Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Filipino excommunication that isn't

The May 26 abs-cbnnews report about a Filipino politician (Edcel Lagman) who has allegedly excommunicated himself for pushing a pro-contraceptive bill in that nation’s House of Representatives contains several errors, not all of which, however, can be attributed to typical secular press incompetence in religious matters. Let’s sort it out.

On purely secular grounds, strong arguments can be made against governmental contraceptive programs; but that’s not our concern. On Catholic moral grounds, advocacy of contraceptive programs is objectively gravely evil; even that, however, is not our concern here. Our concern, instead, is with excommunication, and excommunication is a canonical sanction, which makes our concern a legal one, not a political one, and not moral one.

Nulla poena sine lege. One cannot face a sanction under canon law unless one has broken a universal or particular law (or a penal precept) which threatens that sanction for that action.

Now, no canon of the 1983 Code threatens excommunication for promotion of contraception. No local Filipino ecclesiastical legislation is reported as threatening excommunication for promotion of contraception, and I know of no penal precept issued by the competent ecclesiastical authority that threatens same. Canon 1398 (on abortion) does not apply,
for reasons I have set out elsewhere, but even more so here in that no abortions could have yet taken place under this bill.

In short, Lagman does not face excommunication for anything he has done so far, and Msgr. Juanito Figura, secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, is absolutely correct when he says that Lagman should stop posturing as some brave man facing down an ecclesiastical sanction when none has been threatened.

As for Bishop Bastes' comments that Lagman “is excommunicating himself . . . We [w]on’t give him the honor to make him excommunicated,” well, whatever the prelate might have meant in the context of his remarks, excommunication is a medicinal censure, and one does not withhold medicine from offenders, if they are in other respects liable to it.