Tuesday, October 19, 2004

No excommunication for John Kerry ... yet

The Washington, D.C.,-based Catholic News Service, probably in a tither for more reasons than one, came out today with a report that "Vatican denies it responded to lawyer seeking Kerry's excommunication" . The headline is a little disingenuous in that the Vatican did respond indirectly to Marc Balestrieri, a canon lawyer who seeks to file a heresy grievance against John Kerry in the Archdiocese of Boston.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said a California canon lawyer seeking a formal decree of heresy against Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, Democratic presidential nominee, has misrepresented his contact with the Vatican office. "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has had no contact with
Mr. (Marc) Balestrieri," said Dominican Father Augustine DiNoia, undersecretary of the congregation.

"His claim that the private letter he received from (Dominican) Father Basil Cole is a Vatican response is completely without merit," Father DiNoia told Catholic News Service Oct. 19, declining to discuss the matter further.

Apparently the priest delegated to respond to Balestrieri gave him a private theological opinion only, not an official decree. Father Cole concluded that

"if a Catholic publicly and obstinately supports the civil right to abortion, knowing that the church teaches officially against that legislation, he or she commits that heresy envisioned by Canon 751 of the Code" of Canon Law. ..."

CNS claims that more than one Vatican official told the news service that they did not agree with Father Cole's conclusion. However, the Oklahomilist -- who here and now claims no official capacity whatsoever (but who once stayed in an expressly intelligence-enhancing motel room while on holiday) -- would like to point out that CNS does not have a spotless track record of talking to the same Vatican officials who actually would rule in such cases.

In point of fact, CNS threw cold water earlier this year on portions of a letter written to the U.S. bishops by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger dealing with the related question of dissenting Catholic politicians and the reception of communion. Here again CNS quoted anonymous officials implying that Ratzinger had not gone nearly so far as some were contending. When the details of Ratzinger's letter were finally revealed, it turns out that CNS was wrong, Ratzinger's letter was very explicit. It could even be argued that there was an attempt by some U.S. bishops (and perhaps the bureacrats they employ in Washington) to soft-peddle the issue to the rest of the American prelates.

Father Cole acknowledged to CNS that he was responding to Balestrieri in a private capacity at the request of Father DiNoia in Rome.

"I have no relationship to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ... and the letter that I wrote to Balestrieri was purely private," he told CNS Oct. 19. "I wrote it as a private theologian, not with any authority. It has no authority whatsoever."

While Father Cole is of the opinion that one can be excommunicated "latae sententiae" (automatically) by publicly supporting abortion laws and defying the position of the Vatican and the bishops in America, the unnamed sources quoted by CNS argue that automatic excommunication occurs "only if you procure or perform an abortion."

This is not the position of Cardinal Ratzinger, who heads up the Congregation. In his letter to Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C., and Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the National Council of Catholic Bishops, Ratzinger said:

The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propoganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74) (Bold emphasis mine: DTO)
Quick translation: campaigning for abortion laws, voting in favor of abortion laws, and claiming you can't appoint judges who would overturn abortion laws is de facto cooperation with a moral evil. It is equated with performing abortions or having one by Ratzinger. You can read the entire text and a review of how the American bishops dealt with it here

Getting back to the controversy at hand, the CNS report alleges, without attribution, that Balestrieri did not identify himself in his letter to the Congregation:

When he wrote to the congregation, Balestrieri did not identify himself as the head of De Fide, he did not mention Kerry or politicians in general and he said he did not inform the congregation that he was trying to formally sue Kerry for heresy in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Here is the first part of the Oklahomily post from last night:

Catholic World News is reporting in its Monday, Oct. 18, 2004, edition headlined Kerry Said to be Excommunicated that "A consultant to the Vatican has said Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has incurred the penalty of excommunication from the Catholic Church."

The consultant made his statement in a highly unusual letter to Marc Balestrieri, a Los Angeles canon lawyer who formally sued John Kerry in ecclesiastical court for heresy. Balestrieri, who launched his case earlier this year by filing a heresy complaint in Kerry's home archdiocese of Boston, told EWTN's "World Over" program on Friday that he had received an unusual, indirect communication from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the pro-abortion stance.

That communication provides a basis, he said, to declare that any Catholic politician who says he is "personally opposed to abortion, but supports a woman's right to choose," incurs automatic excommunication. It also provided a basis for Balestrieri to broaden his canonical actions and file additional complaints against four more pro-abortion Catholic politicians: Democrat Senators Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Tom Harkin of Iowa; Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine; and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, a Democrat.

UPDATE & AFTER-THOUGHTS -- It's possible that Balestrieri is a bit red-faced today over this reversal, but we would caution against jumping to conclusions in either direction. The reason is that the issue of Catholic politicians and abortion policy is arriving at its crisis point in history, and the issue must be settled definitively. It is too simplistic to simply declare that the only way to incur automatic excommunication is to procur or perform an abortion. Consider this question: Who is more responsible for procurring and performing abortions, the individuals who avail themselves of the service and the doctors who perform them, or the government officials, lawmakers and judges who change the laws to take away the threat of criminal prosecution?

Hint: All sides agree there are about 3,500 abortions performed daily in the United States. How many were there before Roe v Wade?

For the lay Catholic and the non-Catholic, sometimes the issues discussed within the Church seem overly complicated and nigh impossible to understand. But the issue of abortion politics is coming to a head. The idea of a Catholic president proactively defending and advancing abortion policy, not to mention embryonic stem cell research paid with tax dollars, is a nightmare scenario for the Church. Where John Kennedy's heroism, charm and quiet faith inspired many Catholics to public service and put the fears of a nation to rest, John Kerry threatens to scandalize the nation's faithful and give people of any and all faiths a reason to disdain the importance of Catholic beliefs.

You have to go back to 1534 and the divorce dispute between England's King Henry VIII and Pope Clement VII (the pope, defending the sanctity of the king's marriage, said "No!") to find anything comparable. That little bit of royal defiance ended up with an excommunicated king, a splintered Church, and lots of unintended consequences resulting in the deaths of many people, Protestant and Catholic, over the centuries. The gravity of the abortion issue is many times stronger. The difference is that millions of human beings are already dying. Resolving the issue can only make things better.


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