Update on the Brazilian abortion case

All readers of this blog will be thankful with the reaction of several curial officials in the Holy See to the way in which the Brazilian abortion case was (mis-)handled. See the full update on Cathnews here. Apparently the original source is in the Italian daily edition L’Osservatore Romano. The following is from report from the International Herald Tribune.

Fisichella stressed that abortion is always “bad.” But he said the quick proclamation of excommunication “unfortunately hurts the credibility of our teaching, which appears in the eyes of many as insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy.”

The Vatican teaches that anyone performing or helping someone to have an abortion is automatically excommunicated from the church, and the Vatican prelate underlined that abortion is “always condemned by moral law as an intrinsically evil act.”

“There wasn’t any need, we contend, for so much urgency and publicity in declaring something that happens automatically,” Fisichella wrote.

Writing as if he were addressing the girl, Fisichella said: “There are others who merit excommunication and our pardon, not those who have allowed you to live and have helped you to regain hope and trust.”

Note two things: first the reference to latae sententiae excommunication. Fisichella seems to be saying that while it is true that such an automatic excommunication comes into play with the act of abortion, nothing publically should have been said about this, and mercy (ie. the lifting of the automatic excommunication) should have been immediately applied to the situation.

Note too that there seems to be some doubt as to whether anything was really actively done as far as the imposition of excommunication goes. Here is something from one of the links given by Cathnews, from the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Brazil’s Catholic bishops conference denied that the archbishop of Recife and Olinda, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, excommunicated the mother and doctors who practiced a legal abortion on a 9-year-old girl that was pregnant with twins after being raped by her stepfather.

The secretary general of the bishops conference, Dimas Lara Barbosa, said that the prelate “at no time excommunicated anyone.”

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50 responses to “Update on the Brazilian abortion case

  1. Tony

    David,

    You may have missed my posting yesterday:

    ——

    … the archbishop may simply have been pointing out that anyone who procurs or cooperates in the procurement of an abortion is automatically (ie. latae sententiae) excommunicated.

    See http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/stories/2009/03/14/1245a40abd9e

    And, almost identical (presumably sourced from the same news wire): http://www.france24.com/en/20090314-bishops-admit-mistake-annul-excommunication-abortion-row-minor-rape-brazil

    An excerpt:

    Brazilian bishops have cancelled the excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion after being raped.

    They said the decision to excommunicate was wrong and would not be applied.

    Assuming the source is correct, this suggest that the excommunication was in fact discretionary?

    CNBB secretary-general Dimas Lara Barbosa told reporters the mother therefore could not be excommunicated. “We must take the circumstances into consideration,” he said.

    Eureka!

    ——

    This whole episode is woeful — mostly, of course, for those directly involved but it’s also another example of the ham-fisted and confusing way the church seems to handle these distressing situations.

    The kind of criticisms I had all along seem to be echoed by Archbishop Rino Fisichella and calls into question Latae Sententiae excommunication as you seem to describe it.

    I mean what is the point of an automatic excommunication if it is ‘revised’ in the light of context?

    Why not look at the context first and then make an informed decision down the track when facts are cleared up and the priority to offer a compassionate embrace has passed?

    I’m also interested in the response of many to the original story. There was a confident condemnation of the mother and the doctors and an equally confident assertion that ‘We should laud the Archbishop for defending Church teaching’ and avoid ‘false pity’.

    The problem now with +Fisichella’s more ‘pastoral’ response is that the horse has well and truly bolted and is catching up to the SSPX horse!

  2. Terra

    Firstly, the excommunications have not been lifted as far as we know – the Brasilian bishop’s conference has no power to do that! All it did was (unhelpfully) dump on one of their brother bishops.

    Secondly, the point I think AB Fisichella is making (although we are all relying on secular media versions of what he said) is that even in the case of a latae sententiae excommunication, there can be reasons why it hasn’t really taken place not withstanding the objective act. So for example, anyone who has an abortion is excommunicated – but not if they are a minor child. Grave fear can also be a circumstancee which means the penalty doesn’t apply but there are limits to this ground – in particular where the act is intrinsically evil or tends to be harmful to souls….

    Thirdly, while I agree that this has been badly handled, the bad handling in my view is Fisichella’s intervention at this stage, which contradicts Cardinal Re, and gives mixed messages about the Church’s defense of life – including that of the two children who were aborted.

    The Archbishop concerned is the one who had all the facts, and as far as I can see he declared the excommunications precisely because the Church had been involved in the discussions on what should be done, but wasn’t being listened to.

    Yes it is a horrible situation, but I don’t agree that this is good news.

  3. Peregrinus

    I think the point is that, while it may be true as a matter of canon law that the act of procuring an abortion automatically attracts an excommunication, it is neither necessary, nor pastorally helpful, to point this out in a very public fashion on every occasion when the issue arises.

    This is a little like pointing out that anyone detected driving while drunk incurs demerit points on their licence. It’s true, but in the larger scheme of things it’s comparatively unimportant, and it is certainly not the reason why driving while drunk is a really, really bad idea. Focussing on the canon law consequences of abortion, and issuing a public statement about that, gives the impression of a church which sees everything primarily in legalistic terms, which is judgmental and uncaring. This is especially true when the canonical penalty is excommunication, which as we know is a widely-misunderstood act.

    Furthermore, the point of canon law penalties is that they are supposed to be corrective – supposed to call the offender to a realisation of the damage their conduct is doing to their relationship with the Body of Christ, and (hopefully) to impel them toward reconciliation. As a general rule, I suggest, they might have some role to play in this regard when discussed directly with the offender by the bishop, the confessor or they pastor, but if made the subject of a press statement they will do nothing but to widen dramatically whatever breach already exists between the offender and the church.

    And in this case that is true in spades. Remember the appalling circumstances which the mother of this child found herself, in the dreadful dilemma which she faced. This was a woman in need of love, support, compassion, guidance, acceptance; these things might have helped to start in the journey she needs to undertake. A publicly-announced excommunication certainly will not.

  4. Schütz

    Good analogy, Perry. Imagine someone speeding to get an injured person to hospital. He is captured by a speed-camera and earns demerit points. The demerit points come automatically with the detection, but on appeal the speeding man is let off because of the extenuating circumstances (which still do not make speeding “legal” or “okay”).

  5. Tony

    I don’t buy it David.

    Why doesn’t a person who fatally shoots another person earn such an excommunication? There is a life lost. There is a perpetrator (and, maybe, some accomplices).

    Why doesn’t the step-father earn such an excommunication?

    If a ‘shoot first, ask questions after’ (I know, not a great analogy) policy works for abortion why not other heinous crimes?

    The answer seems obvious to me: such pronouncements are not only unhelpful they’re prone to misinterpretation and inaccuracy.

    In terms of Pere’s analogy, the difference is that a citizen has the legal right to appeal. What right did this mother have? She seems to have benefited from the compassion of another bishop, but could she have had access to a process of appeal? Is she presumed guilty until someone deigns to look into the case and ‘represent’ her?

    … thirdly, while I agree that this has been badly handled, the bad handling in my view is Fisichella’s intervention at this stage …

    And this statement is a pretty good indication of the stuff up, no matter who is right.

  6. matthias

    I ‘ll go devil’s advocate here and from clinical ethics perspective asked ,who leaked the story to the press re the abortion taking place or to be undertaken ,as this is a clear breach of patient-doctor confidentiality.The first action of medical ethics ‘do no harm” and although the abortion has possible obstetical problems in later life,who ever made this case public has perhaps caused harm to the child and her mother.
    As i said earlier this whole case is all as a result of one man’s sin.

  7. Schütz

    “Why doesn’t a person who fatally shoots another person earn such an excommunication?”

    Why doesn’t a thief get caught by a speed-camera?

  8. Schütz

    Tony, has there been anything that the Catholic Church has done, taught or said recently that you agree with?

  9. Peregrinus

    There are two separate questions here:

    1. Should abortion attract an automatic excommunication?

    My vote, for what it is worth, is that it shouldn’t. When I look at the range of hideous crimes, starting with genocide and working downwards, which do not attract automatic excommunication, and when we look at the rather narrow range of crimes which do attract automatic excommunication, almost all of them crimes directly against faith or against the church, the logic for putting abortion into the latter group has always escaped me, and nobody has ever been able to explain it to me. And, given that the penalty of excommunication is so widely misunderstood, the chances the applying it will actually achieve any good outcome in cases of abortion seem to me pretty remote.

    But so what? Abortion does attract an automatic excommunication, and the fact that I think this is a bad idea is really neither here nor there. I might think that demerit points for speeding were also a bad idea, but that is no help to someone who is caught speeding and, more to the point, it also says nothing about the morality of speeding itself.

    So I turn to the second question:

    2. Given that abortion does attract an automatic excommunication, how should that influence our response to abortion?

    Not very much at all, is my answer. The wrongness of abortion doesn’t depend to any extent at all on what canonical penalty it attracts, and the canonical penalty it attracts is probably the least interesting and least important observation we could make about abortion. To make it the focus of the public discussion of a particular case is not merely ill-judged, but completely wrong-headed. For the record, an automatic excommunication does apply automatically (obviously), but in the context of a continuing relationship between the offender and the church it is easily lifted. Both the fact that somebody has incurred an excommunication for participation in an abortion, and the fact that it has been lifted (or that it hasn’t) are normally entirely private, and that’s how it should be. The excommunication is not the issue here. In the scheme of things, a case like this presents us with far, far greater demands on our faith, our hope and our charity than fussing about whether this or that canonical penalty has applied. The word “pharisaical” springs to mind, but that would be unfair to Pharisees.

  10. Tony

    Why doesn’t a thief get caught by a speed-camera?

    How is that analogous? Thieving and speeding are not analogous to taking life (either by abortion or any other means).

    It would be more analogous if a thief who robs one place gets and automatic sentence (ie assuming guilt) and a thief who robs another gets a trial (ie assuming innocence).

    Tony, has there been anything that the Catholic Church has done, taught or said recently that you agree with?

    This is a strange response given that in my opening post I made it clear that I felt Archbishop Rino Fisichella’s approach was much better than the local guy.

    Does that qualify David?

    The excommunication is not the issue here. In the scheme of things, a case like this presents us with far, far greater demands on our faith, our hope and our charity than fussing about whether this or that canonical penalty has applied.

    I agree with this Pere and I’ve said so from the outset. Trouble is the church made it the issue and whether they were wrong or right, that’s a real pity IMO.

    It’s surely not controversial to suggest that the overwhelming weight of the church’s response, after the fact, should have been one of compassion towards the victims and, if any condemnation was appropriate, it should have been overwhelming directed at the perpetrator?

  11. Terra

    Firstly, we need to be careful here – a latae sententiae excommunication DOES NOT come into effect if one of the conditions applying in cl123 apply.

    Secondly, as far as appeals etc, to have it revoked (or a decision made on whether you were excommunicated in the first place) all you have to do is go to confession. The point is that it is medicinal.

    Thirdly, the decision to declare the penalty appears to have been made firstly because the mother rejected the pastoral support and advice being provided, and secondly because the whole case became a public scandal.

    Is this just like drink driving demerits? I don’t think so. The problem, as many of the comments have revealed is that most people today don’t actually accept that all three of the lives at stake were of equal value. It is to drive this message home that abortion is an automatic excommunication offence.

    We all accept that with murder and rape, so no need for a special flag.

    This isn’t about pharaseeism, this is about the natural law.

  12. Tony

    … as far as appeals etc, to have it revoked (or a decision made on whether you were excommunicated in the first place) all you have to do is go to confession. The point is that it is medicinal.

    That’s not, in any sense of the word, an appeal Terra.

    That is — in a context of assumed guilt — an admittance of guilt and contrition. The guilt or innocence — medicinal or not — is ‘handed out’ by ‘the judge’ in haste and, in this case, withdrawn by another ‘judge’ a few days later.

    Thirdly, the decision to declare the penalty appears to have been made firstly because the mother rejected the pastoral support and advice being provided, and secondly because the whole case became a public scandal.

    And yet another bishop regards the excommunication as a mistake.

    We all accept that with murder and rape, so no need for a special flag.

    Who is ‘we all’ Terra?

    Surely this particular story illustrates that a ‘flag’ shouldn’t be applied at the expense of natural justice? Or if such a ‘flag’ is important, it should be applied to all ‘life crimes’?

  13. Schütz

    Sorry, Tony. Facetious question. Can I pour you another glass of port?

  14. Peregrinus

    Couple of points:

    . . . the decision to declare the penalty appears to have been made firstly because the mother rejected the pastoral support and advice being provided, and secondly because the whole case became a public scandal.

    The point is, the penalty is automatic. There is no “decision” to “declare” involved. Somebody who participates in an abortion, and who isn’t otherwise excused, is excommunicated even if the bishop never hears about it. And, if he does hear about it, he doesn’t have to decide, or do, or say, or declare, anything to make the excommunication effective. He – or one of his priests – will be involved in remitting the excommunication, but not at any stage in imposing it. And remission will usually be a private matter.

    So, in this instance, the bishop didn’t “declare’ an excommunication, in the sense of making it happen. He merely drew attention – publicly – to the fact that it had happened (although I think, from newspaper reports, that he may not have made it clear that that is what he was doing). He didn’t have to do that and, in my judgment, he shouldn’t have. His doing it is hardly likely to assist in the reconciliation of the people concerned, and the case became a much bigger scandal [i]after[/i] his public intervention that it had been before – the scandal being the appearance of the church’s response to a woman who found herself in this situation.

    Is this just like drink driving demerits? I don’t think so.

    It’s like them in this sense. It is not the imposition of demerit points which make drink driving seriously wrong, and the fear of incurring demerit points should not be the reason I avoid drinking and driving. If my drink-driving offence provokes a debate about demerit points then we have all lost sight of something much more important.

    The problem, as many of the comments have revealed is that most people today don’t actually accept that all three of the lives at stake were of equal value. It is to drive this message home that abortion is an automatic excommunication offence.

    We all accept that with murder and rape, so no need for a special flag.

    I’m unpersuaded. There are other sins that stem from a denial of the equal value and dignity of all human lives. Genocide has already been mentioned. Enslavement is another. So are all forms of murder and violence motivated or “justified” by racism, homophobia and others forms of bigotry against the person. None of them attract the penalty of excommunication.

    The difference between these sins and abortion is, perhaps, that they are mostly illegal in most countries, whereas abortion is to some extent legal in many countries. But that is not the relevant factor; the penalty of excommunication has attached to abortion since some time in the mid-19th century, when abortion was just as illegal as all the others sins mentioned. So there has to be some other reason for this penalty.

    This isn’t about pharaseeism, this is about the natural law.

    Actually, it’s about the canon law. Its very important not to confuse the two; doing so tends to create a climate of pharisaism.

  15. Tom

    Tony, Murder, Adultery and Apostasy are all things that put one outside the communion of the church. That is, they are reasons for which the church ex-communicates people. However someone’s death isn’t automatically assumed to be murder, because someone might die accidentally, or simply of old age etc. etc.

    The reason abortion gets such attention however is that it is such a pressing issue at the moment. The count of Abortions in the US alone is in the tens of millions. (For the past 40 years). Internationally we would probably have a higher count of abortions than people who died during WWII.

    But that seemed to be the reason for David’s analogy; anyone involved in an abortion is, ipso-facto involved in the murder of an un-born child, and thus, outside the communion of the church. Anyone involved in the death of a man is not necessarily a murderer, they might even have been trying to give CPR; for this the Bishop cannot make a statement until he has seen the evidence. Murder of course, is a reason for automatic excommunication. But the number of murderers pales in comparison to the number of abortionists.

  16. Peregrinus

    I think you’re mistaken, Tom. Murder (other than the murder of the pope) does not attract excommunication.

  17. Vicci

    Tony, Murder, Adultery and Apostasy are all things that put one outside the communion of the church. That is, they are reasons for which the church ex-communicates people.

    Whatever for? And by what authority? It’s is clearly NOT the
    authority of Jesus, who’s Church the CC wants to claim to be..exclusively.

    Jesus at the well in Samaria:(middle of the day, hot, when only the social outcasts were dipping..)
    “You have had many husbands”
    “Yes, sir, that is right..”

    “You’re EXCOMMUNICATED!!! “

    CC ‘gospel’ ??

  18. William Tighe

    The Samaritan woman was not a Christian, and from the beginning of Christianity there was no sin which, if repented of and renounced, excluded one from baptism and membership of the Church.

    However, from as early as we have record, and down to the aftermath of the persecution of Decius (ca. 250) there were five sins, the commission of which by any Christian, brought immediate excommunication, and one that could not be remitted until the one who had committed it was at the point of death: apostasy, adultery, murder, infanticide and abortion. After Decius’ persecution had subsided, the Church, led in the first instance by Pope Cornelius, began to remit such excommunications within the lifetimes of those who had incurred them, although usually after long years of penitential practice on their parts. (This action of Cornelius’ led to the Schism of Novatus, which began in Rome and spread elsewhere. The Novatianists, who seem to have endured for some 300+ years, were the most orthodox of schismatics, and eagerly accepted the Council of Nicaea’s condemnation of Arius — in fact, Constantine invited, deliberately or inadvertently, a Novatianist bishop to Nicaea, who took a strong stand there against Arius, but was expelled from the council by then other bishops when iot came out that he was a Novatianist.)

    It appears then, by Vicci’s understanding, that the apostolic church itself was acting in a “unscriptural” manner in adopting, and then modifying, this discipline. Some will be unfazed by such a conclusion, but I regard it as yet another token of the absurdity (and “para-Reformational” novelty) of the sola scriptura axiom.

  19. Maria

    @ matthias: Because this case was a big scandal long before any news about abortion or the Church stance. The rapist ran away and hid himself, then he was caught and the locals wanted to lynch him. Then the press was naturally obliged to follow the story.

  20. Tom

    Also, Vicci the ls ex-communication represents something separate, not a conscious overt act as much as a recognition by the Church that an act has done so much damage to the individual that they have put themselves outside the communion of the Church.

    This is very real, and very possible. Our immoral acts, by our nature and the nature of the acts themselves can cause such harm, and such wickedness that we literally lose the capacity for communion with others. Literally, other people become for us horrible and we feel they are judgemental, because in the end our conscience is in what Budziszewski (read: What We Can’t Not Know, 2003) calls ‘Avenger Mode’ – we are judging ourselves.

    The conscience has two modes everyone knows about; the voice that warns of impending moral evil, and the voice that accuses when moral evil is committed. The third mode is that of the Avenger, who demands remorse, confession, atonement, reconciliation and justification; our conscience can be our teacher, our judge, but most harrowingly, our executioner.

    When we have entered into a moral wickedness so deep that we have activated our Avenging conscience we become INCAPABLE of communion, until the peace in our souls is restored (think Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘tell-tale heart’; his conscience was so sorely troubled that he felt as though the heart he had disemboweled was still beating in its accusation of his crime). In fact, if we have entered into wickedness, and point-blank refuse to be brought back into line, the consequences are horrific; we become addicted to anesthetics such as alcohol, drugs and sex and eventually in our desperate flight as the fury of justification demands its payment, we will seek other people who have committed these same morally wicked acts as our company, in an attempt to soothe a conscience that will not be soothed. This is per se, the destruction of communion with the Church.

    If this is the reality that we as humans face when we commit such morally depraved acts as Murder, Adultery, Apostasy, Infanticide and Abortion then the Church announcing an ex-communication is a mercy; it is something that calls to us in the middle of our hell and says ‘Now you know your reality, come back to the Church that she may give you pardon and peace.’

    The ex-communication in short, tells us that we have a way out of Hell, by alerting us to the fact that first, we are in Hell (which we are experts at ignoring).

    As to your example of the Samaritan woman Vicci, let us complete the parable.

    ‘..for although you have had five [husbands], the one you now have is not your husband.’

    The catechesis I received on this Gospel was that Christ was merely pointing out to this woman the truth of her life. Because of her adultery (her searching for eternal life in eternal death [searching for happiness in sin]) she was unable to enter into the communion of marriage with her current husband. That is why Christ comes to offer the water of his life that she may drink once and never need to drink again. In this way she might look for eternal life in Christ, and rather than received the death of sin, she might receive the Joy of communion with God and the whole Church.

    As far as I can see, yes, Christ as much as told her she was ex-communicated, because although she was with a husband now, she had no true husband. In fact the woman herself recognises that she has no true husband.

  21. Peregrinus

    OK. I think we are confusing – understandably, but erroneously – (1) the canonical penalty of excommunication with (2) the state of not being in communion, or the act of ceasing to be in communion.

    Excommunication is the most serious of a range of canonical penalties which, under the code of canon law, can be imposed for various breaches of the code. Other penalties are things like suspension, prohibition, interdict, deprivation of office and so forth. (Quite a number of the penalties can only apply to clerics.)

    OK. So what does it actually mean to have the penalty of excommunication imposed? It means that you suffer from a number of canonical disabilities, some of which – again – will only affect clerics. Specifically, an excommunicated person cannot:

    – vote in a canonical election.
    – be accepted as a member of a “public association of the Christian faithful”, e.g. the Vinnies, Opus Dei.
    – have any ministerial involvement in celebrating the Eucharist, or any other ceremony of worship. (This prevents an excommunicate priest from celebrating mass, and an excommunicated person from acting as reader, Eucharistic minister, altar server, etc. But it doesn’t prevent an excommunicated person from [i]attending[/i] mass.)
    – exercise any ecclesiastical office, ministry or function
    – receive the sacraments.

    There are further restrictions which apply when an excommunication is [i]declared[/i] or [i]imposed[/i], but which do not apply when (as here) the excommunication is automatic.

    But what the penalty of excommunication does [i]not[/i] do is cause the excommunicated person to cease to be Catholic, or to be in communion, or in any sense to be “de-baptised”. The act which gave rise to the excommunication might have itself inherently cause a breach of communion – apostasy, for example – or it might not – consecrating a bishop without papal mandate, for example. But excommunication itself does not have that effect, and it does not declare or imply that the underlying act had that effect. By the same token, as has recently been pointed out, the lifting of an excommunication does not mean that someone is in communion. These are two separate questions.

    Thus I think Tom is mistaken to suggest that the penalty of excommunication is imposed to signify that the offence involved is so grave as to destroy communion. As already pointed out, canon law explicitly does [i]not[/i] impose an automatic excommunication for murder or infanticide, even though it deals explicitly with both of those offences, and they are just as serious as abortion. More to the point, though, Canon law is not about making or enforcing moral judgments – we have moral theology for that – but about governing the church.

    We can see this very clearly in the treatment of a matter such as intent. We all know that to be guilty of a grave sin, it is not enough that there be a grave matter; a person must have full knowledge and free choice. No moral theologian or confessor would talk about someone’s guilt of sin without investigating all three elements. But canon law focuses on externalities; if the “matter” of a canonical offence is established, then the necessary understanding and freedom is explicitly [i]assumed[/i] (by Canon 1321) and the relevant penalty applies. If somebody wishes to avoid the penalty on the basis that they never intended the offence to occur, the onus is on them to establish the facts they rely on. The result is that, if they have an evidentiary problem, they may be subject to the penalty even though morally guiltless.

    I point this out, not to criticise the system of canon law, but to highlight that canonical penalties and moral guilt are two different questions, and the one is not used to underline the other. Hence I think it is wrong to suggest that the penalty of excommunication is imposed for abortion because of the particular moral gravity of that sin. That is not what canon law is for.

  22. Tony

    It appears then, by Vicci’s understanding, that the apostolic church itself was acting in a “unscriptural” manner in adopting, and then modifying, this discipline. Some will be unfazed by such a conclusion, but I regard it as yet another token of the absurdity (and “para-Reformational” novelty) of the sola scriptura axiom.

    Sounds patronising William.

    There some fundamental problems with this issue:

    1. Is it the right thing to do in the immediate aftermath of such a distressing situation? IMO a definite NO!

    2. Most of the world either lives with (or aspires to live with) a judicial system that doesn’t assume guilt — it has to be established. As far as I know, the church doesn’t regard this as some sort of secular aberration — it agrees that it is a good thing.

    It may have been acceptable in the past to apply guilt without any semblance of reasonably open ‘due process’ but it is not so any more. That is, for me, a clear case of where the church should listen to the world.

    3. Surely if such mechanisms exist it is extremely important that they are consistently applied and easily understood? It’s no use attacking the secular media for something that is not that easy to understand.

  23. matthias

    Interesting that it was only after Decius’s persecution that the Church brought in the 5 BIG sins,when Scripture makes plain that there is no difference between the status of sins,except the sin of grieving the Holy Spirit was/is the unforgiveablem sin. But then Christians were living in a society where abortion,euthanasia ,infanticide were common practices within Roman society ,thus Christians had to show that they were different. Murder and adultery were also punishable within the greater society. For a good read on this area francis Schaeffer and C Everett Koop wrote “Whatever Happened to the Human race”.
    Come forward to the pre American Civil War period and the Prebyerian Church in the USA split over slavery,with the Orthodox Prebyterian Church disfellowshipping any member who had slaves,as the latter Church believed that owning slaves was sinful

  24. Peregrinus

    Actually, Matthias, according to William Tighe the “big 5” were established long before the persecutions of Decius. It was the end of that period of persecution which saw the “hardline” view of these sins recede.

    I’m actually not convinced that William Tighe is entirely correct, though. I don’t think there was a neat “big 5” which were recognised from the earliest days down to the end of the Decian persecution. The question of whether and when apostasy could be forgiven, for example, really only came to the fore during the persecution itself, precisely because so many people apostatized under pressure, and then sought to be reconciled with the church.

    In the early days, most Christians converted as adults, and conversion was expected to be the result of a long period of mature reflection, and a firm commitment to metanoia; it really was expected to signal a change of life. If an adult sinned grievously after baptism, this called into question the genuineness of his conversion and the good faith with which he embraced baptism, and the church community was very cautious about welcoming him back, certainly after more than one such lapse. This could result in a kind of shunning which can be termed “excommunication”, though it isn’t really the same as the modern canonical penalty of excommunication.

    There are plenty of writers from the time who discuss this, and they do give lists of sins which would incur this kind of suspicion, but (a) the lists vary, and don’t always include abortion – Tertullian, for example, suggested adultery, apostasy, murder, in descending order of gravity – but I don’t think these lists are intended as exhaustive catalogues of “excommunicable sins”; they are rather specific examples picked to highlight the importance attached to true metanoia.

    As the church matured as a community, it had an increasing proportion of members who were brought up as Christians from childhood, and who had grown (or failed to grow) in faith and holiness after baptism, rather than towards baptism. Many of them – like many of us –sinned repeatedly as they grew towards the person that they were called to be, and yet they might eventually attain exemplary levels of virtue, humility and charity. The church came to see, then, that a neat “truly baptised people don’t do these things” was too simple. Private confession followed by public penance – sometimes lasting up to a year – became the normal church response to sin. During the period of penance, the penitent refrained from communion (and observed other disciplines and restrictions ) but otherwise participated in the Christian community. At the end of the period, he was welcomed back to full participation.

    What had changed, though, was not the moral seriousness of adultery, murder and the other sins which had been used in discussion to illustrate the former response to sin, but the church’s view of what the appropriate response to serious sin was. And, of course, abortion was always considered a serious sin – as it still is. So is adultery. So is murder. None of this is really related to the fact that modern canon law imposes an automatic excommunication for abortion, but not for murder or adultery.

  25. matthias

    Thanks Perigrinus for that ,although not being disrespectful,I did know about the problems associated around “after baptism” holiness rather than towards baptism.
    This need for personal holiness is evident in the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,where he exhorts the Church there to bid farewell to all “slandering ,lewd and unclean coupling,drinking and rioting,vile lusting,odious fornicating and the pride which is an abomination”.

  26. Vicci

    Hi there, Tom,
    -thanks for the post!
    Have read it carefully, and can see the truth in a lot of what you are saying. I once heard it put this way: “the biggest problem facing society today is unresolved guilt”.
    I don’t know if I can reach quite the same conclusions you’ve postulated, but that’s OK.
    Appreciate the insights from your perspetive.

    and Tom?

    Sounds patronising William.

    ‘Course it is. Possibly deserved, too!
    But that’s OK. (..it’s a trait of Doctors!!)
    And it’s not as if the rest of us are Cleanskins.

    The only beef I have with the good Dr’s post is his direct linking of a church in circa. 250AD, with Apostolic teaching / influence. I’m pretty sure that no eye-witnesses were still around.
    Let’s face it: Moses went up the mountain for a week (or so?), and ‘God’s people’ had built a golden calf.
    A fair bit can happen in 150 – 200 years…

  27. William Tighe

    “The only beef I have with the good Dr’s post is his direct linking of a church in circa. 250AD, with Apostolic teaching / influence. I’m pretty sure that no eye-witnesses were still around.
    Let’s face it: Moses went up the mountain for a week (or so?), and ‘God’s people’ had built a golden calf.
    A fair bit can happen in 150 – 200 years…”

    Show me early Christians or early churches that rejected what the Early Church taught and practiced as “unscriptural” and you’ll begin to have an argument; otherwise, you have only the judgment of yourself and your fellows about what is “scriptural” or “unscriptural,” on the one hand, and the practice of the Church and its aposttolic shepherds, on the other. For me, I know which one I’ll pick every time.

  28. C.L.

    Fisichella seems to be saying that while it is true that such an automatic excommunication comes into play with the act of abortion, nothing publically should have been said about this, and mercy (ie. the lifting of the automatic excommunication) should have been immediately applied to the situation.

    Respectfully, this is no solution and may, conceivably, have set an even worse precedent. Every time a 12 or 13 year old is in this situation and the media (as usual) are looking to blame everything on the Catholic Church, Fisichella will now be cited and local officials challenged to emulate his attitude. Then it will become 15 year olds and non-raped but emotionally traumatised 16 year-olds; always with the escalation – that’s how liberalisers do their thing. It may have been imprudent to grandiosely publicise an automatic excommunication but it was no less prudent of Fisichella to intervene the way he has. The upshot is that he seems to have solemnnly declared that in certain special circumstances, unborn children may, in fact, licitly be killed. (Oh I’m sorry, I mean they may attract a latae sententiae excommunication which is immediately dispensed with or held to be meaningless).

    I also think Fisichella’s statement that we “should have been above all defended, embraced, treated with sweetness to make her feel that we were all on her side, all of us, without distinction” is sanctimonious bordering on revolting. How does he know that various prelates and Catholics were not on the girl’s side? Is the inference that they weren’t on “her side” built solely on the solemn seriousness with which they also weighed the fate of the unborn? Is that now pastorally bad, is it? Is it an either/or is it? Since when? What a stupid – even scandalous – argument.

    So no, sorry, all readers of this blog are not thankful for the curia’s intervention. I’m guessing they’ve made a bad situation worse and confused the faithful about what the church actually teaches. Which seems to be what they specialise in these days, sadly.

  29. Vicci

    (above):
    “Actually, Matthias, according to William Tighe the “big 5” were established long before the persecutions of Decius. It was the end of that period of persecution which saw the “hardline” view of these sins recede.”

    I did not pick this nuance up earlier, so,
    if true, may I recant?

    sucker ( – true !!)
    Poddy calf.

  30. Peregrinus

    Respectfully, this is no solution and may, conceivably, have set an even worse precedent. Every time a 12 or 13 year old is in this situation and the media (as usual) are looking to blame everything on the Catholic Church, Fisichella will now be cited and local officials challenged to emulate his attitude. Then it will become 15 year olds and non-raped but emotionally traumatised 16 year-olds; always with the escalation – that’s how liberalisers do their thing.

    Ah, the old “slippery slope” argument. It makes no sense at all. You might as well argue that, if we cease to hang people for stealing sheep, we will inevitably move to the point where we do not punish anyone for any crime at all. (In fact, people did argue precisely that at the time.)

    Besides, the argument is incoherent. Nobody – so far as I know – is blaming the Catholic church for the situation this girl was in; they are blaming the Catholic church for excommunicating her mother, and the doctors who performed the abortion. And, you know what? The Catholic church is responsible for that excommunication. “Blame” can only be avoided by arguing that the excommunication was justified.

    The argument here seems to be that we have to excommunicate the mother and doctors in this case because this will somehow preserve our right to apply parallel excommunications in marginally less heart-rending cases. This avoids the question of why we have to excommunicate anyone at all. (Why am I not surprised at that?) More worryingly, it implies that the justification for this excommunication is not any beneficial effect it may have for the mother and doctors in this case, but rather to establish that in other, as yet hypothetical cases, we will be excommunicating others. It’s a bit like trying to defend capital punishment for a wife-killer by saying that we have to do it so that we can later hang serial killers. Frankly, it’s a pretty feeble justification.

  31. William Tighe

    The doctors in this case killed — murdered, really — two human beings, and you say that they (if they were Catholics) ought not to have been excommunicated?

    In a well-ordered society, they should have been hanged for murder, as well as excommunicated.

  32. C.L.

    Ah, the old “slippery slope” argument. It makes no sense at all.

    Ah, the old “the slippery slope is a discredited argument” argument.

    You might as well argue that, if we cease to hang people for stealing sheep, we will inevitably move to the point where we do not punish anyone for any crime at all. (In fact, people did argue precisely that at the time.)

    Got a link to anybody sane arguing that if we cease hanging people, it’ll lead to the cessation of punishment for “any crime at all”?

    No. You don’t.

    The Catholic church is responsible for that excommunication.

    No. The Catholics involved were responsible for that excommunication.

    The argument here seems to be that we have to excommunicate the mother and doctors in this case because this will somehow preserve our right to apply parallel excommunications in marginally less heart-rending cases.

    No. “We” don’t excommunicate people in such circumstances. The excommunications occur automatically on committing the act of deliberately killing children in utero. The argument is not that such excommunications are justified because we have to make an example in hard cases so as to hold the line on “less heart-rending cases”. The argument is that human life in utero is human life and may not be killed.

    This avoids the question of why we have to excommunicate anyone at all.

    Earlier, you were mocking the idea that “if we cease to hang people for stealing sheep, we will inevitably move to the point where we do not punish anyone for any crime at all.” Now you yourself are saying we should move to the point where we do not punish anyone for any crime at all.

    That was a quick volte face.

    More worryingly, it implies that the justification for this excommunication is not any beneficial effect it may have for the mother and doctors in this case, but rather to establish that in other, as yet hypothetical cases, we will be excommunicating others.

    That’s not my argument or the Church’s. It’s one you’ve made up in order to knock down. A straw man, in other words.

    It’s a bit like trying to defend capital punishment for a wife-killer by saying that we have to do it so that we can later hang serial killers.

    As above – with the additional comment from me that I don’t support the killing of either murderers or serial killers.

    My argument is that Fisichella appears to be arguing that in certain cases (undefined), killing children in utero is justified. He deftly escapes an accusation of relativism by saying that a) they incurred the penalty; b) that the penalty shouldn’t have been publicised; and c) they should be forgiven immediately – automatically even. My argument is that c) doesn’t rectify this difficult situation or the situations like it which will arise in the future. It will probably make those situations even more confusing and difficult.

    I also accuse Fisichella of coming very close to calumniating others with his arrogant presumption that nobody cared about the little girl except him. He ought to be ashamed of himself for saying that.

  33. Tony

    In a well-ordered society …

    Bring back the Junta, eh?

    … they should have been hanged for murder, as well as excommunicated.

    In that order?

    As the saying goes, ‘String ’em up, that’ll teach ’em a lesson!’

  34. Tony

    I also accuse Fisichella of coming very close to calumniating others with his arrogant presumption that nobody cared about the little girl except him. He ought to be ashamed of himself for saying that.

    By way of clarification, did he say it or come close to saying it?

    Given your own sensitivity to Straw Man arguments, what words spoken by Fisichella are you referring to?

  35. matthias

    Independent catholic news has an update on this news item.

  36. Peregrinus

    The doctors in this case killed — murdered, really — two human beings, and you say that they (if they were Catholics) ought not to have been excommunicated?

    I did not say that. I asked why, given that others who murder for considerably baser motives are not excommunicated, they must be.

  37. Peregrinus

    Got a link to anybody sane arguing that if we cease hanging people, it’ll lead to the cessation of punishment for “any crime at all”?

    Not a link, no, because the relevant materials are not online (that I know of). The death penalty for sheep-stealing in the United Kingdom and colonies was abolished by the Punishment of Death etc Act 1832 (and replaced by mandatory transportation for life). The parliamentary debates from that time are, perhaps unsurprisingly, not online. But if you have access to a good library check out the “slippery slope” arguments advanced by those who opposed the bill.

    Peregrinus: The Catholic church is responsible for that excommunication.

    C.L.: No. The Catholics involved were responsible for that excommunication.

    Abortionists are automatically excommunicated because, and only because, Canon 1397 says so. Call me old-fashioned if you will, but I still believe in the notion of free will and concomitant responsibility. The legislator – the church – did not have to so provide in Canon 1397, but chose to do so, and is therefore responsible for the imposition of excommunication in cases of abortion.

    Abortionists are responsible for abortions. The church is responsible for the excommunications that it imposes on abortionists. See the distinction?

    Peregrinus: The argument here seems to be that we have to excommunicate the mother and doctors in this case because this will somehow preserve our right to apply parallel excommunications in marginally less heart-rending cases.

    C.L. No. “We” don’t excommunicate people in such circumstances. The excommunications occur automatically on committing the act of deliberately killing children in utero. The argument is not that such excommunications are justified because we have to make an example in hard cases so as to hold the line on “less heart-rending cases”. The argument is that human life in utero is human life and may not be killed.

    You’re treating automatic excommunication as something that just happens without any human decision or intervention, like a thunderstorm. This is not right. A definite choice was made, and is maintained, by the church that automatic excommunication shall attach to abortion so, yes, the church does excommunicate people in such circumstances. If canon 1397 was not there, they would not be excommunicated, and canon 1397 is there because, and only because, the church put it there, and keeps it there.

    Furthermore, a definite choice was made, and is maintained, that automatic excommunication shall not attach to [other forms of] homicide, which rather punctures your argument as to why automatic excommunication is required in cases of abortion.

    Peregrinus: This avoids the question of why we have to excommunicate anyone at all.

    C.L. Earlier, you were mocking the idea that “if we cease to hang people for stealing sheep, we will inevitably move to the point where we do not punish anyone for any crime at all.” Now you yourself are saying we should move to the point where we do not punish anyone for any crime at all.

    I have not said that. I wasn’t referring to any crime at all, but to anyone at all involved in the two cases you instanced, the (actual) case of the raped 9-year old and the (hypothetical) case of the older, and perhaps not raped, teenager. I apologise that I didn’t make this clear. And I didn’t say that we shouldn’t excommunicate in the latter case; I merely pointed out that you had offered no reasons why we needed to and, therefore, why we had to excommunicate in the 9-year old case in order to keep the latter course open.

    More worryingly, it implies that the justification for this excommunication is not any beneficial effect it may have for the mother and doctors in this case, but rather to establish that in other, as yet hypothetical cases, we will be excommunicating others.

    That’s not my argument or the Church’s. It’s one you’ve made up in order to knock down. A straw man, in other words.

    I didn’t make it up; you are the one who introduced the slippery-slope argument and said that if we didn’t excommunicate in the 9-year old case we would have set a precedent for the 15-year old case. And, furthermore, that’s the only argument you offered. I think it was not unreasonable of me to assume that you didn’t have any other.

    My argument is that Fisichella appears to be arguing that in certain cases (undefined), killing children in utero is justified. He deftly escapes an accusation of relativism by saying that a) they incurred the penalty; b) that the penalty shouldn’t have been publicised; and c) they should be forgiven immediately – automatically even. My argument is that c) doesn’t rectify this difficult situation or the situations like it which will arise in the future. It will probably make those situations even more confusing and difficult.

    I don’t think Fisichella is saying that abortion is ever justified. On the contrary, the newspaper report says that he “stressed that abortion is always bad”, which seems pretty clear. What Fisichella considers is not whether abortion is justified, but whether excommunication, or automatic excommunication, is. This is a distinct question. No offence, but your treatment of abortion and excommunication as intrinsically two sides of the same coin, your refusal to acknowledge the intentional, voluntary, nature of the link the church has forged between them and your reluctance to engage seriously with the question of whether and why there should be such a link are leading you to misread Fisichella.

    I also accuse Fisichella of coming very close to calumniating others with his arrogant presumption that nobody cared about the little girl except him. He ought to be ashamed of himself for saying that.

    Others have invited you to justify this, so I’ll say no more about it at this point.

  38. C.L.

    By way of clarification, did he say it or come close to saying it?

    This is what he said:

    Archbishop Fisichella criticized the public denunciation, saying that the girl “should have been above all defended, embraced, treated with sweetness to make her feel that we were all on her side, all of us, without distinction.”

    He said it and it comes close to the serious sin of calumniation.

  39. Tony

    Just to repeat your assertion:

    I also accuse Fisichella of coming very close to calumniating others with his arrogant presumption that nobody cared about the little girl except him. He ought to be ashamed of himself for saying that.

    The ‘… arrogant presumption that nobody cared about the little girl except him …’ seems to be the crux of your allegation of calumny.

    In support of this you offer

    Archbishop Fisichella criticized the public denunciation, saying that the girl ‘should have been above all defended, embraced, treated with sweetness to make her feel that we were all on her side, all of us, without distinction.

    At the very worst you could be forgiven for thinking that this was an attack on Archbishop Sobrinho and his level of care, but to draw from that that he was suggesting ‘nobody cared about the little girl except him’ doesn’t come ‘close’ at all.

    Now, what were you saying about straw men?

  40. C.L.

    …I still believe in the notion of free will and concomitant responsibility.

    Me too. They freely performed an abortion and are responsible for what they did.

    Furthermore, a definite choice was made, and is maintained, that automatic excommunication shall not attach to [other forms of] homicide, which rather punctures your argument as to why automatic excommunication is required in cases of abortion.

    I haven’t made any argument as to why automatic excommunication is required in cases of abortion. I will now, though, given your comparison of it with other forms of homicide. First, an unborn child is uniquely defenceless and uniquely innocent – which isn’t always the case in other forms of criminally actionable killing. Second, throughout the world, the killing of unborn children is now LEGAL (encouraged, celebrated and promoted as a “right”, in fact). The Church judges that an especially solemn sanction should and must exist at canon law to punish those who – in the secular world’s eyes – have done nothing worthy of punishment. That rather punctures your argument, I would have thought.

    I apologise that I didn’t make this clear. And I didn’t say that we shouldn’t excommunicate in the latter case; I merely pointed out that you had offered no reasons why we needed to and, therefore, why we had to excommunicate in the 9-year old case in order to keep the latter course open.

    To the extent that this is not really comprehensible, I’ll simply take the opportunity to repeat this: it is not my argument nor the Church’s that we have to be hard in the Brazilian case so as to have consistency in less complicated cases. It is my argument that it is not licit to kill unborn children. Furthermore, Fisichella’s intervention strongly implies that in tough situations, excommunication (latae sententiae – not the media’s imagined version) is merely a formality, with the forgiveness as automatic as the sin itself. He should have kept his nose out of it because this notion will inevitably be used by the Church’s enemies in an endless series of test cases on which unborn lives may, kinda-sorta, be eliminated.

    So, then: I said nothing about “setting a precedent”. I said Fisichella’s intervention will probably make difficult situations more fraught in future and confuse the faithful. Nothing there about a “slippery slope”.

    I don’t think Fisichella is saying that abortion is ever justified. On the contrary, the newspaper report says that he “stressed that abortion is always bad”, which seems pretty clear.

    It isn’t clear at all. Nancy bloody Pelosi thinks abortion should be rare because it is, in and of itself, bad. The word Fisichella should have used – but studiously avoided – was “wrong”. Everyone already knows it’s “bad”.

    What Fisichella considers is not whether abortion is justified, but whether excommunication, or automatic excommunication, is.

    No. He didn’t dispute the appropriateness of automatic excommunication; he questioned the prudence of the automatic excommunications being publicised.

    Viz: “There wasn’t any need, we contend, for so much urgency and publicity in declaring something that happens automatically.”

    You appear not to understand this story in its various complexities at all.

  41. C.L.

    Archbishop Fisichella said this: that the girl “should have been above all defended, embraced, treated with sweetness to make her feel that we were all on her side, all of us, without distinction.”

    Ergo: in his opinion, she WAS NOT defended, embraced, treated with sweetness to make her feel that we were all on her side, all of us, without distinction.

    He offers no evidence for this sweeping, disgraceful assertion and by “we were all…all of us” he specifically implies that the People of God didn’t care about the girl. Nobody did, apparently, until he majestically intervened.

    As I said, he comes very close to the serious sin of calumniation.

  42. Peregrinus

    Peregrinus:…I still believe in the notion of free will and concomitant responsibility.

    CL: Me too. They freely performed an abortion and are responsible for what they did.

    Of course. Nobody has suggested otherwise. But unless you have fallen prey to the dictatorship of relativism, you have to accept the corollary that the church has freely chosen to attach the penalty of automatic excommunication to abortion, and is responsible for that.

    Peregrinus: Furthermore, a definite choice was made, and is maintained, that automatic excommunication shall not attach to [other forms of] homicide, which rather punctures your argument as to why automatic excommunication is required in cases of abortion.

    C.L.: I haven’t made any argument as to why automatic excommunication is required in cases of abortion. I will now, though, given your comparison of it with other forms of homicide. First, an unborn child is uniquely defenceless and uniquely innocent – which isn’t always the case in other forms of criminally actionable killing. Second, throughout the world, the killing of unborn children is now LEGAL (encouraged, celebrated and promoted as a “right”, in fact). The Church judges that an especially solemn sanction should and must exist at canon law to punish those who – in the secular world’s eyes – have done nothing worthy of punishment. That rather punctures your argument, I would have thought.

    What argument of mine, exactly, is punctured? I have been asking questions more than advancing arguments.

    I’m not persuaded by your justification for attaching automatic excommunication to abortion; I don’t think the reason you give is in fact the reason that it was legislated. In the first place, the automatic penalty dates from 1869, at which time abortion was generally illegal, and generally deplored, so its legality as a matter of civil law was clearly not the issue. In the second place, even today it is not true to say that “throughout the world, the killing of unborn children is now legal”. The truth is that the law varies from place to place. In some places , abortion is always or almost always illegal. In others, it is legal in certain circumstances or on certain conditions; these vary in severity and restrictiveness. In still others it is generally legal. And, in a very few countries, it is enshrined as a legal right. There are other grave intrinsic wrongs which enjoy a much stronger degree of universal legality. Adultery is an obvious example; it is criminalised hardly anywhere, yet it does not attract automatic excommunication. Likewise the targeting of noncombatants in wars and conflict – widely practised by guerrilla movements and governments alike, intrinsically wrong for precisely the same reason that abortion is wrong, but not the subject of an automatic excommunication. And, thirdly – and this is related – I don’t think the purpose or function of canon law is to remedy the defects or “plug the gaps” in civil law. Nor is it to underline the church’s moral teaching, on most aspects of which canon law has nothing whatsoever to say.

    I am not saying that there is no case for applying an automatic excommunication for abortion. I am saying that, despite asking many times, I have yet to hear anybody articulate a case that stands up to scrutiny.

    Peregrinus: I apologise that I didn’t make this clear. And I didn’t say that we shouldn’t excommunicate in the latter case; I merely pointed out that you had offered no reasons why we needed to and, therefore, why we had to excommunicate in the 9-year old case in order to keep the latter course open.

    C.L. To the extent that this is not really comprehensible, I’ll simply take the opportunity to repeat this: it is not my argument nor the Church’s that we have to be hard in the Brazilian case so as to have consistency in less complicated cases. It is my argument that it is not licit to kill unborn children. Furthermore, Fisichella’s intervention strongly implies that in tough situations, excommunication (latae sententiae – not the media’s imagined version) is merely a formality, with the forgiveness as automatic as the sin itself. He should have kept his nose out of it because this notion will inevitably be used by the Church’s enemies in an endless series of test cases on which unborn lives may, kinda-sorta, be eliminated.

    If it is your argument that it is not licit to kill unborn children, you are attacking a straw man; nobody here has suggested that it is, and neither has Fissichella. And, if the “Church’s enemies” have lighted on anything here, it is on Bishop Sobrinho’s statement, but I don’t hear you lamenting that. Bishop Fissichellas intervention is distinctly unhelpful to their cause. (Unless, of course, your definition of “Church’s enemy” is “anyone who doubts whether abortion should carry an automatic excommunication”.

    So, then: I said nothing about “setting a precedent”. I said Fisichella’s intervention will probably make difficult situations more fraught in future and confuse the faithful. Nothing there about a “slippery slope”.

    The faithful are already confused if they think that not applying an excommunication in every case of abortion means that abortion is morally licit. Their confusion will not be resolved by pandering to, or even reinforcing, that misconception.

    I don’t think Fisichella is saying that abortion is ever justified. On the contrary, the newspaper report says that he “stressed that abortion is always bad”, which seems pretty clear.

    It isn’t clear at all. Nancy bloody Pelosi thinks abortion should be rare because it is, in and of itself, bad. The word Fisichella should have used – but studiously avoided – was “wrong”. Everyone already knows it’s “bad”.

    And, in so far as you have stated her position here, Nancy Pelosi is wholly correct. It’s a sad day – and a triumph for the dictatorship of relativism – if we are not allowed to speak a truth if it happens to be a truth endorsed by someone who is mistaken about some other point. As for Fissichella avoiding the word “wrong”, I am inclined to the view that his statement underlining that abortion is “always condemned by moral law as an intrinsically evil act” is just as good, if not better.

    Pereginus: What Fisichella considers is not whether abortion is justified, but whether excommunication, or automatic excommunication, is.

    C.L.: No. He didn’t dispute the appropriateness of automatic excommunication; he questioned the prudence of the automatic excommunications being publicised.

    I haven’t had the chance to read Fissichella’s own statement, but according to the newspaper report to which David linked he said that the people concerned “didn’t deserve excommunication”. That seems to go rather beyond the question of publicity, and to the rightness of the excommunication itself.

    You appear not to understand this story in its various complexities at all

    The person who criticises Fissichella for not saying that abortion is “wrong”, when he is quoted as saying that it is “always condemned by moral law as an intriniscially evil act” is not well-positioned to criticise the understanding of others.

  43. C.L.

    …unless you have fallen prey to the dictatorship of relativism.

    Don’t be silly. I haven’t fallen “prey” to anything. The excommunicated people excommunicated themselves latae sententiae when they carried out the abortion. I briefly essayed the reasons this is an offense attracting such a sanction above – over against your somewhat relativistic confusion as to why other forms of life-taking are not also punishable by excommunication. You dance around this to make a rather fruitless issue of who is “responsible” for it being in the canon law books – as though its presence there were ill-advised. The canonical sanction of excommunication is not ill-advised at all.

    What argument of mine, exactly, is punctured?

    You attributed to me an argument about why excommunication should be sanctioned with excommunication when other homicidal sins are not. I posited no such argument. It seemed to me – and I still think this is so – that you were implying there is an illogicality inhering in Church law as regards life-taking sins and crimes. There is no such illogicality or inconsistency.

    In the first place, the automatic penalty dates from 1869, at which time abortion was generally illegal, and generally deplored, so its legality as a matter of civil law was clearly not the issue.

    No, it wasn’t the issue then. The issue then was that Pius IX eliminated the old distinction between an animated and non animated foetus. (The church had always taught that abortion was gravely immoral but had made distinctions, for penitential calibrations only, depending on when a child in utero was killed). In the era of the 1983 code (our era), Pio Nono’s decision and the adoption of a stipulated latae sententiae excommunication in the 1917 code were retained. That contemporary attitudes to abortion in the civil sphere contributed to the church’s perduring attitude on the penalties appropriate for abortion was demonstrated by the fact that the Holy See promulgated the Declaration on Procured Abortion in 1974 – a year after Roe vs. Wade.

    Returning to Pius IX, abortion may have been officially deplored in 1869 but it was being widely practiced in all strata of society and was – unlike other sins and crimes of homicide – carried out, for the most part, secretly and without civil punishment. The decision to attach to it an especial canonical sanction was (is) therefore pastorally prudent and justified – in 1869, 1983 or 2009.

    Adultery is an obvious example; it is criminalised hardly anywhere, yet it does not attract automatic excommunication.

    Right. And generally the guilty party doesn’t screw his partner to death.

    Likewise the targeting of noncombatants in wars and conflict – widely practised by guerrilla movements and governments alike, intrinsically wrong for precisely the same reason that abortion is wrong, but not the subject of an automatic excommunication.

    Again, you’re missing the point. These are crimes at international law – specifically and strenuously denounced as such. Abortion is not specifically and strenuously denounced anywhere in the world. When the UN sets up an abortion crimes jurisdiction for the ICC, your point might become somewhat more valid.

    And, thirdly – and this is related – I don’t think the purpose or function of canon law is to remedy the defects or “plug the gaps” in civil law.

    I didn’t say the purpose of canon law was to plug gaps in the civil law. I said one canon’s raison d’etre is strongly related to educatively and pastorally countering the overwhelmingly liberalised attitude in the world to abortion – where it is rarely considered a crime; where, in fact, it is celebrated as a human “right” by all of the pre-eminent instruments of international governance and aid as well as the most powerful nations in the world.

    If it is your argument that it is not licit to kill unborn children, you are attacking a straw man; nobody here has suggested that it is, and neither has Fissichella.

    You posited a straw man argument – namely that I believed the Brazilian case had to be treated with the black letter of the law in order to ensure we could “apply” it in less complicated cases. That was not and is not my argument. My argument is that abortion is illicit, causes latae sententiae excommunication for those responsible and that Fissichella clearly implied – in a way that muddied the aforementioned – that the Brazilian case was so difficult that those responsible had committed no truly serious sin.

    Bishop Fissichella’s intervention is distinctly unhelpful to their cause.

    It is very helpful to their cause because from now on, every time a difficult case reaches the attention of the media, they will cite Fissichella over against the local ordinary or conference and seek clarification of whether those responsible have invoked a serious excommunication or a merely symbolic one which “mercy” behooves us to dispense with ASAP.

    The faithful are already confused if they think that not applying an excommunication in every case of abortion means that abortion is morally licit. Their confusion will not be resolved by pandering to, or even reinforcing, that misconception.

    It is not a “misconception” and nobody, least of all me, is “pandering” to it. You are very confused on this subject. The excommunication is not “applied” in these cases. It is incurred automatically. Even Fissichella accepts that the abortionists in the Brazilian case DID incur excommunication (on themselves). He nevertheless defended the doctors and disgracefully slimed everyone else because, allegedly, they didn’t truly care about the girl’s welfare. Essentially, he threw the Archbishop of Recife to the salivating media wolves. And now those wolves will test his “mercy” with every single hard case they can find. He has made a bad situation worse in the long run for a cheap, short-term PR advantage.

    And, in so far as you have stated her position here, Nancy Pelosi is wholly correct. It’s a sad day – and a triumph for the dictatorship of relativism – if we are not allowed to speak a truth if it happens to be a truth endorsed by someone who is mistaken about some other point.

    Pope Benedict XVI and the entire American Catholic Bishops’ Conference will be astonished to learn that Nancy Pelosi is “wholly correct” on abortion. She thinks abortion is “bad” in the sense that it would be better if nobody had to have recourse to such a major inconvenience. She nevertheless supports abortion on demand and even criticised the prohibition of late term abortion (scissors in the head etc). This is like saying that the death sentence is “bad” but, hey, killing criminals is a sacred right and that’s that. Dictatorship of relativism indeed – and you’re the one espousing it while theatrically attributing it to me as a polemical trick.

    That seems to go rather beyond the question of publicity, and to the rightness of the excommunication itself.

    Once again: what Fissichella said: “There wasn’t any need, we contend, for so much urgency and publicity in declaring something that happens automatically.”

    That is, the excommunications happened automatically but, in his view, the fact that they were incurred should not have been publicised. I have already pointed this out but you seem intent on putting fingers in ears and saying la-la-la-la-la.

    As I said, you appear not to understand the story in its various complexities.

  44. Peregrinus

    No offence, C.L., but I am becoming progressively less interested in your assessment of how well I understand things.

    You accuse Fissichella of having failed to say that abortion is “wrong” – indeed, you say that he studiously avoided saying that. and you say that he “appears to be arguing that in certain cases . . .killing children in utero is justified”. I point out – twice – that he is reported as having that abortion is always condemned by the moral law as an intrinsically evil act. This doesn’t cause you to revise your opinion; in fact, it doesn’t evoke any response from you at all, beyond asserting that “Fissichella clearly implied . . . that those responsible had committed no truly serious sin”. This is an extraordinary assertion in the circumstances, and you can surely see why it might lead to a questioning of your understanding even of the conversation that you yourself are engaged in, never mind of the wider issues. (You can probably also see why I find your assertion that Fissichella comes “close to the serious sin of calumniation” richly ironic.)

    Similarly, when you assert that Fissichella “didn’t dispute the appropriateness of automatic excommunication; he questioned the prudence of the automatic excommunications being publicised”, I answered by pointing out that he went beyond that; he was reported as having said that the people concerned “didn’t deserve excommunication”. Your response is simply to assert that he said “There wasn’t any need, we contend, for so much urgency and publicity in declaring something that happens automatically.” You seem to think that, if he said this, it must follow that he said nothing else. But of course he did say other things, and they have pointed out to you, but you have chosen in your response to ignore them, without offering any reason as to why they should be ignored. In fact, a common practice of yours in this conversation has been simply not to comment on facts or evidence which presents any kind of challenge to the views you want to hold. Yet you accuse me of “putting fingers in ears and saying la-la-la-la-la”. Again, very ironic. Again, not a position calculated to inspire general confidence in your understanding of issues and or your mastery of a coherent argument.

    Similarly, you concede that abortion was generally unlawful in 1869, but offer the fact that it was nevertheless widely practised as the reason for attaching the automatic excommunication. Nevertheless when it comes to the targeting of non-combatants, you offer the fact that it is criminalised (even if less robustly and universally criminalised than abortion was in 1869) as a reason why it does not carry an automatic excommunication, even though we both know that it is widely practised, and that the enforcement of legal prohibitions against perpetrators is very much the exception , rather than the rule. The parallel between the legal prohibition and widespread practice of abortion in the nineteenth century, and targeting non-combatants in our own time, is quite striking, yet you use the similar facts in each instance to justify precisely opposing positions with respect to the imposition of automatic excommunication. And, most striking of all, you appear not to notice this contrast. Is it any wonder, if you cannot see inconsistencies in your own position, that you are blind to the possibility of inconsistencies in the code of canon law?

    Again, with respect to adultery, you concede that it gravely wrong, widely practised and generally legal, but defend the fact that it does not carry an automatic excommunication by pointing out that adultery is rarely fatal. The plain but unstated premise here is that automatic excommunication is not appropriate for non-fatal offences. But that’s not a premise that you choose to state explicitly; still less to defend. And for good reason; the code of canon law imposes automatic excommunication for a range of non-fatal offences. This means either that the premise is false, or that the code is inconsistent, neither of which possibilities you wish to contemplate. .

    Look, I don’t doubt the sincerity and good faith of your views, C.L.. But you can see, can’t you, why they way in which you support and defend them is unlikely to win them many further adherents?

  45. Arabella-m

    Further information regarding the case is given in a statement by priests of the diocese where the girl lives:

    http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2009/03/brave-statement-of-brave-priests-to.html

    In light of this much of what C.L. writes makes sense.

  46. Tony

    As I said, he comes very close to the serious sin of calumniation.

    I don’t think so.

    You simply reassert your earlier point which is not built on the evidence of what he said but on the evidence of what you think he meant.

    (As an aside, I’m a little amazed that others ‘loyal to the Magisterium’ on this blog haven’t at least challenged your assertion directed, as it is, towards the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.)

    Notwithstanding that, your accusation of ‘near calumny’ is about as potent as saying I’m ‘near Melbourne’. I could be in Perth or Geelong but, in either location, I’m as ‘not in Melbourne’ as I can be.

  47. Tony

    Further information regarding the case is given in a statement by priests of the diocese where the girl lives

    Thanks for this A.

    I think it illustrates, from my POV, that the reality ‘on the ground’ is always more messy than it appears and it is best not jump to definite conclusions from a distance.

    The signatories give a coherent account of the story that makes the local Bishop’s role look more positive. However, there are still some concerns expressed in reader reactions.

    According to David’s original article:

    … Sobrinho, said the church was excommunicating all those responsible for the abortion: the medical team and the girl’s mother.

    Yet according to ‘Daniel’ the abortion occurred without the consent of the mother or father.

    Beyond that, other perspectives — even those that might defend Fisichella’s intervention — are regarded as hostile and deleted.

    Pity.

  48. C.L.

    This is an extraordinary assertion in the circumstances, and you can surely see why it might lead to a questioning of your understanding even of the conversation that you yourself are engaged in, never mind of the wider issues.

    It is not an extraordinary assertion at all and, once again, it is you who is ignorant of the wider issues. Fisichella – as I predicted – has now caused a scandal in Brazil, with local prelates angry that he consulted nobody, that he acted hastily (while hypocritically and foolishly levelling that accusation at the local ordinary) and that he calumniated his fellow Catholics. (Full text here). I urge you to read the whole thing and take note of the rebuttal concerning Fisichella’s idiotic assertion that Christians in situ weren’t concerned about the girl.

    I’ll quote the final two points:

    6.“The article is, in other words, a direct attack of the defense of the lives of the three children vehemently made by Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho and leaves evident how much the author does not have the necessary data or information to speak on the matter, due to his utter ignorance of the facts. The text may be interpreted as an apologia of abortion, violating the Magisterium of the Church. The abortionist doctors were not in the moral crossroads mentioned by the text; on the contrary, they performed the abortion with full knowledge and coherence with what they believe and teach. The hospital in which the abortion on the little girl was performed is one of those in which this procedure is always performed in our state, under the cover of “legality”. The doctors who acted as executioners of the twins declared, and still declare in the national media, that they did what they are used to doing “with great pride”. One of them declared even that: “Then, I have been excommunicated many times”.

    7. The author believed he could speak about [a situation] he did not know, and, what is worse, he did not even have the trouble of first speaking to his brother in the episcopate, and, for his imprudent attitude, he is causing great scandal among the Catholic faithful in Brazil who are believing that Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho was rash in his pronouncements. Instead of seeking his brother in the episcopate, he chose to believe in our openly Anti-clerical press.”

    On the question of excommunication, you appear to be presenting a media abbreviation and headline – “didn’t deserve excommunication” – as a quotation. Unless you can show me the direct quotation, I’ll assume that the IHT/AP headline is no evidence at all that Fissichella went “beyond” acknowledging that the doctors were in fact excommunicated. What he said, and was quoted as saying, was this: “There wasn’t any need, we contend, for so much urgency and publicity in declaring something that happens automatically.” If he did explicity say they didn’t “deserve” to be excommunicated, he contradicted himself and illogically. They were excommunicated automatically (as he concedes) so “deserve” didn’t come into it.

    Let me repeat, then: Fisichella himself didn’t deny the excommunications; rather, he emphasised instead that they shouldn’t have been publicised. In response to all of the above I’m sure, as usual, that you’ll now respond with a variation of the fingers in the ears and the la-la-la-la-la routine.

    Similarly, you concede that abortion was generally unlawful in 1869…

    Similarly? Concede? I wasn’t aware we’d had a debate on the topic: ‘Was abortion generally unlawful in 1869?’ Perhaps you can provide me with a link to a debate I seem to have had with you in another dimension. I should say that similarly, you’re being economical with the truth.

    …but offer the fact that it was nevertheless widely practised as the reason for attaching the automatic excommunication.

    What I wrote is this:

    “The issue then was that Pius IX eliminated the old distinction between an animated and non animated foetus. (The church had always taught that abortion was gravely immoral but had made distinctions, for penitential calibrations only, depending on when a child in utero was killed). In the era of the 1983 code (our era), Pio Nono’s decision and the adoption of a stipulated latae sententiae excommunication in the 1917 code were retained. That contemporary attitudes to abortion in the civil sphere contributed to the church’s perduring attitude on the penalties appropriate for abortion was demonstrated by the fact that the Holy See promulgated the Declaration on Procured Abortion in 1974 – a year after Roe vs. Wade.”

    You then move on to the targeting of non-combatants in war which you believe proves an inconsistency in canon law regarding sins and crimes of homicide. As I pointed out, unlike abortion, war crimes are illegal at international law and are strenuously denounced in all of the world’s forums of law and justice. Does that mean those crimes are not committed? No. Does it mean – as you eccentrically assert (but only by clinging to 1869) – that they are usefully analogous to a sin (abortion) which, far from being illegal and strenuously denounced in all of the world’s forums of law and justice, is positively celebrated as a fundamental human “right” in those forums? No. You are simply grasping at straws and with banal and inefficacious results.

    Again, with respect to adultery, you concede that it gravely wrong, widely practised and generally legal…

    Concede? Again, with dishonesty, you imply I ever said it wasn’t. This tends to advertise the fact that you’re angry and struggling and I suggest you desist from the tactic.

    …but defend the fact that it does not carry an automatic excommunication by pointing out that adultery is rarely fatal.

    I “defend” that fact? What on earth are you talking about?

    The plain but unstated premise here is that automatic excommunication is not appropriate for non-fatal offences.

    No. The plain but unstated premise here is that we were having a discussion about latae sententiae excommunication in specific relation to sins and crimes of homicide. Excommunication for other non violent crimes – profanation of the Eucharist, consecration of a bishop without a pontifical mandate, violating the sacramental seal of confession etc – is perfectly justified for obvious reasons. If you’d like adultery added to the list, may I suggest you lobby the Holy See accordingly.

    In answer to your last question, I’m not actually looking for “adherents”. That you are speaks to me of a certain insecurity.

    My points again:

    1. Contra you, Fissichella did indeed acknowledge that the excommunications had been incurred. He criticised the publicity given to them. This was a source of confusion for you ab initio.

    2. I argued Fissichella’s criticism of the Brazilian Archbishop was itself hasty as well as disgracefully ill-informed and uncharitable. I said it would confuse the faithful, cause further complications and that it would have been better if he’d stayed out of it. I was right.

    3. I argued that Fissichella implied that while the excommications had been incurred automatically, in this particular case they need not – and should not – have been taken seriously. This was imprudent, made a hard situation worse and seriously injured church unity. It was also, moreover, theological bad practice: ordinarily, jurisdiction in the Catholic Church is exercised by the ordinary. The ultramontanist intervention of Fissichella – ill-informed, factually wrong and uncharitable – is the kind of thing that undermines the Catholic Church in its local milieux.

    All of these arguments have been supported, notwithstanding a series of frequently odd objections.

    Dixie.

  49. C.L.

    As an aside, I’m a little amazed that others ‘loyal to the Magisterium’ on this blog haven’t at least challenged your assertion directed, as it is, towards the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life.

    I’m a little amazed that you don’t seem to be worried about the dinity of two other men of the Magisterium: Jose Cardoso Sobrinho – the Archbishop that Fissichella ignorantly slimed – and Cardinal Battista Re – the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops he publicly undermined.

    All to show mercy to two excommunicated doctors – one of whom is boasting of his abortion record and both of whom are declaring their “great pride” to the media. As I said in my first comment: “… all readers of this blog are not thankful for the curia’s intervention. I’m guessing they’ve made a bad situation worse and confused the faithful about what the church actually teaches.”

    They did and they have.

  50. Tony

    I’m a little amazed that you don’t seem to be worried about the dinity of two other men of the Magisterium: Jose Cardoso Sobrinho – the Archbishop that Fissichella ignorantly slimed – and Cardinal Battista Re – the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops he publicly undermined.

    There you go with that straw man again. He’s getting a real workover.

    Your assertion depends on the notion that Sobrinho was ‘ignorantly slimed’. Why would I be concerned about his dignity based on your opinion of events?

    Even to accept you point for argument’s sake, there is a difference between failing to defend (what you’re accusing me of) and out and out attack (what you’re doing when you throw around your calumny allegations).

    On the broader issue I have expressed concern about the value of this whole excommunication thing and the reactions on this blog just confirm that.

    We start with David having a go at the secular press for ‘not understanding’ Latae Sententiae excommunication and, from that moment on, there is a raging debate about what it means, if it’s appropriate, who said what to whom, what the implications are, who contributed most to the confusion of the faithful, etc.

    All in all it’s a dog’s breakfast perhaps best illustrated in two ways:

    1. Your exchanges with Pere: Here we have two individuals who are articulate, interested and, I assume, approaching the topic with good will and we end up with grid lock.

    2. Highly qualified and ‘credentialed’ church leaders in fundamental disagreement.

    Beyond that we have a kind of religious injunction applied to doctors who apparently don’t care and parents who are illiterate (Lord knows what their level of understanding is!) and who, by some reports, did not consent to the abortions!

    So what stakeholders in this wretched drama have been given some sort of ‘medicinal’ benefit by the excommunication process?

    [scratches head]

    ………….

    Perhaps someone can fill in the blank?