Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Soul Plane Line Dance -- Benedict: A "More Dynamic" Church; Lombardi: "No Intention" of Excommunication

The poor man couldn't even get off the plane before his morning remarks on Mexico City -- the local abortion-permitting law, not the US abortion-funding ban -- were clarified...
The pope, on his way to Latin America, was asked about comments by Mexico City church officials that the lawmakers would be excommunicated for having voted last month for the legislation legalizing abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Benedict said "it is what is foreseen by the church's doctrine," which reporters took to mean that he endorsed the view that the lawmakers should be excommunicated.

But a Vatican spokesman later issued a statement approved by the pope that said the pope did not intend to excommunicate anyone. But it says politicians who vote in favor of abortion should not receive the sacrament of Holy Communion.
...the actual exchange, with Lombardi finessing:
"Do you agree with the excommunications given to legislators in Mexico City on the question?" a reporter asked.

"Yes," Benedict replied. "The excommunication was not something arbitrary. It is part of the (canon law) code. It is based simply on the principle that the killing of an innocent human child is incompatible with going in Communion with the body of Christ. Thus, they (the bishops) didn't do anything new or anything surprising. Or arbitrary."

Church officials later said the pope might have thought the Mexican bishops had issued a formal declaration of excommunication for the legislators, something Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera has said he has no intention of doing.

Benedict's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope was not setting a new policy and did not intend to formally excommunicate anyone — a rare process under church law that is separate from the doctrine of self-excommunication.

"Since excommunication hasn't been declared by the Mexican bishops, the pope has no intention himself of declaring it," Lombardi said in a statement approved by the pope.

But Lombardi added that politicians who vote in favor of abortion should not receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. "Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist. ... Politicians exclude themselves from Communion," he said.

Pressed again to say whether the lawmakers were excommunicated, Lombardi reiterated: "No, they exclude themselves from Communion."

Excommunication is the severest penalty the Roman Catholic Church can impose on its members. When someone is excommunicated "his status before the church is that of a stranger," the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia says. In practical terms, that means the excommunicated person is forbidden from receiving the sacraments and participating in public worship.

Church teaching says anyone who has an abortion is automatically excommunicated. "Being a conspiring or necessary accomplice" to an abortion also means excommunication under church law.

The Mexican politicians who supported the measure shrugged off Benedict's comments Wednesday. "I'm Catholic and I'm going to continue being Catholic even if the church excommunicates me," said leftist Mexico City lawmaker Leticia Quezada. "My conscience is clean."

Before leaving Rome, Benedict said the exodus of Catholics for evangelical Protestant churches in Latin America was "our biggest worry."

But he said the spread of Protestantism shows a "thirst for God" in the region, and that he intends to lay down a strategy to answer that call when he meets with bishops from throughout Latin America in a once-a-decade meeting in the shrine city of Aparecida near Sao Paulo.

"We have to become more dynamic," he said. Evangelical churches, which the Vatican considers "sects," have attracted millions of Latin American Catholics in recent years.
And religion writers hither and yon received the following statement earlier this afternoon from Jesuit Fr Tom Reese, the ecclesiastical political scientist bar none and editor-emeritus of the Jesuit weekly America:
While traveling to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI responded to a question about Mexican politicians who voted to legalize abortion. From his answer, reporters inferred that he endorsed comments by Mexican churchmen that the politicians should be excommunicated. The pope’s press spokesman later issued a statement approved by the pope that said the pope did not intend to excommunicate anyone. In response to questions, AP reports that the spokesman said, “Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist. ... Politicians exclude themselves from Communion.''

As Governor Romney eloquently said during the Republican presidential candidates’ debate, each church has the constitutional right to determine its internal policies, for example, who can go to Communion and who cannot. This is not a violation of the separation of church and state. The Quakers, for example, would have every right to excommunicate a member who voted in favor of war. Whether they should or should not is an issue to be debated and decided by the church.

In talking about abortion, it is important to distinguish a person’s position on the morality of abortion from a person’s position on whether the state should criminalize abortion. A person who feels that there is nothing wrong with abortion is clearly taking a position contrary to the position of the Catholic Church. But it is a separate question whether abortions should be criminalized.

Many canon lawyers and moralists believe that a politician could be against abortions and still oppose criminalizing it for prudential reasons, for example, because he believes such laws would be unenforceable, divisive and politically unrealistic. He may believe that a more realistic approach is to enact programs (healthcare, childcare, welfare, employment) that will reduce the number of abortions by giving women a real choice, by empowering them to say yes to life. These politicians point to the fact that there were fewer abortions during the Clinton Administration than during the Bush Administration. Raising the minimum wage, for example, would reduce more abortions than outlawing partial birth abortions. Such a politician could say, “I am opposed to abortion and will do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions short of putting women and doctors in jail.”

So far, the vast majority of the U.S. Catholic bishops oppose denying Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians and voters. During the 2004 presidential election, only about 10 to 12 bishops of the approximately 190 diocesan bishops spoke out in favor of denying Communion. When the bishops meet in Baltimore this November, the question of denying Communion to pro-choice politicians will once again be debated when they vote on a new statement on “Faithful Citizenship.”
SVILUPPO: NCR's John Allen, who traveled on the Volo Papale, provides a full transcript/translation of the in-flight press conference.

AP/Gregorio Borgia