Memo to Frances Kissling: Find a new canonist
Frances Kissling’s life-long abortion advocacy is so well-known (and so chronically unoriginal) that, I imagine, even fewer people pay attention to her now than they did for the 25 years she ran her “Catholics for a Free Choice“, a little agit-prop operation that conducted itself so egregiously that even the inveterately diplomatic USCCB, in 1993 and again in 2000, rebuked it by name.
In her recent remarks for Salon.com, Kissling manages to get a couple of points correct (though probably not quite for the reasons she thinks), but in general, she makes most of the mistakes about canon law and abortion that so many others have made. It would, perhaps, be mildly educational to fisk her whole essay, but for lack of time, I’ll focus on a claim she attributes to an unnamed canon lawyer: “there is no way the [C]hurch could effectively police the excommunication, [so] I could also ignore it and keep going to Mass and taking Communion. As one canon lawyer told me, the [C]hurch has only the power we give it.”
Yikes! Kissling needs another canon lawyer, but quick!
One who would tell her: The Church does not derive her power or authority from the faithful in a sort-of “consent of the governed manner”, not at all. The Church derives her power directly from Her Founder and Spouse, Jesus Christ. That power, given by the Lord to St. Peter and the Apostles, will be handed on to their successors until the end of time (1983 CIC 330, 331, 375). If Kissling wants to argue that some of the more visible trappings associated with ecclesiastical “power” (economic, military, cultural, and so on) have waxed and waned over the centuries, fine. But she cannot parlay that aside into a conclusion that “the Church has only the power we give it.” Not by a long shot.
Moreover, included in this God-given power is “binding and loosing” (Matthew 16 and 18; John 29), a power that applies to, among other things, the sacraments (1983 CIC 841). If Kissling were ever notified of her ineligibility to present herself for Communion under Canon 915 (in my opinion she long ago made herself a candidate for such a measure), or if she were to be excommunicated in accord with 1331 (something she says there are no grounds for, but which she might want to discuss with a competent canonist who knows how to read several canons besides 1398), I think she would find out how much higher today is the willingness of most ministers of the Eucharist to abide by the decisions of ecclesiastical authority in this area, at least compared to what pro-abortion Catholics must look back on fondly as the halcyon days of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, decades when they could pretty much say what they wanted without fear of effective rebuttal.
But suppose, finally, that Kissling did find someone to give her Communion in contravention of a directive under Canons 915 or 1331? Just what does she think such a stunt would accomplish? Whom, and I do mean Whom, does she think she would be fooling?