Update 2: USA Today is now reporting that the Vatican has issued a clarification of the Pope’s remarks: “The statement said the pope did not intend to excommunicate anyone. Politicians who vote in favor of abortion should not receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, Lombardi said. ‘Since excommunication hasn’t been declared by the Mexican bishops, the pope has no intention himself of declaring it,” said Lombardi, who was on board the plane. ‘Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist. … Politicians exclude themselves from Communion.’” Thus the point of my original post is confirmed. The Pope is reiterating what he said to McCarrick and what so many bishops have refused to believe: Pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be excluded from Communion.
Update: Canon lawyer Ed Peters offers his thoughts on the news report, giving current interpretation of the law, some caveats on relying on news reports, and some speculation on what the pope might have meant.
Aboard the Alitalia jet taking him to Brazil, Pope Benedict was asked by a reporter about Mexican bishops telling pro-abortion politicians that they face excommunication. His reply was startlingly straightforward, although not unexpected, and may catch some American bishops off-balance.
“Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon law which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving Communion, which is receiving the body of Christ.”
He’s apparently referring to Canon 915: “Those who are excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”
Speaking of the vote on abortion in Mexico City, the Archbishop of Acapulco, Felipe Aguirre Franco, said of politicians who support the legalization of abortion: “They will get the penalty of excommunication. That is not revenge, it is just what happens in the case of serious sins.”
Continuing on the subject while en route to Brazil, the Pope said such pro-abortion politicians have “doubts about the value of life and the beauty of life and even a doubt about the future”. He continued, “Selfishness and fear are at the root of (pro-abortion) legislation. We in the Church have a great struggle to defend life…life is a gift not a threat. The Church says life is beautiful, it is not something to doubt but it is a gift even when it is lived in difficult circumstances. It is always a gift.”
Many US bishops have said that they will not issue orders that pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be refused Communion, that the politicians must make that decision for themselves as they approach the altar, to decide if they are in a state of mortal sin.
Some have defended that decision by saying that most pro-abortion politicians never actually vote for abortion legislation, unlike the Mexico City politicians. Your local city councilor likely never will face such a vote. But what about Congressmen? Ted Kennedy and John Kerry have both voted in favor of legalizing partial-birth abortion, so it seems like the Pope is saying this applies to them.
Of course, this isn’t new for Pope Benedict. He said the same thing in a letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then archbishop of Washington, in 2004 when the US bishops were debating this very issue. (McCarrick allegedly misrepresented the contents to his brother bishops and the letter was then leaked out.)
I wonder if this latest statement will have any effect. Perhaps what we need is an official motu proprio outlining exactly how this works.
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