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NM legislator says he was denied Communion based on politics

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, joins Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, right, and Allen Sanchez, center, of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, for a news conference following passage of Senate Bill 5, the extreme risk protection order legislation, in 2020. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A prominent state senator who supports abortion rights said he was denied Communion by the Catholic bishop in Las Cruces over the weekend “based on my political office.”

Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he has participated in his parish church and the Diocese of Las Cruces – including serving as its attorney at times – for 50 years, 20 of which have come while he’s served as an elected official.

But he said things changed after he supported the repeal of a New Mexico law banning abortion in most circumstances.

Since the vote, Cervantes said in a written statement, “some new clergy have decided I am unwelcome at their communion.”

He said he prefers to practice his faith privately but that he “felt it necessary to address those who would politicize, and thereby belittle, the promises of the Eucharist.”

A spokesman for Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces said the diocese had no comment.

But the denial comes as some Roman Catholic bishops push to rebuke Catholic politicians who support abortion rights – a debate that’s intensified since Democratic President Joe Biden took office. Biden is the nation’s second Catholic president.

Cervantes this year voted in favor of repealing a New Mexico state law that made it a crime to end a woman’s pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Even before its repeal this year, the law was largely unenforceable because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

Cervantes, a lawyer, called the 1969 law unconstitutional and said it had never been used.

The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, meanwhile, has repeatedly urged state lawmakers to oppose abortion.

Cervantes was one of 28 legislators listed as co-sponsors of this year’s bill to repeal the anti-abortion law. It passed both chambers and was signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in February.

“I was denied communion last night by the Catholic bishop here in Las Cruces … based on my political office,” Cervantes said Saturday on Twitter.

Cervantes said Monday that he didn’t intend to “judge or provoke more hate” by making the public statement.

“My vote was not to advocate abortion,” he said, “but to reject the imprisonment of women as a solution to anything. I wanted to encourage values based on inclusivity, understanding, forgiveness and compassion, which are the core of Christ’s teachings.”

The state Conference of Catholic Bishops is active at the Legislature, where one of the group’s lobbyists, Allen Sanchez, often testifies on legislation.

Cervantes’ legislative record isn’t uniformly at odds with the priorities of Catholic bishops. He has, for example, supported legislation clearing the way for a ballot initiative that would amend the state Constitution to boost funding for early childhood programs – a longtime priority of the bishops.

In June, U.S. Catholic bishops voted 168-55 in favor of a crafting document that’s expected to admonish Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. It hasn’t yet been granted final approval.

But a document already approved by the bishops makes clear the importance of abortion for Catholics.

In it, they encourage Catholics to ask political candidates how they will address “the preeminent requirement to protect the weakest in our midst – innocent unborn children – by restricting and bringing to an end the destruction of unborn children through abortion and providing women in crisis pregnancies the supports they need to make a decision for life.”

Each local bishop decides whether a politician should be barred from Communion.

Leslie Radigan of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe – which covers much of central and northern New Mexico – said Archbishop John C. Wester “is not in favor of denying Catholic politicians communion based on how they vote in the Legislature.”

Many of New Mexico’s legislators are Catholic, and some have cited their faith in casting votes on abortion legislation.

In 2017, the state’s Catholic bishops issued a written admonishment advising state lawmakers not to “publicly invoke their Catholic faith and to present their personal opinions as official Church teaching,” especially when voting in favor of abortion rights.

It was prompted by comments made by Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, an Albuquerque Democrat who cited her Roman Catholic upbringing as she voted against a proposal to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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