Monday, May 21, 2007

Pardon me, but aren't you a Cardinal?

I mentioned recently my brief encounter with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga in the corridors of the Cardinal Knox Centre just before I left for Turkey. At the time I was quite flustered and said something silly and foolish as one does on such occasions.

I feel better now that I have discovered that he himself is capable of saying silly things. I wonder if TIME magazine's Jeff Israely not only "caught up with" Rodriguez in Brazil, but also caught him off guard. Listen to this little exchange reported by Rocco Palmo:
Q. Do you agree with the Pope's statement that pro-choice Catholic politicians merit excommunication?

A. It is canon law that everyone who works for abortion is excommunicated. It's not something the Pope invented. If you favor abortion, you are outside the communion of the Church. And it was necessary to say that. There are people in Mexico saying I am Catholic and I support abortion rights. This is a contradiction in its very essence. As a teacher of the Church, the Pope has a responsibility of teaching when something happening is wrong.

Q. Do you agree with bishops who deny giving Holy Communion to the these politicians?

A. This is a different point. For who am I to deny Holy Communion to a person? I cannot. It's in the tradition of moral theology that even if I know a person is living in grave sin, I cannot take a public action against him. It would be giving scandal to the person. Yes, he should not seek [communion], but I cannot deny it from him....
I'm sorry, but may I suggest that "who you are" is the Cardinal Archbishop of Tegucigalapa? And that you have the authority to excommunicate unrepentant sinners? And that in fact the word "excommunicate" means "to deny Holy Communion to a person"? Really, your Eminence, not one of your more thought out replies...

6 Comments:

At Tuesday, May 22, 2007 1:05:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Oh dear.

“Excommunicate” and “communion” have the same linguistic root, but “excommunicate” does not mean “deny Holy Communion to”. Excommunication is a canonical penalty which, yes, involves the denial of Holy Communion to someone, but it involves a great deal more than that, including denial of all the sacraments. By contrast, there are lots of people to whom Holy Communion is denied, but they are certainly not excommunicated. The obvious example is young children, but even the divorced-and-remarried person who is not supposed to receive Holy Communion is not excommunicated.

Yes, the archbishop has the jurisdiction in his own diocese to excommunicate people, but only the circumstances prescribed by canon law, and following the procedures prescribed.

Participating in an abortion incurs an automatic excommunication, but I think the view among canon lawyers is that this refers to a specific abortion. Creating a climate in which abortions generally are possible or are more likely to happen (e.g. by voting to decriminalise abortion) does not incur an automatic excommunication. I think the Arcbishop got that wrong too.

And I think it is also the view among canon lawyers that there is no provision of canon law which would allow a bishop to excommunicate a politician purely for voting to decriminalise abortion, or otherwise make abortion more readily available.

So, no, politicians who vote for abortion are not automatically excommunicated, and the archbishop probably cannot excommicate them.

But withholding communion is another matter. Any minister of the Eucharist should withhold communion from someone who, although not excommunicated, is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin”.

The thing is, though, that it’s not clear that a pro-choice vote is a “manifest grave sin”. Catholic teaching is unambiguous that abortion is a grave evil, but it is no part of Catholic teaching that civil law must make abortion a crime, or that legislators are morally bound to vote in favour of criminalising abortion. The Catholic tradition does not generally hold that civil law should forbid things simply because they are evil; if it did, adultery, fornication, masturbation and calumny should all be crimes under civl law, and nobody suggests this. Civil law is directed to the common good, not to the enforcement of morality, and these things don’t always overlap.

So you can’t establish that a legislator is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” simply by pointing to his pro-choice vote. More than this, therefore, is needed before denying him – or her - communion.

It seems to me that what is needed is an enquiry into whether the legislator is, in good faith, seeking to advance the common good by his actions. If he is, then he is not sinning, even if you or I or his bishop disagree with him about what the common good requires in this situation.

That is not an enquiry that is easily made, outside the confessional or at least outside a close and trusting pastoral relationship. Given that, I really don’t see that denying legislators communion on the basis of their voting record on this issue is a runner. So I think the Cardinal was wrong in principle and wrong on points of fact but, despite his own best efforts, he arrived at what in practice is the right answer.

 
At Tuesday, May 22, 2007 11:42:00 am , Blogger Athanasius said...

Peregrinus wrote:

"Civil law is directed to the common good, not to the enforcement of morality, and these things don’t always overlap."

Quite right. But I don't think this statement entails what you think it does.

Isn't the core issue here whether the good of the unborn should be included or excluded from the common good? If the unborn are human beings, then supporting or promoting abortion _is_ an offence against the common good, and therefore subject to legal sanction under the Church's understanding of civil law. A concept of the common good that excludes a section of the human family is no common good at all.

If this is conceded, I don't think your argument runs so smoothly. It is not open for a Catholic to conclude that the unborn are excluded from the common good, because Catholics believe that this is flatly against divine and natural law. I think one can only conclude that such a strong assault on the common good is indeed a case of "obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin". We wouldn't hesitate to say so if the law allowed the killing of black, disabled or atheist people, and the pro-choice politician needs to explain why this case is so different. And there are precedents; American Catholic politicians voting in favour of racial segregation in the 60s were threatened with excommunication over that issue, again on the grounds of defending a truly "common" good.

So it is precisely the claim of the Church that politicians who support and promote abortion are in fact opposing the common good, not 'enforcing morality'. The analogy with adultery and masturbation fails unless it can be demonstrated that the destruction of an unborn child is a purely personal preference.

This sets a very high hurdle for pro-choice Catholics, and I don't think that "their intentions are good" can overcome it. Hell, everyone always thinks they're doing some kind of good, or they wouldn't do it; it's only later that we often find out how wrong we were.

And even if we concede that good intentions justify everything subjectively, it doesn't necessarily justify the Church turning a blind eye to their actions.

A cardinal, whose primary role is pastor (not lawyer), cannot ignore the scandal occasioned by Catholics promoting abortion in the public square. Another Catholic vacillating on the issue of abortion might conclude that it really isn't so bad after all - unless, that is, the bishop with pastoral responsibility in a diocese makes it absolutely clear that it isn't.

Excommunication and refusal of communion may or may not be the best way to accomplish this. That's a pastoral matter for the bishop. The soul of the poitician is at stake too, so we can't afford to be too prescriptive.

I won't comment on the limits of canon law - I'll take your arguments there for granted. But my conclusion would be that there is a strong case for the canon law to modified to clearly give bishops these options.

 
At Tuesday, May 22, 2007 2:00:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Hi Athanasius

“Isn't the core issue here whether the good of the unborn should be included or excluded from the common good? If the unborn are human beings, then supporting or promoting abortion _is_ an offence against the common good, and therefore subject to legal sanction under the Church's understanding of civil law. A concept of the common good that excludes a section of the human family is no common good at all.”

I don’t think it’s a simple as that. As I understand it, ‘the common good’ is not simply the sum of the best interests of each individual in the community; it’s the good of the community as a whole, which is not quite the same thing.

Consider adultery. The individual victims of adultery quite clearly are members of the community. Nevertheless adultery is not criminalised, and nor should it be. So asserting that the unborn are human individuals, and so are members of the community, does not, of itself, prove that the common good requires abortion to be criminalised.

The interests and rights of individuals are a very important factor which affect the common good, but they are not the whole of the common good, and legislators have to consider the whole of the common good.

I accept, of course, that a legal ban on abortion, to the extent that it actually prevents abortions, is a positive contribution to the common good. But, to the extent that it drives abortions underground, or “exports” the problem by leading women seeking abortions to go abroad, or is divisive, polarises opinion, reinforces the views and convictions of pro-choice advocates, is seen to be imposed for “theocratic” reasons, or is so controversial as to be vulnerable to campaigns for amendment, repeal or reversal, or is so unpopular as to be destabilising, it affects the common good negatively. These are all factors which the conscientious legislator must consider.

The legislator’s task is further complicated by the fact that he has to deal with what is possible. Holding out for what he thinks would be the best conceivable law may be the wrong thing to do, in terms of serving the common good, if he doesn’t in fact obtain it, and if he sacrifices or compromises his ability to influence the law which is in fact passed.

This is not an easy call to make, and it is the legislator’s vocation to make this call, not the bishop’s. True, the legislator’s motives may not be good, but we can’t assume that simply because his assessment of the common good differs from yours or mine or the bishop’s. If we disagree with his assessment of the common good the proper (and, I should point out, much more effective) response is to vote him out, not to refuse him the sacraments.

 
At Tuesday, May 22, 2007 2:39:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

In reference to the Cardinal's original statements, Peregrinus, you and I differ in that you believe he got the first response wrong and the second right, whereas I believe he got the first right and the second wrong.

I base my believe that he got the first right on the Pope's comments on the plane to Brazil (see http://ncrcafe.org/node/1081):

"Fourth Question (from La Repubblica, Italy):
Thank you, your Holiness. In your speech upon arrival, you say that the church forms Christians, provides moral indications, so that people will make free decisions in conscience. Do you agree with the excommunication given to legislators in Mexico City on the question of abortion?

Pope Benedict XVI:
Yes, this excommunication is not something arbitrary, but it’s part of the Code [of Canon Law]. It’s based simply on the principle that the killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going in communion with the Body of Christ. Thus, [the bishops] didn’t do anything new, anything surprising or arbitrary. In that light, they simply announced publicly what is contained in the law of the church, and the law of the church is based upon the doctrine and the faith of the church, which expresses our appreciation for life, that human individuality, human personality, is present from the first moment [of life]."

For more analysis of this response, see http://ncrcafe.org/node/1090 and most importantly http://ncrcafe.org/node/1083 -- sorry for the reliance on John Allen, but, well, I rely on him for this information and he was on the plane!).

Secondly, Peregrinus, as you yourself concede, there can be no such thing as an excommunication which does not include denial of holy communion. That is, of course, not the full extent of excommunication (denial of communion alone used to be called the "lesser" excommunication) nor does it mean that all who are denied communio are ipso fact excommunicated. However, it is unimaginable that the Cardinal--who indeed does have the apostolic authority given by Christ to retain the sins of those who do not repent--should say that he does not have the authority to deny holy communion to anyone who publically persists in grave sin without repentance. Pastoral questions of application aside, the authority is most certainly his.

I do not agree with your analysis on Catholica. The use of prostitution as a theological test case is entirely different from the case of abortion, in that the latter consists of not only sexual sin but of robbing a human being of life itself. In other words, it is "realy, realy wrong"--even compared to prostitution. It is not simply a case of personal morality or relational integrity as prostitution or adultery is. It is more akin to the "realy, realy wrong" that we associate with child abuse. Do you think that Augustine would have argued that if (eg.) a state wanted to legalise child sex, that it would be permissable for a Catholic politician to vote in support of it? Or are you saying that it is worse to sexually abuse a child than it is to kill a child while yet unborn?

I'm sorry, Peregrinus. Abortion is "really, really wrong", and that is why anyone who is publically in collusion with this scandal against Christ's little ones has committed a very grave sin that certainly MAY (depending on the situation) require a bishop to exercise his Christ-given apostolic authority to deny such a person communion, and yes, even to apply the "greater" ban of full excommunication. He would be within his rights to do so. The Holy Father has confirmed this.

 
At Tuesday, May 22, 2007 7:32:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

In reference to the Cardinal's original statements, Peregrinus, you and I differ in that you believe he got the first response wrong and the second right, whereas I believe he got the first right and the second wrong.

No, on reflection, I think he got them both wrong. I agree with you that any minister of the Eucharist does have the power, and indeed the duty, to withhold communion from someone who “obstinately persists in manifest grave sin”.

I just don’t think that, given Catholic teaching on the duties of the legislator, we can be at all confident in saying that a vote the wrong way on a specific measure relating to abortion constitutes obstinate persistence in grave sin. Which means, if we take canon law seriously, that the minister typically will not be entitled to withhold communion. Which means that the bishop’s instinct was sound, and would probably have resulted in the right action, even if the way he got there was flawed.

. . . I do not agree with your analysis on Catholica. The use of prostitution as a theological test case is entirely different from the case of abortion, in that the latter consists of not only sexual sin but of robbing a human being of life itself.

I do stress that I am not saying that, because prostitution doesn’t have to be criminalized, therefore abortion doesn’t have to be criminalized either. That would be absurd. My point about prostitution is simply to illustrate that “it’s wrong” does not inexorably lead to the moral principle that “it must be criminalised”, and an argument for criminalisation must therefore rest on something more than wrongness. And so, if follows, must an argument for the sinfulness of not criminalising.

. . . I'm sorry, Peregrinus. Abortion is "really, really wrong", and that is why anyone who is publically in collusion with this scandal against Christ's little ones has committed a very grave sin that certainly MAY (depending on the situation) require a bishop to exercise his Christ-given apostolic authority to deny such a person communion, and yes, even to apply the "greater" ban of full excommunication. He would be within his rights to do so. The Holy Father has confirmed this.

There’s an awful lot comprehended in that little phrase “in collusion”, and it’s a big leap to assume that a legislator who voted the wrong way, or abstained, on a particular abortion measure is “in collusion” with abortions. Perhaps he doubts the efficacy of a legal ban in preventing abortions. Perhaps he thinks that the campaign to prevent abortions by law is counter-productive, is fostering an anti-life mentality, and is actually resulting in more, not less, abortions. Perhaps he feels that the degree of intrusion into personal autonomy and integrity which an abortion ban requires goes beyond the proper sphere of the state. You and I might disagree with him on that, but it is very hard to argue that holding such a view is actually sinful.

I agree with you that a legislator who votes to make abortion available may be committing a very grave sin. But he may not be, and a bishop informed only by newspaper reports is unlikely to be in a position to say, one way or another. Which is why I say that, in practice, the withholding of communion is unlikely to be warranted.

 
At Thursday, May 24, 2007 9:41:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

I hate to say, I told you so, but: Have a look at: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=9402

 

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