Excommunication Or Not
That is the Question
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made frequent public statements at odds with Catholic teaching, the pro-life Catholic public was outraged at the scandal she publicly professed. There were calls for her excommunication. She even called abortion ‘sacred ground’ when asked about her opposition to a bill banning late-term abortions’.
“As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me…. This shouldn’t have anything to do with politics.”
More Recent Political Scandal
Now there is an even more egregious example of scandal by a self-proclaimed Catholic politician. NY Governor Andrew Cuomo promoted, signed, and celebrated a new law allowing unlimited abortion throughout all 40 weeks of pregnancy. That means up to birth! Those who previously paid no heed to this reality, actually already legal in 7 states, have now awakened. The reaction from the public is widespread and loud. As a result, the bishops of our country are receiving thousands of requests, no demands, for Cuomo’s excommunication for this horrific law and its celebration.
Yet, the reaction to this requested medicinal application toward Cuomo has met with mixed opinions by his own bishop and others across the land. Cuomo’s own shepherd, Bishop Timothy Dolan of the Diocese of New York City, says that excommunication “should not be used as a weapon.” A neighboring bishop has a slightly harder line.
“Excommunication is a last resort, and as the governor continues to distance himself from our (Catholic) communion, it may unfortunately result in that.” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany
Other Bishops Speak Out
Those with stronger opinions include Bishops Richard Stika of Knoxville and Joseph Strickland of Tyler. A recent tweet from Stika read:
“Someone asked me today if I would issue an excommunication of a Catholic Governor under my jurisdiction if the Governor did the same as in New York. I think I might do it for any Catholic legislator under my jurisdiction who voted for the bill as well as the Governor.”
Bishop Strickland agreed:
“I’m with Bishop Stika. I’m not in a position to take action regarding legislation in New York but I implore bishops who are to speak out forcefully. In any sane society this is called INFANTICIDE!!!!!!!!!!”
To which Stika replied:
“Enough is enough, excommunication is to be not a punishment but to bring the person back into the Church. It’s like medicine for them. But this vote is so hideous and vile that it warrants the act. But thankfully I am not in that position. Very sad.”
In addition, Canon Lawyer Ed Pentin, weighs in to disagree with those who fail to recommend the measure.
“Many people are pointing out that Cuomo has not violated c. 1398, which provides a penalty of excommunication for the procurement of a completed abortion. However, c. 1364 provides the same penalty for heresy—“the obstinate denial or doubt after baptism of some truth which is to be believed with divine and Catholic faith.””
Church Teachings to Consider
In order to arrive at the correct measure to take, some details need to be considered first. In fact, an explicitly active rejection of Church teaching is not necessary. If one publicly and consistently promotes, defends, and celebrates abortion then this is enough for excommunication to be an option. Especially in a case such as this. Cuomo has already received numerous letters of warning from both Bishops Dolan and Scharfenberger.
“By the straightforward application of the canon on credenda teaching, Cuomo can be said to have committed an external and imputable delict of heresy, and to have incurred an excommunication which can, for the public good of souls, be declared by his bishop, be it Dolan or Scharfenberger.” Ed Condon, canon lawyer
Further, Condon makes it clear that he is “not arguing that any Catholic politician who has supported or voted for pro-abortion legislation can ipso facto be termed a heretic. Gov. Cuomo’s consistent and vocal support for this particular legislation, his unique role in enacting it, and his flouting of the clear and public admonitions of two bishops who can claim jurisdiction over him make his case unique”.
What Is Necessary for Excommunication?
In seeking out the sentence of excommunication, certain teachings must first be considered. The Catholic Church has a special set of beliefs that encompass acts that are intrinsically evil. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):
“There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. These intrinsically evil acts must always be rejected and never supported. A preeminent example is the intentional taking of human life through abortion.”
Other intrinsic evils include euthanasia, human cloning, destructive research on human embryos, and homosexual marriage. These beliefs are a part of the Dogma* of the Catholic Church.
According to the the “Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these”. Catechism of the Catholic Church
*Unlike discipline – a practice that can be changed (think abstaining from meat on all Fridays of the year) – dogma is definitive and can never change.
Another Option of Excommunication
An alternative recommends that persistently pro-abortion legislators, directly involved in lawmaking, are already excommunicated by virtue of heresy. This is in reference to excommunication latae sententiae – meaning ‘sentence already passed’ in Latin. Latae sententiae refers to an instance where an individual, himself, incurs excommunication without the usual Tribunal trial or any public announcements. This type of excommunication occurs as the result of persistent public sin, scandal, or heresy.
If this is the case, then the sentence has already been brought. In humility, we need to consider that the laity has no right to this information from a procedural perspective.
However, it would seem that since this sin is so publicly scandalous, that the reprimand be public as well. This would serve to give a public correction. In addition, it would be an example those who have been swayed toward the acceptability of being a Catholic in good standing while refusing to uphold Church teaching.
Where Does This Leave Us?
Clearly this question cannot be answered by the laity. It must be considered that a sentence of excommunication is remedial. The Church does not intend it as a punishment. It is given in the hope that the sinner return to full communion with the Church. While it may be a natural human desire to see the sinner punished, we must refrain from reaching above our own authority. The Church provides excommunication as rare, prudential aid for healing sinners.
Unfortunately, there is much disagreement among the clergy. In response, I submit that all people of good faith begin to attack this ongoing scandal by taking it to fervent, frequent prayer. Thus armed, let us raise our (respectful) voices to the clergy. There is a real need for us to become spiritual warriors, strengthened by grace. Plead with God Almighty, educate neighbor and family, and encourage bravery among the clergy. Take to the streets, to your neighborhood, to your church. Become a beacon of the Light of Jesus.
The final judgement, however, belongs to God alone. In the long run, repentance and return of the lost sheep is the Christian goal. Jesus made that clear. His Will be done!
I am adamantly pro-life, it’s no negotiable to me. But the Catholic Church has a 2 millennia history of accepting all sorts of evil without excommunicating persons who practiced moral evils. Did the church excommunicate slave owners? Mafiosi? Supporters of a president who serially and habitually commits adultery and is proud of it? Did the church deal with priests who committed the evil act of pedophilia? It just seems hypocritical to select a woman for excommunication for evil acts when they’ve allowed Mafia hitmen to receive communion hours after they peddled prostitutes and killed enemies in cold blood, and sanctified a woman who bought and sold slaves to earn money to support her convent. Maybe we all need to get the plank out of our own eyes before we condemn the splinter in someone else’s.
While you make some valid points, please read the conclusion of the article. The laity is not equipped to make this type of decision nor is that their right. We also don’t know if sinners haven’t already excommunicated themselves. Even the measure of excommunication, itself, is medicinal not punative. It is intended to heal the sinner and bring him back to the flock. Jesus wants all of His lambs to come home – each and every single one.
Sadly, sin will remain with us, even on the highest levels of Church and state because of pride, thirst for power, and our own free will. Poor decisions are made and we don’t usually have the satisfaction of determining what results from their commission.
“Laity is not equipped” is always the cop-out that the Church uses to avoid telling us the real reason they do or don’t do something. I remember the sisters telling me in CCD, “The priests are imbued with knowledge the laity can never have,” whenever they couldn’t answer a simple question like, “Why is it a sin to gamble but ok to play bingo at the church?”
Birgit, I respect you as a sister in Christ, but your answer shows that you are unwilling to put even simple matters like the hypocrisy of the Vatican to critical thinking. We aren’t just pew-fillers or supernumeraries in our own spiritual lives. Sometimes the Church does owe us an explanation, and if they choose to excommunicate only the Democrats for failing to speak against abortion, why aren’t they making the same threats against the many outspoken Republicans that are doing the same thing? This is more political than spiritual. This threat isn’t supposed to save Pelosi’s soul, it’s supposed to manipulate we Catholics into disregarding everything she says and does because she’s a woman and she’s not pro-life. I don’t like her, and I don’t support her, and I’ve often publicly spoken out against her, but to threaten her soul with excommunication while letting numerous Republican politicians skate without consequence over the issue of abortion is the epitome of hypocrisy. Poor decisions, major ones, get made and we don’t have the satisfaction of determining what results from their commission, but that should make us mad, give us reason to question the workings of the leadership, make us demand answers, and good ones, not nonsense like, “Ours is not to reason why” like we were taught.
Excommunication comes under the authority of the local bishop. I’m not sure how the Vatican got into this particular conversation, since it was never mentioned in the article. However,I assure you, I most likely share many similar thoughts on the subject. As for your other assumptions about my ability of critical thinking, just a few thoughts:
1) The Catholic Church is built on hierarchy. It is not lay led. Therefore, I question exactly what you propose we, the people in the pew, do about any errors – other than what was proposed in the last section of the article. May I advise a reread?
2) “The Church owes us an explanation.” While I agree that an explanation would certainly help to allay many fears and objections, I question our right to this satisfaction. I add, further, that some Church remedies are internal. We really aren’t privy to every punishment doled out, nor do we have a right to this knowledge. Just as in the confessional, some things are between sinner and clergy. Remember that most of these politicians receive private letters and have private meetings with their shepherds before any of us even hear about it. That is as it should be. These things only become public when private measures have failed and the sinner persists and doubles down on their sin.
3) Your question about the hypocrisy of addressing democrats and not republicans can easily be answered. The most egregious PUBLIC sinners are democrat. Nancy Pelosi and Andrew Cuomo, in particular, are in the news promoting abortion up to birth and more on a daily basis. As the article points out, PUBLIC sin must eventually be corrected PUBLICLY. This is because of the public scandal it causes. As these leaders promote and celebrate sin in such a public manner, they influence many people and lead them in the wrong direction. Remember the scripture quote about leading others astray and the millstone?
On the other hand, the leaders who are republican do their voting and other deeds in a much more quiet manner. They don’t trumpet their intentions and then celebrate their successful sins. This means that their priests and bishops speak and write to them privately. If there is any censure, that is also private. The public has no right to this internal remedial action.
4) I do agree that the Church in America has become political. With that said, I’d like to point out that the bishops overwhelmingly align themselves with the liberal line of the democrats. Even Bernardin’s Seamless Garment was a move used to bend in that direction. This has served to weaken the pro-life position because it makes all things are equal – abortion, death penalty, immigration, poverty, capitalism, and even gun control. So now we have Catholics who believe that saving the unborn and the quest for socialism or gun control are all to be weighed equally. It’s an outright permission to vote for a pro-abortion candidate because you like their position on a topic of lesser real moral weight. Through this way of thinking, if I like someone because of their stance on gun control, I can vote for them even though they are pro-abortion. This brought us Obama and almost Hillary.
The main takeaway is that we are definitely entitled to being angry with the goings on in the Church. As a matter of fact, we should be. We have every right to pray about it, educate ourselves, and to respectfully ask for answers. Our local priests and bishops should be our first trajectory. Get organized with other concerned Catholics. Write letters. Make appointments. And continue to pray for discernment and wisdom. What we don’t have a right to is inclusion in the internal workings of the hierarchy. We are not the pope, cardinals, bishops, or priests. There is a chain of command in the Church. Jesus is the Head. He is the One we should all turn to for clarity. He has the final say. Just as our lives in general. We just don’t have that much sway.
BTW, this news came in recently, so there is movement among the bishops.Bishop Daly Bars ALL Pro-Abortion Catholic Politicians From Receiving Communion
“Sometimes the Church does owe us an explanation.” As a layman, what would you propose as the solution? Is there a tangible answer?
The church I attended before I moved away had a priest that committed adultery for years with a married woman in the congregation, the bishop and archbishop knew it was going on and merely counseled the priest to confess and do penance. The congregation was never told what was going on. Every week we were being served communion prepared by a man with filthy hands, for years. It only came out when the local newspaper and the largest congregation in the dioceses demanded the names of priests who were accused of sex crimes. His particulars were inadvertently included in the list. At first we all thought it was a mistake. Then he stood in the pulpit and told us it was none of our business. The woman was asked to leave the congregation by the bishop, but the priest was allowed to stay until the congregants demanded he be removed. He was sent to another church. For years he was sullying the elements with adulterous hands, but the Church didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. What right does the Church have to excommunicate a politician but embrace sinning priests who won’t repent?
That is just a horrible thing for you to experience! Keep in mind, that Jesus left us with the assurance that even a sinful priest can convect the Eucharist. His sins only affect his own immortal soul. Jesus still comes to us – Body Blood Soul and Divinity. Hopefully you can find comfort in that. On the other hand, there’s no excuse for what happened. All I can say is corruption in humanity has always been and remains with us now. Shame on everyone involved.
Oh I so agree! Yet I sit in confession with the priest at my church and he asks me, “Are you sure you have confessed every mortal sin you have ever committed?” Seriously???!!! Yes, I’ve done my best to remember everything bad I’ve ever done!!! But ALL these others like Cuomo and Pelosi and the evil pedophile priest are getting away with everything within the church ☹!!! I’m angry!!!
Sorry for the bad experience you had. This doesn’t seem usual – a priest sounding so aggressive. While I can sympathize with your anger, I hope you will remain faithful. After all, Jesus left sinful mortals in charge but it is He Whom we follow. God bless!
Yes, there is a tangible answer. That is to excommunicate everyone who supports abortion, not just the woman, not just the Democrat, no matter how much they give to the church in the offering plate every Sunday morning or how powerful they make the Church feel. Is it wrong to ask the Church to be consistent?
Respectfully requesting answers from a Church that remains silent or tells us it’s none of our business is a waste of time. If we want answers about the pedophile cases, the hypocrisy, the lack of action, we need to demand answers and action and refuse to put a single penny in the offering until we get them. It’s a very materialistic church and without our money, it won’t be able to last long without us. If the leadership has failed at holiness, it’s our job to get them back on the straight and narrow way. Do you want to stand in front of God some day and say, “I did nothing because I was told I didn’t have the right to do something.”
And if you think Trump is better than Obama because he promised to end abortion, I ask you this: Can a serial adulterer who proudly sexually assaults women and brags about it really God’s man in the White House? Do you really think a man who has been the husband of one wife, a faithful father raising his own children to grow up to be decent human beings, who does humanitarian work in his retirement is inherently evil because he’s a Democrat but a man who rejects every Godly thing is holy because he’s a Republican? If so, I have to wonder how your bishop justifies this thinking, since it’s neither Biblical or adherent to the traditions of the Church. Shame on your bishop. It’s time to stop supporting an organization that openly suborns sin and makes it seem holy. Seems like the last days are upon us and the Church is as corrupt as the Bible said it would be at the end.
Firstly, I have to ask if you even read the article. You are speaking about Nancy Pelosi and not Cuomo who is the real subject. Secondly, your answer is not tangible. This can be known by simply asking one question – are you going to excommunicate everyone? Because otherwise you are just making a suggestion that will fall on deaf ears.
Further, it is clear by your comments that you do not know much about canon law. The article thoroughly quotes both Canon law and Canon lawyers. I would like to invite you to read it. It is not up to the laity to change Church law. Yet that seems what you desire to do.