Canonical Options For Dealing With FOCA

With President-elect Obama assembling together the most anti-life and anti-family radicals imaginable for his upcoming administration.  In addition to ignoring the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) statement* (November 12, 2008 AD) to reconsider not signing the misnomered Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).  Along with other abortion related executive, judicial, and legislative acts, the options to combat this evil are becoming fewer for American Catholics.

With American Catholics being left to their faith for sustenance, our shepherds, the Catholic Bishops (USCCB), may need to review their canonical options for dealing with Catholic legislative support for FOCA.  The USCCB will have to engage the issue of well known “Catholic legislators supporting a specifically and gravely evil bill” as Dr. Edward Peters, a well respected canon lawyer, stated today on his blog.  Dr. Edward Peters sees four (4) canonical options in “dealing with these Catholic legislators who support FOCA” (emphasis mine):

1. Canon 915. Make plain, by public announcement and/or private contact, that a legislator’s support for FOCA qualifies as (probably formal, but certainly proximate material) cooperation with objective grave evil and that such conduct, in this case, would render one ineligible for reception of holy Communion under Canon 915.

This option requires little or no technical groundwork to be laid, carries immediate, visible, and salutary consequences (withholding of holy Communion from the publically unworthy and protecting the faithful from classical scandal), and, because it is a sacramental disciplinary norm and not a canonical penalty, it requires no formal process for imposition; finally, it leaves open the possibility of speedy reconciliation by a suitable expression of repentance.

More information: Raymond Burke, “The discipline regarding the denial of holy Communion to those obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin“, Periodica 96 (2007) 3-58; Edward Peters, “Denial of the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians“, Homiletic & Pastoral Review (October 1990) 28-32, 48-49; and generally Brian O’Neel, “Just punishment“, Catholic World Report (February 2002).

2. Canon 1369. Warn Catholic legislators that their support for FOCA appears to be using “a public show or speech [or] published writing . . . [to] gravely injure good morals”, and that as such they would be liable to “a just penalty” under Canon 1369. The sanction need not be specified in advance, and contempt for any earlier sanctions can result in escalating penalties under 1983 CIC 1393.

This option requires little or no technical groundwork to be laid (no prior warning is necessary, but it might be pastorally prudent to offer same), and it carries visible and salutary consequences (ones flexible in nature, but which could eventually include excommunication). Because Canon 1369 is a penal norm, it would require a formal process (1983 CIC 1314, 1342) for imposition of the penalty. Canon 1369 can also be enforced by penal precept (1983 CIC 49, 1319, 1339).

More information: O’Neel, above, and generally Edward Peters, Penal Procedural Law in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon Law Studies No. 537, (Catholic University of America 1991) 393 pp.

3. Canon 455. Enact at the episcopal conference level (though individual bishops are free to act here as well, per 1983 CIC 1315 et seq.) a “general decree” (1983 CIC 29, 455) making legislative support for FOCA a canonical offense and specifying a penalty or range of penalties.

This option requires that considerable groundwork be laid and, even if Roman authorization were forthcoming for conference action (I suspect it would be), there is probably not enough time to enact specific penal legislation before FOCA becomes an issue.

4. Be content to reiterate the Church’s opposition to abortion and to allow individual Catholic legislators to decide for themselves whether support for FOCA is in accord with Church teaching and whether they feel comfortable in approaching holy Communion under Canon 916.

This option is essentially a decision to do nothing special in regard to FOCA. Those who consider this response pastorally sufficient are free to make a case for it.

Some additional points.

1. I do not think that a Catholic legislator’s support for pro-abortion bills can result in automatic excommunication for abortion under Canon 1398 and, as I have argued elsewhere, I know of no canonist who holds otherwise. Notwithstanding Francis Cdl. George’s and Deal Hudson’s recent remarks about the possibility of excommunicating Catholic legislators over support for FOCA, I’m afraid that George and Hudson, in slightly different ways, have confused the criteria for assessing the morality of an act (which criteria they correctly outlined) with the criteria for assessing the legality of an act. Conscience and law are not in conflict here, but they follow, for very sound reasons, rather different ways of evaluating actions. In canonical matters, especially in penal ones (1983 CIC 18, 221) it is canonical interpretation that must be followed, and canonical penalties for abortion under Canon 1398 and 1329 do not reach beyond those directly and necessarily involved in the procuring of a specific abortion.

2. Options 1, 2, and 3 are not mutually exclusive.

3. A Catholic legislator’s support for FOCA might suffice for incurring canonical consequences, be they sacramental or penal as above, regardless of whether FOCA actually becomes law. Moreover, some prominent Catholics not in legislative office might, by their public efforts on behalf of FOCA, leave themselves liable to canonical consequences for such conduct.

…and that is a precise explanation given by Dr. Edward Peters.

*  The bishops equivalent to an open letter.  Which is why I said that an open statement penned and signed by “rich man”** Catholics who openly voted for Obama is pointless since the bishop’s own statement proved fruitless (Holy Gospel of St. Luke 16:19-31)**.

**  19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'”

3 Responses to Canonical Options For Dealing With FOCA

  1. Gerard E. says:

    As Prof. Dr. Peters outlines, numerous options for our shepherds in case FOCA gets Mr. Obama’s John Hancock. The one possibility for prevention is that other issues command his attention, particularly the economy. If not, the bishops are in a significant bind. Many bold and freeswinging letters, documents, interview quotes were issued before November 4. Oops- the majority of our brethren voted with the understanding that economic issues trump the lives of unborn babies. Some quick and fast evangelization may be needed to reinforce opposition to FOCA. Never a very good idea to call for battle with no troops behind the generals.

  2. Forget the troops! Be true shepherds and defend the magisterium regardless of the flock. The Bishops are wholly responsible for 54% of Catholics voting for evil by their equivocating in their ‘Faithful Citizenship’ Document. They must now act and act boldly. Forget the economy, the rich progressive benefactors, and lead, or resign. Also, the Vatican needs to be more selective when it chooses Bishops. The time for gentle politics is over. Act now and act decisively! This will seep back into what little is left the Church if no action is taken.

  3. COLUMBIA, S.C. – A South Carolina Roman Catholic priest has told his parishioners that they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion, and

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