Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fr. Bourgeois might be facing more than excommunication

Original post: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given activist Maryknoll priest, Rev. Roy Bourgeois, about a month to recant his support for women's ordination or suffer excommunication. Without seeing CDF's warning letter to Bourgeois, it is impossible for me to comment on the precise grounds upon which his excommunication looms, but a related thought occurs to me: given the attitude that Bourgeois showed in his reply to CDF, I suspect that a penal decree here will not only impose an excommunication, it will also lay the groundwork for a fairly expeditious dismissal from the clerical state. A couple of canons (e.g., 1983 CIC 1326.1.1 and 1393) make that additional penalty foreseeable, and the dicasterial decree could easily address any objections to administrative dismissal possible under, say, 1983 CIC 1319.1. So, we'll see.

Update, 14 Nov 2008: Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi makes the perplexing statement that Bourgeois' "excommunication would likely be automatic, requiring no further action from the Holy See". I don't know what this means. "Automatic" excommunication occurs upon the commission of a canonical crime (1983 CIC 1314), not upon the expiration of a deadline. What CDF appears to be doing is fixing the date for the formal imposition (1983 CIC 1331.2) of an excommunication; there's nothing "automatic" about that. I haven't seen CDF's letter, so I can't say for sure, but then, Fr. Lombardi says he hasn't seen it either, so I wonder, should he guess at what it says?

Of course, none of this confusion would arise if Western canon law would simply do away with "automatic" penalties completely, as Eastern canon law did (CCEO 1402). Poenae latae sententiae delendae sunt.