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PETITION: Bishops must impose canonical penalties on Catholic lawmakers who support abortion

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Ever since New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a professed Catholic, signed into law a bill that enshrines access to abortion for any reason all the way up to the moment of delivery, faithful Catholics have cried out demanding that Cuomo be excommunicated.

Such a request is complicated, due to the structure and parameters of Canon Law.

The most direct aspect of Canon Law with regard to abortion is Canon 1398, which states, “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”  Due to the specificity of the law, a “person who procures a completed abortion” pertains only to those who are directly responsible for a specific abortion.  Such a person would be the mother, the doctor, and anyone who directly contributed to the abortion, such as ones paying for it or intentionally driving the mother to the clinic for the abortion itself.  Specifically excluded from this definition are politicians who vote for abortion access or so-called “rights.”

Another aspect of Canon Law recently cited which could provide an avenue for the excommunication of Catholic politicians who take actions to further the expansion of abortion access is Canon 1369.  Canon 1369 states:

  • “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.”

Canonist Ed Peters has argued that this could be enacted with regard to Andrew Cuomo.  However, in order for any such “just penalty,” which could include excommunication, to be utilized, Canon 1347 requires that such an individual must first be given a warning and a chance to repent.

Canon 1347, paragraphs 1 and 2 state:

  • §1. A censure cannot be imposed validly unless the offender has been warned at least once beforehand to withdraw from contumacy and has been given a suitable time for repentance.
  • §2. An offender who has truly repented of the delict and has also made suitable reparation for damages and scandal or at least has seriously promised to do so must be considered to have withdrawn from contumacy.

In other words, as a vote in favor of abortion is looming, it is the responsibility of the local ordinary (bishop) to contact the individual beforehand to let him or her know that should they vote in favor of expanded access to abortion they will incur the penalty of excommunication.  If this is not done beforehand, then an excommunication after the fact cannot be enacted.  

It is for this reason we propose that individual bishops throughout the United States utilize the authority and power afforded them under Canons 1315 and 1318, which state:

  • Can. 1315 §1. A person who has legislative power can also issue penal laws; within the limits of his competence by reason of territory or of persons, moreover, he can by his own laws also strengthen with an appropriate penalty a divine law or an ecclesiastical law issued by a higher authority.
  • §2. The law itself can determine a penalty, or its determination can be left to the prudent appraisal of a judge.
  • §3. Particular law also can add other penalties to those established by universal law for some delict; however, this is not to be done except for very grave necessity. If universal law threatens an indeterminate or facultative penalty, particular law can also establish a determinate or obligatory one in its place.
  • Can. 1318 A legislator is not to threaten latae sententiae penalties except possibly for certain singularly malicious delicts which either can result in graver scandal or cannot be punished effectively by ferendae sententiae penalties; he is not, however, to establish censures, especially excommunication, except with the greatest moderation and only for graver delicts.

In short, diocesan bishops can issue decrees that enact specific laws with penalties that include excommunication for “certain singularly malicious delicts which either can result in graver scandal or cannot be punished effectively by ferendae sententiae penalties.”  Voting for or signing into law a bill which expands access to abortion, even up to moments before birth, is one such malicious delict that would fall under this definition.

Two recent examples of such Diocesan decrees include the following:

  • In 1931, the Conference of Bishops in Germany issued an edict which excommunicated all leaders of the Nazi Party and banned Catholics from membership.
  • In 1996, Bp. Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska issued a decree that excommunicated members of Call to Action, Planned Parenthood, Catholics for Free Choice, and several other organizations.

Just penalties such as excommunication are not about vindictiveness or hatred. These penalties serve first as a warning to the flock as well as a call to those who have strayed to return to the fold. By encouraging our spiritual fathers to take such an action to correct one of our brothers in faith helps both all the faithful in general and our wayward brother in particular.

Imagine in a large family where one of the older brothers is bringing girls home and inappropriately entertaining in his bedroom. The other siblings may rightly ask the father to remove that brother from the home so that he might understand the severity of his offence and come back into right relationship with the family.

For these reasons, we the Faithful of the Catholic Church, beg our shepherds to hear our plea for decrees announcing just penalties up to and including excommunication for those Catholics in positions of civil and judicial authority that vote for, rule in favor of, sign into law or advocate for access or a so-called “right” to abortion.  We ask this, not in retribution for wrongs done, but for the preservation of the Faith and good morals, for protection against grave scandal to our weaker members, and as a sincere warning to such individuals who are in real danger of losing their souls for all eternity.

Just penalties such as excommunication are not about vindictiveness or hatred. These penalties serve first as a warning to the flock as well as a call to those who have strayed to return to the fold. By encouraging our spiritual fathers to take such an action to correct one of our brothers in faith helps both all the faithful in general and our wayward brother in particular.

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