The only thing more horrendous than the recent vote in New York to legalize abortion up to the point of birth is the fact that certain figures who publicly present themselves as Catholic were in the forefront of the legislation and indeed promoted themselves and publicly celebrated their “accomplishment.”

That Governor Andrew Cuomo trumpeted this legislation and called for the World Trade Center to be illuminated in honor of it is a grave and horrendous scandal.

In the wake of it many Catholics have called for Cuomo to be publicly and formally excommunicated. While the excommunications are being handed out, many are calling for other “Catholic” politicians to be added to the list: One year ago I wrote this post  asking why fourteen of our Senators who publicly identify as Catholics ensured that a vote to outlaw late term abortions was defeated.

I thought the Catholic world would erupt in anger and dismay at the “Bloody Fourteen”. There was actually very little response and I was surprised to find that I was one of the very few voices calling for their excommunication.

Canonist Ed Peters wrote this excellent review of my post and explained very clearly what excommunication is and its canonical procedures and limitations.

First, as has been explained many times, the hideous deed committed by the Bloody 14 is not, standing alone, a crime under canon law and, even if combined with other such acts as many of the Bloody 14 have taken, is not a crime for which excommunication is the penalty (Canon 1369). Specifically, voting pro-abortion is not ‘procuring an abortion’ for purposes of Canon 1398 and so no excommunication for procuring abortion applies in response to voting for it. Catholics contacting chanceries and demanding excommunications, therefore, will be noted on the “Uninformed Critics” list and comfortably ignored—this time, with some reason.

Second, a single act, again, no matter how objectively gravely sinful it is, does not trigger the duty of Catholic ministers to withhold holy Communion under Canon 915 which canon operates in the face of obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin.

Therefore, technically speaking, excommunication or even with holding communion is not the way forward.

I realize this is a disappointment, especially for those who are calling for a Becket-type denunciation and formal, public excommunication. But in fact, this is not actually the appropriate measure.

There’s another aspect to it as well. Cardinal Dolan has said that excommunication is not to be used “as a weapon”. Go here for comment. Yes, okay, but this confuses the issue. The Cardinal might step back from a formal excommunication for his reason that it is not “a weapon”. Furthermore, we should all be wary of the calls for excommunication that come from reactions of self righteous anger and a desire for revenge or punishment.

On the other hand, something should be done, and the startling silence of most of our bishops and priests on this matter is most disturbing. Ed Peters offers this observation:

Finally, a personal observation? The repeated, though for now misguided, calls for excommunication in these cases, and the repeated, but worth-considering, calls for withholding holy Communion in these cases share this: they spring almost completely from Catholic laity and are almost completely ignored by ecclesiastical leadership. This almost total, multi-decade disconnect between people and pastors is source of serious tension in the Church.

He’s right. Our leaders may not need to formally excommunicate people, but they should speak up in two different ways. First we should be taught what excommunication really is and how it works in the church. More importantly, we should have the existing rules about with holding communion clarified and enforced, and pastors who do enforce this should be supported by their diocesan pastors.

Finally, and most of all, while they may not excommunicate formally, the Catholic bishops should state forcefully both personally to the politicians involved, and publicly for the faithful and the general public exactly the nature of abortion–especially late term abortion. They should be uncompromising in their denunciation and they should publicly name names of the offending politicians and call them to public repentance and renewal. Their sins are public. They should repent publicly.

Furthermore, their bishops should tell them privately and publicly that they should be honest and make a choice. Be Catholic and be pro Life or stop being public hypocrites. Get out. Join a different church or support life.

Abortion–and especially late term abortion–is a horrendous and grievous crime. It is a shocking and sickening crime which can never be justified, and the fact that a “Catholic” politician can know the facts (they are unavoidable in today’s society) and vote for an unborn child to be dismembered in its mother’s womb and thrown away is on the level of Auschwitz.

Formal excommunication? We bow to the expertise of the canon lawyers, but public denunciation in the strongest terms? Revulsion, dread and horror at what is happening and disgust at the very sight of such sickening people who dare to call themselves Catholic?

There’s no canon law against that.