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About those Bloody 14

January 31, 2018

Cantwell (WA); Collins (ME); Durbin (IL); Gilibrand (NY); Heitkamp (ND); Kaine (VA); Leahy (VT); Markey (MA); Cortez Masto (NV); McCaskill (MO); Menendez (NJ); Murkowski (AK); Murray (WA); and Reed (RI).

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is right  that the fourteen Catholic senators named above who voted to prevent the government from protecting pre-born babies from the savagery of abortion have, by just this one vote (and not counting the long string of similar steps that most of these fourteen have taken before), committed a grievous moral offense. By any objective measure they have each placed their souls in mortal jeopardy.

Longenecker’s call for the fourteen to be named and held accountable by earthly means (if only to lessen the accounting they will surely owe at Judgment) is an exercise of his canonical right and probably even the duty as a member of the Christian faithful to make known his views on matters that pertain to the good of the Church—and the scandal given by prominent Catholics acting as they did here surely impacts the good of the Church (CCC 2284)—and to communicate his views to others in the Church (Canon 212 § 3).

Except to explicitate what Longenecker the priest takes for granted (but we laity need to be reminded of), that we should pray for each senator by name, we should pursue what steps the legal, political, and ecclesiastical system provides for such sad scenarios.

But, about that ecclesiastical redress, two qualifications to Longenecker’s call need to be offered.

First, as has been explained many times, the hideous deed committed by the Bloody 14 is not, standing alone, a crime under canon law and, even if combined with other such acts as many of the Bloody 14 have taken, is not a crime for which excommunication is the penalty (Canon 1369). Specifically, voting pro-abortion is not ‘procuring an abortion’ for purposes of Canon 1398 and so no excommunication for procuring abortion applies in response to voting for it. Catholics contacting chanceries and demanding excommunications, therefore, will be noted on the “Uninformed Critics” list and comfortably ignored—this time, with some reason.

Second, a single act, again, no matter how objectively gravely sinful it is, does not trigger the duty of Catholic ministers to withhold holy Communion under Canon 915 which canon operates in the face of obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin. Catholics contacting chanceries and demanding the withholding of holy Communion, therefore, will be noted on the “They Are on to Something but have Jumped the Gun” list and un-comfortably ignored—though again with some reason.

So, what to do?

Well, do exactly what Longenecker recommends in the legal and political sphere (for that matter, in the social sphere as well), lovingly shame the Bloody 14 into realizing what they have done and, please God, into personal and public repentance of it.

About excommunication, one may of course petition Rome (or local bishops) to designate political acts such as these as canonical crimes punishable by excommunication. I think there are major obstacles to such legislation but I (and other experts, I am sure) would certainly be willing to weigh in on the possibility.

About the withholding of holy Communion, this, I have said many times, urgently needs to implemented, but not in response to a single act (for that theory is canonically doomed to failure), but rather in response to a demonstrable string of such acts taken by most of the Bloody 14 (and several others, Nancy Pelosi leaping to mind). Here, unlike the excommunication idea above, the law is already in place (Canon 915), it just needs to be applied—correctly of course, but that is not a problem in many of these cases.

The Bloody 14 case might just trigger the long-overdue application of the law. 

Finally, a personal observation? The repeated, though for now misguided, calls for excommunication in these cases, and the repeated, but worth-considering, calls for withholding holy Communion in these cases share this: they spring almost completely from Catholic laity and are almost completely ignored by ecclesiastical leadership. This almost total, multi-decade disconnect between people and pastors is source of serious tension in the Church. Pray that such tension is relieved before it erupts into even more serious problems.

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