Sunday, July 10, 2011

Abortion and Withholding the Eucharist

In response to an online discussion I had with another Catholic about why I believe the Eucharist should be withheld from people – politicians or otherwise – who actively support abortion, I felt it important to write more than a paragraph or two. This subject is far too important to the souls of men and women – not to mention the more than 1,300,000 babies Americans kill each year in the womb.

The writer said, in effect, she did not believe withholding the Eucharist should be used as a weapon, to get people to obey Church teaching. And so, my response:
I understand the reluctance to engage in confrontation. Confrontation is often uncomfortable. But when it comes to protecting others from danger – in this case about abortion, the millions of Catholics who believe abortion is not a grave mortal sin – it is vitally necessary to confront others. Indeed, Jesus and the apostles, along with the Church, mandate excommunication for severe spiritual offenses. And for good reason, which I will illustrate below. 

Excommunication (e.g. removing a person from participating in Christian rites and rituals, including the Sacraments) is designed to be both medicinal for the offender and protective for the Church. For example, we find in 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 that St. Paul orders the church to excommunicate the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife (1 Cor 5:1-7), telling them to “clean out” the leaven of wickedness. Leaven, as you know, spreads throughout the loaf (or in this case, the Church) and will wreck havoc among the faithful if the leaven is permitted to remain.

In this Corinthian case in particular, the excommunication proved medicinal for the church because, as we discover in 2 Corinthians, the excommunicated man repented of his sin and was then restored to full fellowship (2 Cor 2:1-11).  It is quite probable that if the church had not sent the person away (thus avoiding the necessary confrontation), the man would have continued in his sin . . . and gone to hell.

Excommunication is also protective for the rest of the Church. If the Church permits sin to proceed unchallenged, then that unholy leaven will spread throughout the Body of Christ. And so St. Paul writes again to the Corinthians, “Do not be led astray: "Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33). For the same protective reason he tells St. Timothy to remove Hymenaeus and Alexander from their fellowship because they were teaching heresy and hurting the faith of others in the Church (1 Timothy 1:20).

Excommunication is necessary also for Church discipline. The Lord Jesus tells us if a person refuses to obey Church teaching, he should be sent away from their communion: "If your brother sins . . . [and] he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).

There are many more New Testament examples that illustrate the importance of Church discipline, up to and including excommunication. But let’s look now at what the Church says about excommunication, and specifically related to those who promote abortion.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church: (underlined texts are my emphasis)

2271  Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law . . . Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae [my note: defined as a sentence already passed simply because of the act itself] “by the very commission of the offense . . .. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

As for Canon Law, we find here: (I have lifted the following from )

Canon 1398: “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

Canon 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”
Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

Heresy is the obstinate denial of any truth of the Catholic faith, on a matter of faith or morals, which has been definitively taught by the Magisterium. The Magisterium has repeatedly and definitively taught that abortion is always gravely immoral. (CCC 2270 to 2275)

Those Catholics who promote abortion are automatically excommunicated for two reasons. First, they have fallen into the sin of heresy by believing that abortion is not always gravely immoral (canons 751 and 1364). Second, these Catholics are providing substantial assistance for women to obtain abortions by influencing public policy to make abortions legal, and to keep abortions legal, and to broaden access to abortion. Those who provide such substantial assistance commit a mortal sin and incur a sentence of automatic excommunication (canon 1398).
(At this point I end the citation from that aforementioned website)
St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome who, though they professed the faith, practiced sin and were not subsequently disciplined by the Church. He called them a scandal to the Body of Christ because their sins gave non-believers reason to mock and blaspheme God and His Church (Romans 2:17-24). He accused them of having a ‘form’ of godliness, the trappings of religion and the professions of faith – but they had denied that faith by their actions (see 2 Timothy 3:5 and Titus 1:16).

It is true, most of us do not like confrontation. But when it comes to the truths of our faith and the eternal salvation or damnation of souls, confrontation is an absolutely essential part of our call as witnesses for Christ and His Church. We are, as it were, Watchmen and women standing on the walls, charged with warning others of danger (see Ezekiel 33:1-9).

May God help us to faithfully do so.

You can find more information at the following websites, or do an internet search for keywords of excommunication, catholic: