The excommunication imperative


Like many, I have been waiting for the Catholic Church to fully enforce repeated threats to excommunicate Catholic politicians who do not desist from aiding abortion. Pope Benedict XVI has most recently denounced such behavior, but as in the past the matter of restricting offenders from Communion has been left to individual priests. Prompted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent prevarication on the topic (she suggested that abortion is an undecided issue in the Church, and called herself an "ardent, practicing Catholic"), Fr. John De Celles, a Washington, D.C.-area priest, offered this comparison:

"Imagine if someone came in here and said 'I'm a mafia hit man and I'm proud of it.' Or 'I deal drugs to little children.' Or 'I think black people are animals and it's okay to make them slaves, or at least keep them out of my children's school.' Are these 'ardent practicing Catholics'? No, they are not. And neither is a person who ardently supports and votes to fund killing 1 to 1.5 million unborn babies every single year. ... Like the proud and unrepentant murderer or drug dealer, they are not ardent Catholics. They are, in very plain terms, very bad Catholics."

I wish I could speak of Protestants excommunicating those in our ranks who sanction abortion, but an unfortunate byproduct of sola scriptura has been the ceaseless fracturing of the Church. Anyone who believes his version of Biblical interpretation is better than the others can follow the thousands who have gone before him and set up his own church. Members are likewise free to sort amongst the shards as we see fit. Excommunication is for us, therefore, merely asking the offender to get his piece of host somewhere else.

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For Catholics (and Orthodox), however, excommunication still has teeth. In response to this censer-rattling, liberal Catholic politicians have made noises about their rights (as if God can be sued by the ACLU), and advanced the specious claim that their faith is their private business, not to be mixed with their actions as office-holders.

Privatized religion is a popular notion with Americans, combining two things we like: faith and privacy. But private faith is unbiblical. To begin, faith is nothing if it is not lived out ("faith, if it has no works, is dead"). And the Church was, at least in the beginning, not just about "me and Jesus." It was instead a corporate community of believers confessing, communing, and acting in one accord as directed by Scripture, tradition, teaching, and the Holy Spirit. Faith is meant to be lived out, in other words, in all of one's actions, within a community of fellow believers.

Fr. De Celles explains that there was another time in our history when American Catholics (Protestants were equally guilty) disobeyed their Church on what they told themselves was a matter of private conscience: slavery. Decades later, in 1956, the Archbishop of New Orleans defied powerful Catholics in his city by desegregating Catholic schools under his domain. And guess what he did to the Catholics who continued to call for racist segregation? That's right: excommunication.

Here's hoping-for the sake of the Church's integrity as well as for unborn children-that his modern-day counterparts follow suit.


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