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Automatic Excommunication for Supporting Abortion Clarified

Politicians who support the right to choose an abortion are not excommunicated (latae sentientiae, i.e. automatically) since they did not procure an abortion. Imposing an excommunication juricially (ferendae sentientiae) is not something most bishops are even ready to attempt.

The decision as to whether legislators who permit abortion choices may receive the Eucharist is a moral, not a canonical question. Thomas Aquinas, following Augustine, thought a Catholic prince could allow prostitution even if he thought the act immoral if greater evils would occur by banning prostitution. Similarly a legislator who thought the greater foreseeable evils resulting from an unenforceable prohibition of abortion, a prohibition that would result in more deaths of women from botched abortion as happened before Roe v. Wade, could vote to allow women the legal discretion to choose abortion without sin and therefore could not be prohibited from eucharistic participation.

The bishop who threaten this are not on solid ground, canonically or theologically.

Dan Maguire

Catholic News Service, June 4, 2007

…In the interview [Italian newspaper Avvenire June 3], Cardinal Bertone also commented on Pope Benedict's recent remarks to reporters about the possible excommunication of Catholic politicians who support legislation to make abortion legal.

"It seems clear to me that the pope recalled that it is up to individual bishops to establish whether and when to impose excommunication," Cardinal Bertone said.

The cardinal added that in the case of Catholic politicians, such a penalty would be carried out "ferendae sententiae" -- imposed by the judgment of a church court or authority -- rather than automatically incurred.

Cardinal Bertone was apparently distinguishing the situation of Catholic politicians from that of people directly involved in procuring abortion, for which the penalty is automatic excommunication.

The pope, when asked if he agreed with the excommunication of Catholic legislators in Mexico who had supported a law legalizing abortion, said yes and added that church law foresaw such a penalty.

The Vatican issued a toned-down transcript of the pope's remarks the next day, changing some of his words. In the interview, Cardinal Bertone defended the practice of modifying the "official" version of papal remarks.


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