Pope on excommunicating pro-abort pols-UPDATED

Pope on excommunicating pro-abort pols-UPDATED

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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  • I don’t see though how this could be a Latae Sentiae excommuncation since even the most pro-life Canon lawyers say that this does not go beyond those directly involved in a procurement of abortion, not those materially involved in making abortion legal.

    If this interpretation of the Canon was the one upheld by Rome then there would never had really been a debate on withholding Communion.  Those who were automatically excommunicated are not allowed Communion in the first place.

    I have heard some Auxiliary Bishops in a couple of cases make this claim, but never a Canon lawyer do so.  Though this does not prevent bishops from formally excommunicating these politicians.

    Though I would love to be wrong about this, but I believe Canonist Ed Peters has also denied that the Canon can be interpreted that widely.  Such a wide interpretation would also have to include people who specifically voted for a politician because of their support for abortion.

  • I’d very much like to forward this to the USCCB website but, surprise, their site won’t accept it. Wonder why not?????????

  • It seems clear to me that the Mexican Bishops were acting under Can. 1369.
    Can. 1369 A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication utters blasphemy, gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty.

    The Pope was affirming their authority to do so in his statement, and it does not appear to me at least that the simplest explanation for the Mexican Bishops actions are can. 915.  YMMV.

  • If this is true, then it’s a much bigger deal than I thought when I first read it.

    If the excommunication is automatic without any action from the bishops, then there is nothing that any bishop can say to try and put a spin on this statement to make it seem as if pro-abortion Catholic politicians are NOT excommunicated.



  • Dom, check out USA Today. We were right (though it took me four years of school to learn what you intuited in a few minutes). The Vatican has retracted the comments exactly as my blog suggest they needed to be.

  • Thanks Ed. As you were sending me the comment, I was writing up the update to my blog. Great minds think alike. Although I wouldn’t say I intuited that in a few minutes. This is an old issue that I’ve blogged on for some time and spoken to other canon lawyers about.

  • Dom,

    I think you jumped to a conclusion, substituting your interpretation with what Cardinal Lombardi actually said.  He said:  “Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist. … Politicians exclude themselves from Communion.”

    You wrote:

    “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.”

    Certainly you can see the difference between active and passive voice?

  • It’s Father Lombardi, not Cardinal.

    Yes, I know the difference, but I think the semantic difference here is just that. The result is the same. Politicians exclude themselves from Communion, and so priests should recognize that during Mass and refuse to distribute Communion to them.

    In a similar way, one may excommunicate oneself, but the penalties are still enforced by others.

  • Thanks for catching my mistake that Fr. Lombardi is not a Cardinal (yet).

    I would never consider a difference between active voice and passive voice as “semantics,” especially when you are using a direct quotation from someone else. It is, in fact, a significant difference when Fr. Lombardi describes pro-abortion politicians “excluding themselves” from communion and you interpret that to mean that those politicians should “be excluded.”  Presumably you mean by the communion minister. That is quite a different kettle of fish in terms of the Church’s discipline and tradition of punishment.  The “end” is not the same, even though both result in the person not receiving communion.  One is publicly turned away, bringing the punishment to a higher level. I think for simple accuracy as well as for the weight of such a difference in exclusion, you should be more careful in conveying what spokesmen actually say.

  • It is a semantic difference when you consider (a) everything else the Pope and the Roman curia has said on this and (b) this was a translation from a foreign language and thus the use of active and passive voice could be just the translator’s preference.