By Bishop Emeritus Rene Henry Gracida -CNA/EWTN News
Note: The following essay was originally published in 2004, but is timely today for consideration by bishops and laity.
My recent essay entitled “Denying Holy Communion, A Case Study” has prompted a number of people to suggest that the procedure which I followed in issuing a decree of Interdiction forbidding the reception of Holy Communion by a pro-abortion Texas State Representative is outdated. Some have suggested that such was fitting for 1994 but that it is no longer appropriate for 2004. They say that the times have changed. I agree that the times have changed – for the worse!
Now we have candidates for the Presidency and Congress publicly professing to be a practicing Catholics who, although supportive of many of the Church’s teachings on social issues, on the most important issue – the inalienable right to life – are diametrically opposed to our Holy Catholic Faith. The most important issue facing the world today is the assault on the sanctity of human life.
The highest teaching Authority of the Magisterium, Pope John Paul II and his Predecessors, as well as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, have taught repeatedly that the right to life is the foundation of all other rights in civil society. The denial of this basic right leads eventually to the denial of all others rights.
All other grave social issues, such as war, poverty, health, economic justice, immigration, etc. are of secondary importance and indeed pale in comparison to innocent human life under systematic annihilation. This is not simply a matter of one’s personal faith, it is a matter of reason.
The human intellect knows intuitively that the innocent person’s right to life has a greater priority than other social issues which are concerned with the quality of life. By magisterial teaching it also happens to be an article of Faith. Christ Himself instructed the Apostles and His Disciples to uphold the Fifth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” Ex. XX, 13. Bishops, as Successors to those Apostles, are charged with doing the same in Christ’s name.
In 1994 the greatest assault on innocent human life was being waged then, like now, by the abortionists. Euthanasia had begun to emerge as a growing concern, but cloning, embryonic stem cell research and even infanticide had not yet assumed the magnitude of the tragedy or danger that they pose in common today.
In that year of 1994, I felt that limiting Interdiction in the internal forum was important not only for the spiritual well being of the person being interdicted, but also for the spiritual good of the community. I had not felt that way about the three decrees of excommunication (latae sententiae) which I had issued earlier for one simple reason: they were directed at three Catholics who were directly involved in procuring murder by abortion – two women who each administered an abortuary and one doctor who performed the unspeakable evil of abortion himself.
Their cases, clearly constituting formal cooperation in evil, that is, the direct immediate and voluntary participation in the physical taking of human life, demanded the infliction of the gravest of public ecclesiastical penalties, excommunication. On the other hand, the case of a politician who publicly protested a “personal opposition” to abortion, all the while publicly defending a right to choose abortion as allowed by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, at that time did not appear to impel the public declaration of the gravest of censures.
In 1995 Pope John Paul II concluded that it was urgent to promulgate the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Some 12,000,000 abortions later, it has become crystal clear that the politician who actively engages his political skills to maintain abortion-on-demand and who protects the ongoing genocide by voting for legislation in favor of abortion formally cooperates in the evil of abortion itself. In reality, the distinction between the abortionist and the politician is almost nominal: One, a murderer, is guilty of directly procuring abortions; the politician, makes it legally possible for the genocide to continue unabated.
Critically, now, without doubt, the integrity of the Christian Faith is under attack not just from without, but worse, from within the Church. It is under attack by Catholic politicians who publicly and obstinately support what in all truth is nothing less than Heresy. By heresy I mean an obstinate denial or doubt of a core, non-negotiable dogma of the Faith proposed by the Magisterium as revealed doctrine, as set forth in Canon 751 of the Code of Canon Law of 1983 and amended in 1998. In my recently published essay, “The Arian Heresy Revisited,” I tried to show that the heresy of the Fourth Century which denied the divinity of Christ, is the mirror-image of our modern heresy which denies the sanctity of the human person redeemed by His Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Heresy is indeed committed by supporting either the moral rectitude of abortion as a “human right,” or absent that, professing merely the “civil right to abortion.” Both of these errors are so diametrically opposed to the demands of Christian witness that to obstinately adhere to them automatically cuts one off from any hope of salvation. Any one Catholic who supports these two heresies risks eternal damnation. I say this to all who have fallen into this error with all the voice of reason and clarity possible, with the full and earnest hope of their swift return to the One Body of Christ.
Recognizing the complexity of the situation in the Church and in our society at the present time I should like to help my brother bishops find their way through the thicket of conflicting opinions and proposals for action. After substantial reflection, I propose a twelve-step program for my brother bishops to help them decisively deal with the grave crisis facing our Church and our Nation.
The proposed schema is unambiguous. The continuing scandal of Catholics publicly bearing false witness to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ has not just become collusion in genocide, but indeed now a grave undermining of the authentic Deposit of Faith and Morals. To fail to act decisively now is to continue to let the wolves devour the sheep committed to us all to protect and keep.
The following are twelve simple rules enabling bishops to effectively remedy the crisis in all transparency yet resolute firmness:
1. Ordinaries need to instill publicly, through their personal preaching and through the vicarious preaching of their priests, that not only is it against the Christian Faith to support the ‘right to choose,’ but that one loses entirely the virtue of Supernatural Faith, the right to the Sacraments, Christian Burial, and more importantly, eternal Salvation if one publicly and obstinately adheres to a ‘right to choose abortion’ in opposition to the fundamental belief of the Christian and Apostolic Faith in the sanctity of innocent human life.
Any public and obstinate support, by word or by vote, of either abortion, or absent that, “only” the civil “right-to-choose abortion” qualifies as heresy. To be “personally opposed to abortion” is not a defense to supporting a “right to choose murder.” The propositions 1) “Abortion is not intrinsically evil” and 2) One has a “civil” or “human” right to choose abortion are both in reason, and by Divine Law, two specifically distinct heresies. A pro-choice Catholic politician may get away with not committing the one, but he certainly falls into the pit of committing the other.
2. The grave circumstances of the age in which we live, the obligation to proclaim the Faith in all its purity, the need to protect the Sacraments from sacrilege, and the obligation to eliminate grave scandal amongst the faithful all impel the bishop to publicly and courageously inquire among the clergy and laity of his diocese as to who amongst those Catholic politicians having a domicile in his territory are publicly supporting abortion or a right to choose, in accord with Canon 1717, No. 1. Evidence verifiable in the external forum should be presented along with any information.
3. Upon being presented with evidence of the presence in the Diocese of a politician having a domicile or quasi-domicile who both publicly holds the right-to-murder doctrine and receives the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and, upon verification of the evidence, the bishop should order the individual to appear before him quam primum (Canon 1339, No. 2).
4. Should the politician agree to the meeting, the bishop should at that time point out his error, reiterate to the individual the obligation to submit with the assent of Faith to the dogmatic teaching of the Church on the need to respect innocent human life. Clarify the absolute incompatibility of the position he espouses with the baptismal character, and thence order him to cease and desist from any further or private support of his pro-choice deviance. As a Catholic in public office, the individual can never favor or condone a right to abortion, but to the contrary, must strive to limit and revoke pro-choice legislation. As the obligation to publicly profess dogmatic Faith inures in the Catholic subject whenever publicly interrogated, a Catholic can never support, whether in public or in private, a right to choose abortion (Canon 750, No. 1, Canon 1364, No. 1).
5. Should the politician not agree to the meeting, then the substance of Step No. 4 should be sent to the individual in writing by registered mail (Canon 1509, No. 1;)
6. At the conclusion of the meeting agreed to, the bishop should obtain a formal written recantation of the individual’s erroneous beliefs. Once done, an offer to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation should be extended to the penitent.
7. If the bishop obtains a formal written recantation, with the consent of the individual, he should release a statement publicizing the fact that the individual and the Church are one in the same Faith once again (cfr. Canon 1347, No. 1). Additionally, an obligation for reparation of harm and the dispelling of scandal, commensurate to the degree of injury done to the Faith, the Church, and civil society, needs to be completed or seriously promised prior to reconciliation (Canon 1347, No. 2).
8. If the bishop is unable to obtain a formal written retraction, fraternal correction and canonical correction should be exercised in writing by registered mail (Canon 1339, Nos. 1-3), and, if possible, in person, reproving that 1) the requirement of Christian witness to a non-negotiable tenet of the Faith demands that he be publicly identified as holding a contradictory position to that of the Catholic Church, depriving him of the right to call himself “Catholic,” and 2) should the individual refuse to amend his ways, the Bishop may impose an Interdict ferendae sententiae barring him from receiving the Most Holy Eucharist in order to safeguard unambiguously and without question the provisions of Canon 915. Moreover, the individual may be advised that, circumstances warranting, the Ordinary may, after the expiration of a certain allowance of time as set forth in the monitum, publicly declare him to have been automatically excommunicated for heresy according to Canon 1364, No. 1, and deprived from the reception of all of the Sacraments (Canon 1331, No. 1 as well as Christian burial (Canon 1184, No. 1).
9. After giving the individual a reasonable period of time for reflection and consultation with his confessor/spiritual director (Canon 1347, Nos. 1-2), failing the acceptance of a further opportunity for emendation provided to the individual within a determined time limit, the bishop should decide by decree and after consultation with two other judges or experts (Canon 1718, Nos. 2-3), whether he can (Canon 1718, No. 1, 1), should (Canons 1341: 1718, No. 1, 2), and must (Canon 1728, No. 1, 3) proceed by way of judicial process or extra-judicial administrative decree in order to inflict or declare the commensurate penalty of Interdict ferendae sententiae, or declare Excommunication for heresy to have been incurred latae sententiae.
10. Once the Sentence is pronounced, or the extra-judicial Decree issued, the Bishop should promulgate the decree by publication in the diocesan newspaper with an appropriate description of the process leading up to the issuing of the canonical decree (Canon 8, No. 2).
11. After the publication of the decree, the bishop should send a letter to the clergy explaining to them what their duties and responsibilities are in respect to the penalties imposed by the decree.
12. The bishop should follow up on the publication of the decree with a letter to the recalcitrant, urging him to return into full communion with the Church, reminding him of the Parable of the Prodigal Son: As the Good Shepherd never refrains from welcoming a stray sheep back into the fold, so will the bishop, in imitation of Christ, always strive to bring the one who became lost back into the bosom of Holy Mother Church, but only in entire Truth and Charity.
This Twelve-Step Program is clear, coherent with the Faith, and in accordance with the requirements of canonical equity. If the Penal Canons of the Code are now to be dusted off and brought out of the cupboard within which they have lain dormant for almost half-a-century, it is because the balm of mercy and discretion of measure have failed to heal the growing infection of error and scandal inside the Church and the genocide increasing daily in the world around us. The time for half-measures and fear of reprisal, loss of position, temporal advantage, or career opportunity is over – the time for action in now.