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.
Fr. Longenecker, I remember the article from last year all too well. Hopefully I’m not rooting my own horn here but I called each diocese and either thanked the Bishop or Archbishop as in the case of Bishop Paprocki or asked them to rebuke/excommunicate the Senators as appropriate.
Well, Canon Law is not necessarily Dogma. I understand that we still follow the law but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with it or Cardinal Dolan. I respectfully disagree with Cardinal Dolan on this point.
Governor Cuomo should be excommunicated with this stroke of his scandalous pen.
If, at the moment, it’s not God’s will, then so be it.
May God use my prayers in whatever way He sees fit. I do hope it’s for Governor Cuomo’s eventual repentance for this horrific law he let loose.
Thanks for your encouragement and thanks for getting involved!
From above: “voting pro-abortion is not ‘procuring an abortion’ for purposes of Canon 1398”
Of course I am not a canon lawyer. But that definition prevents the excommunication of the abortionist who does not procur but rather delivers the abortion, perhaps hundreds of abortions.
And it is a very small step from making the procuring of abortion legal to procuring it. And even a smaller step, IMO, in providing public funds to procur the abortion.
At some point in the decision process to procur come a point where the political leaders have made it all too easy to procur. In quasi-legal terms: Aid and abet. The driver who drives the bank robber to the bank. In most states, both are equally guilty.
Was Canon 1398 written BEFORE abortion was voted legal?
I think we need to come to the sad realization that the voices calling for action to be taken against Gov. Cuomo represent a small minority of very committed Catholics. Moreover, this small minority have found themselves suddenly on the “outs” in the past 5 years and are labeled as opposing Pope Francis’ call for “inclusiveness.” The vast majority of Catholic laity in that in that part of the country (ie, the Northeast) openly reject the Church’s teaching on issues such as abortion and homosexuality and therefore are fully on-board with Gov. Cuomo’s actions. There is a sort of liberal Catholic smugness and condescension toward the minority, an attitude which is fed by some bishops, many priests, and many Catholic lay leaders. Many bishops seem to live in fear of the potential backlash from the Catholic laity (not just the liberal secularists) if they were to take strong action.
Correct. The bishop scratches his head and says, “Shall I listen to the crazy negative judgmental crazy conservatives or the nice accommodating, well heeled liberals?” Not a contest really.
I have two questions. I don’t generally understand legalese, but Dr. Peters wrote:
8 B) In terms of penal canon law the best time to move against a Cuomo-type crisis is, of course, before it happens, i.e., pro-actively instead of re-actively. Because this post deals with what can still be done now, and not what should have been done before, I will simply observe that a penal precept could have, in my view, been issued against Cuomo on these facts (specifically against, say, his promoting or signing this death-dealing legislation) and in turn that precept could have been enforceable by canonical penalties up to and including excommunication.
That sounds to me as though he thinks excommunication could be an option.
Dr. Peters also wrote:
4 D) Canon 1369 authorizes a “just penalty” against those who violate its terms. That broad (but not unlimited) phrase “just penalty” allows for tailoring the canonical consequences in specific cases to the wide variety of fact patterns that could be addressed in its light, here, everything from Cuomo’s speeches and comments in support of this abortion law to his ordering a ghoulish light show in celebration of its enactment. That said, while the notion of a “just penalty” is broad, there is some question as to whether it extends, at least immediately, to excommunication. Here is not the place to air that technical issue, but neither should its presence derail consideration of using Canon 1369 against Cuomo. Some justice is better than no justice and even if (I say, if) excommunication could not be imposed immediately on Cuomo, the Church could still impose some canonical sanctions for his conduct.
What kind of “canonical consequences” are envisioned? Can you give any examples? Dr. Peters here also seems to imply that excommunication is an option in his “even if (I say, if)” comment.
Can anyone enlighten me?
1 CORINTHIANS, CHAPTER 5