Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Sunday, May 27, 2007

Well, since you asked, Yes, pro-abortion Catholics are still Catholic

That's precisely the problem. But maybe we should back up.

The laity's rapidly growing awareness of canon law is yet another sign that confusion in the post-conciliar Church is receding. But, as more folks without canonical training try to apply canon law in real life, we should expect them to make some mistakes. Nothing terrible about that, provided such mistakes are corrected in due course. Hardly had I blogged on the misuse of canon law by notorious abortion advocate, Frances Kissling, than I see canon law being misconstrued by the famous pro-lifer, Judie Brown of the American Life League.

Pithy slogans help popularize basic truths, but brevity must not detract from accuracy. Pro-lifers demolish abortion slogans such as "Keep your laws off my body" and "Pro-Child, Pro-Choice" precisely because such slogans, while rhetorically clever, are substantively flawed. Brown/ALL is currently pushing the slogan "You Can't be Catholic and Pro-Abortion" (original emphasis). I think this assertion is flawed. Even so, I might have let it pass except that their advertising claims that the slogan is "100% truth" and "backed by the full authority of Canon Law 915" (Celebrate Life, May-June 2007, back cover). That kind of talk gets my attention.

Logically, the phrase "You Can't be Catholic and Pro-Abortion", cannot mean other than that, if one is pro-abortion, one cannot retain one's identity as a Catholic. But, while there are certainly ways to cancel one's Catholic identify (e.g., formal acts of defection), simply "being pro-abortion", even very pro-abortion, isn't one of them.

A Catholic's involvement in pro-abortion advocacy might (depending on the usual criteria) be gravely sinful, but since when is any Catholic who commits a grave sin no longer Catholic? Catholics who commit grave sin are still Catholic, albeit Catholics in mortal sin. If Catholics die in that state, they go to Hell as Catholics, not as former Catholics. The essence of the scandal given by pro-abortion Catholics lies precisely in the fact that they are Catholics. If they weren't Catholic, what would all the shouting be about?

Ironically, invoking "the full authority of Canon 915" in support of the slogan would, if its basic premise were correct, be pointless: Canon 915 (restricting access to the Eucharist) applies only to Catholics! If pro-abortion Catholics weren't Catholic anymore, Canon 915 would not apply to them; instead, their access to the Eucharist would be regulated by Canon 844. People are finally seeing that Canon 915 is a viable response to the outrageous behavior of certain Catholics; the last thing we should be doing is questioning whether such Catholics are still Catholic and thus subject to the canon.

Note furthermore that, if pro-abortion advocacy could somehow lead to excommunication, even those excommunicated Catholics would still be Catholics in the same way that convicted felons sitting in prison are, despite the serious loss of rights they endure, still citizens. Thus, if being subject to excommunication under Canon 1331 does not mean that one is no longer Catholic, how can a pro-abortion Catholic's suffering the serious but lesser consequences of Canon 915 be invoked to show that such persons can't be Catholic! The answer is, it cannot.

I write, of course, as a canonist with the canonical criteria for full communion set forth 1983 CIC 205 in mind. I am aware that Lumen gentium 14, conciliar source for this canon and worth a careful read here, lists, e.g., "sharing the spirit of Christ" as an element of full communion with his Church. Who doubts but that pro-abortion advocacy is deeply contrary to the spirit of Christ? Nevertheless, the fact that there are baptized (often confirmed, etc.) Catholics who are pro-abortion is part of the mystery of sin; it is a testament to the staggering patience of Christ Who lets his Church be wounded anew by its very own. But we don't get around that painful mystery, or even a part of that mystery, by pretending that pro-abortionism is ontologically impossible for Catholics.


Notes: 1. I have criticized (and defended, for that matter) Brown's invocation of canon law before (e.g, Sept 19, 2006 and click and scroll to 8 October 2003); 2. I am inclined to take people at their word, so I assume Brown/ALL said what they meant. Besides, in the unforgiving world of slogans, one can only assess what was actually said. Still, maybe Brown/ALL meant to say something like "You Can't be a Good Catholic and Pro-Abortion" or maybe "No Good Catholic is Pro-Abortion." Both those assertions are defensible; 3. Brown asserted in her blog of May 9th that "Pope Benedict Confirms ALL's Canon 915 Project." I don't like that kind of misleading headline (to wit, I seriously doubt that B16 has said anything about ALL's campaign to get bishops to apply Canon 915), but I suppose it passes muster under contemporary political rhetoric license standards. In any case, my criticsm of the Brown/ALL slogan above does not necesarily apply to their Canon 915 Campaign. I have not expressed an opinion on that effort.

FOLLOW-UP: June 4. Matt Abbot reports (May 31) that ALL responded to my observations. I frankly don't see how their comments respond to my points, but as this is a dispute among allies, I'm not inclined to belabor the matter. Folks can, and will, reach their own conclusions.