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The Bloody 14 and the question of excommunication

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.

(CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Cantwell (WA); Collins (ME); Durbin (IL); Gilibrand (NY); Heitkamp (ND); Kaine (VA); Leahy (VT); Markey (MA); Cortez Masto (NV); McCaskill (MO); Menendez (NJ); Murkowski (AK); Murray (WA); and Reed (RI).

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is right  that the fourteen Catholic senators named above who voted to prevent the government from protecting pre-born babies from the savagery of abortion have, by just this one vote (and not counting the long string of similar steps that most of these fourteen have taken before), committed a grievous moral offense. By any objective measure they have each placed their souls in mortal jeopardy.

Longenecker’s call for the fourteen to be named and held accountable by earthly means (if only to lessen the accounting they will surely owe at Judgment) is an exercise of his canonical right and probably even the duty as a member of the Christian faithful to make known his views on matters that pertain to the good of the Church—and the scandal given by prominent Catholics acting as they did here surely impacts the good of the Church (CCC 2284)—and to communicate his views to others in the Church (Canon 212 § 3).

Except to explicitate what Longenecker the priest takes for granted (but we laity need to be reminded of), that we should pray for each senator by name, we should pursue what steps the legal, political, and ecclesiastical system provides for such sad scenarios.

But, about that ecclesiastical redress, two qualifications to Longenecker’s call need to be offered.

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. Catholics contacting chanceries and demanding the withholding of holy Communion, therefore, will be noted on the “They Are on to Something but have Jumped the Gun” list and un-comfortably ignored—though again with some reason.

So, what to do?

Well, do exactly what Longenecker recommends in the legal and political sphere (for that matter, in the social sphere as well), lovingly shame the Bloody 14 into realizing what they have done and, please God, into personal and public repentance of it.

About excommunication, one may of course petition Rome (or local bishops) to designate political acts such as these as canonical crimes punishable by excommunication. I think there are major obstacles to such legislation but I (and other experts, I am sure) would certainly be willing to weigh in on the possibility.

About the withholding of holy Communion, this, I have said many times, urgently needs to implemented, but not in response to a single act (for that theory is canonically doomed to failure), but rather in response to a demonstrable string of such acts taken by most of the Bloody 14 (and several others, Nancy Pelosi leaping to mind). Here, unlike the excommunication idea above, the law is already in place (Canon 915), it just needs to be applied—correctly of course, but that is not a problem in many of these cases.

The Bloody 14 case might just trigger the long-overdue application of the law.

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. Pray that such tension is relieved before it erupts into even more serious problems.

About Edward N. Peters 111 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.

20 Comments

  1. What about, say here in Massachusetts, all four bishops writing a passionate letter to Senator Ed Markey expressing sincere disappointment in his vote while explaining the spiritual seriousness of casting a vote against curtailing abortion and then copying and distributing this letter to every Catholic parish in Massachusetts with the firm instruction it be read at Mass?

    • Excellent idea. If such were to happen it is a virtual certainty that the excrement would surely hit the air circulator.

    • If they tried that (first of all the sun would fall from the sky when the earth stops spinning on its axis) I’m sure the pope would call them culture warriors or some other snide insult and completely undermine them anyway… so what’s the point?

  2. What a shame the Magisterium does not take the initiative and make a public and/or pulpit statement describing the offensive action and what procedures the public should take in light of what considerations the Church will undertake to protect innocent life and the risk proponents are taking relative to the practice of their faith. The Magisterium is called to SERVE the faithful by definition of its members. (Original comment)

  3. Well, technically, okay.

    Gee, I guess I’m “relieved” that Edward Peters feels our ‘concern.’

    But Pelosi and the late Chappaquiddick Kennedy did vast amounts of legislative work to build the abattoir of abortion. Hundreds of votes from committee to floor. Decades of work.

    Not pervasive enough? Not obstinate enough?

    I acknowledge a canon lawyer’s knowledge in this.

    But does Edward Peters understand, thoroughly, the depth that these legislators and their company have fought to make abortion possible?!?

    Or does only the one wielding the metzenbaum forceps has blood on his hands?

  4. … the fourteen Catholic senators named above who voted to prevent the government from protecting pre-born babies from the savagery of abortion have, by just this one vote (and not counting the long string of similar steps that most of these fourteen have taken before), committed a grievous moral offense. By any objective measure they have each placed their souls in mortal jeopardy. …

    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.

    Does not “the long string of similar steps that most of these fourteen have taken before” amount to “obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin”?

    The state simply has no authority whatsoever to “legalize” the murder of innocent humanity. Caesar has claimed for himself authority over innocent human life that belongs to God alone. We are not to render unto Caesar that which belongs to God.

    To convey approval of Caesar’s usurpation of God’s authority by allowing government officials who are known by all to be staunch and longstanding advocates of “legal” murder to receive the Eucharist, amounts to burning incense to Caesar; it is blatant idolatry; it is a particularly sacrilegious, ritualistic public display of the transfer of the primary allegiance of the bishops from Christ to Caesar.

    This will eventually be the death of genuine Christianity in the United States if it isn’t stopped.

  5. If any of these politicians are “practicing” Catholics they should be socially shunned by their fellow parishioners (which association probably happens only rarely) and publicly confronted.

  6. Well, let’s look at this from a ‘New Church’ post VII point of view.
    These senators and all those that came before them were only voting to allow others to have religious freedom. After all, if abortion is not against one’s own conscience, one must be free from coercion right? Isn’t that in essence the whole theme of church-state policy since DH? Wouldn’t Pope Francis prefer allowing these senators and the abortionist also to continue receiving communion while they are ‘accompanied’ to a better way which they may never attain? and isn’t that what the church has been doing since 1973 anyway?

    So, to some it may LOOK like cowardice to avoid confrontation, but in reality, it’s the ‘new Pentecost’ in action.

  7. Let’s look at it this way: Dedicate your next Rosary to the ending of abortion AND to the grace of contrition for these and other ‘Catholic’ politicians who have chosen political gain over one of the most sacred tenants of their – OUR faith.

    These bloody 14, Pelosi, Kerry, the Kennedy clan, Biden, the Cuomos, Hillary’s running mate whose name I have (thankfully) forgotten, ad infinitum, ad NAUSEAM

  8. While busily attending to the technical apparatus of canon law, Peters seems oblivious to the reality that the Bloody 14 are not parties merely to a single and isolated act but rather have years and even decades of involvement in such acts, including repeated legislative votes and innumerable public election positions and statements. Of course pertinacity exists and is objectively ascertainsble. I am stunned st the myopia or even spiritual blindness that prevents recognizing that excommunication and denial of Communion are not only canonically possible but also in fact ecclesially urgent and indispensable.

  9. The beginning of the article brings up a point that is very telling against the Church hierarchy. That is that the burden of upholding Church teaching has been unceremoniously dumped into the laps of the laity.
    *
    We need a frank discussion about Apostolic Succession. Who has the controlling authority to bind and loosen? Who has been given the Keys to the Kingdom? How many priests, bishops, and cardinals actually speak with the clarity of voice and written word as did the Apostles? Who are the shepherds? I wonder how much of the current talk about the universal priesthood of the Church laity is a way for some members of the Magisterium to outsource the Apostolic duties that belong to them alone? Does authentic Apostolic Succession exist in the modern Church, or are we Apostolic in name only?

  10. The Bishop in the diocese of each of these people should 1) Contact each of them privately and inform them that as long as they continue with this conduct they should not present themselves for Holy Communion and then 2) Instruct the priests and Eucharistic Ministers in each parish to withhold Holy Communion to them should they ignore the Bishop’s orders, which they probably will. (If any of them should use the odious phrase “speaking truth to power” – pass go and do not collect $200.)

    This, in turn, should cause the excrement to hit the air circulator – immediately. The press will almost certainly go off on a separation-of-Church-and-state rant, so the Bishop should have a statement ready to go. Part of that statement should emphasize that he told these people essentially this – You are free to do what you want to do, and these are the consequences.

    Meanwhile we the laity should remember that throughout Church history, reform in the Church has almost always begun WITH the laity.

  11. On Friday I followed a link (provided at thecatholicthing.org) to an article, written some years ago, for America magazine by Dr. Germaine Grisez. The article can be accessed using the thecatholicthing link or at http://www.americamagazine.org/issue/494/article/catholic-politicians-and-abortion-funding.

    Readers of this piece posted today by Dr. Peters would, I think, benefit from a joint reading with the America article. Also, we would derive even more benefit from his explanatory commentary on the Grisez piece.

    Dr. Peters teaches us that “… voting pro-abortion is not procuring an abortion for purposes of Canon 1398 …”. I assume that this is an example of supporting a “best possible choice” under the existing circumstances. (How difficult it must be for a [politician] to enter the kingdom of heaven. Still I do understand that prudent decisions must be made in this fallen world, in hope that they may represent small steps to the right end.)

    But Dr. Grisez clearly and logically argues another point of view about “voting pro-abortion”, particularly about the consequences of such votes, which we might rather not think about. He encouraged us to think about it.

  12. I’m not Catholic, so I don’t understand. Should these acts not violate cannon law, they are surely amoral, which I would think does violate cannon law. Would a refusal to repent be cause for excommunication? I’m honestly ignorant.

  13. Dr Peters,
    So, ‘voting’ pro-abortion is not the same as ‘procuring’ an abortion, and the voter is not to be held culpably accountable for the numerous deaths of the innocents his vote is seeking to “legally” facilitate? Would not the voter render himself/herself complicit in every subsequent murderous act to which their vote would give legal sanction? Such a voter betrays the faith and lays challenge to the mind of Christ Himself Who warned, “It would be better for persons who would bring harm to a child, that they have millstones hung around their necks and that they be cast into the sea.” (Matthew 18:6) These people are not of the faith. Pray for them that they might yet find it before it is too late. They should certainly not be admitted to receive Holy Communion. Alan

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