during the 60-day legislative session earlier this year to repeal a half-century-old law that criminalized abortion in New Mexico.
“While I ordinarily prefer to practice my faith privately with my family, I felt it necessary to address those who would politicize, and thereby belittle, the promises of the Eucharist,” he added.
The repeal has been a source of political controversy for years.
An effort in 2019 to repeal the law died on the Senate floor when eight moderate and conservative-leaning Democrats joined all 16 Republican senators in voting to keep the law on the books. Five of those Democrats lost their primary races to more progressive candidates who made the anti-abortion law a major campaign issue, and the repeal was among the first orders of business when the Legislature reconvened this year.
The bill was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who also is Catholic.
“As is clear in her record of public service, the governor has fought to preserve access to reproductive healthcare throughout her career,” Nora Meyers Sackett, Lujan Grisham’s press secretary, wrote in an email.
Asked how the governor reconciled supporting abortion rights and being a member of the Catholic Church, which prohibits abortion, Sackett responded: “There is nothing to ‘reconcile’ between her personal religious beliefs and the basic human dignity and equality she has fought for in her professional life.”
Sackett confirmed the governor is Catholic but didn’t answer whether she receives Communion.
“As a spokesperson for the executive office of state government I am not comfortable commenting further on questions about the governor’s personal religious practices and beliefs,” she wrote.
In his tweet, Cervantes wrote he was denied Communion, or the Eucharist, “by the Catholic bishop here in Las Cruces,” apparently referring to Peter Baldacchino, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces.
Cervantes said in his statement he has “actively participated” his parish church and the diocese for the past 50 years, including at times as the diocese’s attorney. He also said he “in no way intended to judge or provoke more hate” when he took to social media.
“I wanted to encourage values based on inclusivity, understanding, forgiveness and compassion, which are the core of Christ’s teachings,” Cervantes said. “Jesus set the table for our communion, and shared bread and wine with all of his disciples without passing judgment on their fitness. I appreciate those in the clergy of my church who closely follow Christ’s example, and who do not belittle the Eucharist in politics.”
Chris Velasquez, a spokesman for the diocese, said Baldacchino was unavailable for comment. But the diocese issued a statement in response to Cervantes’ tweet.
“The New Mexico Legislature recently passed some of the most extreme pro-abortion legislation in the country,” the diocese wrote. “Prior to passage of the legislation, both Bishop Baldacchino and Senator Cervantes’ pastor reached out to him multiple times in order to convey to him the teaching of the Catholic Church. Senator Cervantes never answered or responded to diocesan communications. Finally, in a personal letter to Senator Cervantes, his pastor advised him that a vote in favor of this particular Senate bill would constitute a grave moral evil and that he should not present himself for Communion.”
The diocese also wrote neither Baldacchino nor the unidentified pastor would’ve publicized the “private admonitions” they conveyed to Cervantes “as it is a pastoral matter.”
“The Diocese regrets that Senator Cervantes chose not to enter into dialogue with any diocesan official and felt that Twitter would be the most appropriate outlet to express his concerns,” the diocese wrote.
Cervantes is not the first politician to be denied Communion in New Mexico.
On the eve of her inauguration, former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who was divorced and remarried outside the Church, did not receive the sacrament at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Former Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan offered Martinez a blessing instead.
The controversy involving Cervantes comes as conservative American Catholic bishops call to deny Communion to politicians who support abortion rights — including President Joe Biden, who regularly attends Mass.
The New York Times reported earlier this month some leading bishops, “whose priorities clearly aligned with former President Donald J. Trump, now want to reassert the centrality of opposition to abortion in the Catholic faith and lay down a hard line — especially with a liberal Catholic in the Oval Office.”
In the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Archbishop John C. Wester “is not in favor of denying Catholic politicians communion based on how they vote in the Legislature,” spokeswoman Leslie Radigan wrote in an email.
State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who is Catholic, said he voted against repealing New Mexico’s abortion ban because he was representing the views of a majority of his constituents.
“My constituents are made up of Navajos and Zunis,” he said. “In their religious beliefs, they do not believe in that. They believe in what God gives you, God gives you, and that’s what you deal with.”
Muñoz, who attended Catholic school, said he didn’t factor his personal beliefs in his vote.
“My own personal beliefs would have been the opposite,” he said, adding “times have changed.”
A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of U.S. Catholics support legalized abortion, though a majority also believe it is morally wrong.
“I don’t base my votes upon my religious beliefs because that’s not who put me there,” Muñoz said. “Maybe God had a little bit to do with it … but it’s the voters that determine how you should vote.”