Primate of all Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady’s failure to rule the threat in the future has contributed further to the already widespread confusion. When asked at the recent National Prayer Vigil for Life in Knock if a TD who voted for the legislation as published would not automatically be excommunicated and should not therefore present himself/herself for Holy Communion, he replied: “That is down the line at the moment, as far as we are concerned.”
Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, however, has tried to avoid the threat of excommunication. He has said he feels communion should not be politicised and believes it “should not become a place of debate and contrast and be used for publicity reasons by anyone”.
Similarly, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said he “would prefer to go down the avenue of dialogue with that politician, ask him or her why did you come to that decision, what were the factors involved”. He too spoke of his “nervousness at politicising the Eucharist”.
Cardinal Brady did get one thing right in Knock earlier this month when he said: “It [our job] is to convince the electorate first of all and the legislators to change.”
Rather than uttering empty threats and fighting politics at the altar rails, Church leaders should now concentrate all their efforts on preventing the current draft abortion legislation becoming law, pastorally. After all, excommunication is medicinal penalty; its purpose isn’t to be punitive.
Fr Michael Mullaney, Professor of Canon Law at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth told The Irish Catholic this week excommunication “ceases when the person who incurs it repents of their action or sin and seeks to reconcile him or herself with the Lord and the faith community of the Church”.
“The purpose of excommunication is to highlight the gravity of a sin or offence and to foster in a person the need to be reconciled to God and the faith community,” he said.
While confusion over excommunication will undoubtedly continue in the coming weeks, it is important to note that the Church teaches that Catholic politicians have a moral obligation to oppose legislating for abortion, even if it is not in keeping with their party’s political stance.
In 2002, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, wrote a ‘Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life’.
The note asserts that Catholic lawmakers have a “grave and clear obligation” to oppose legalised abortion and other attacks on the right to life. Indeed, here the Church said it was “impossible” for a Catholic to promote such laws.
According to the note, “a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political programme or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals”.
The doctrinal note pointedly told Catholic lawmakers that they cannot put aside Church teaching when it comes to making decisions in their capacity as elected officials.
Rather, the document states, elected officials who are Catholic should advance Church teaching. Elected officials must toe the Church line on such issues as abortion, it says.
In harmony with Church teaching, the document purports “that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”
The integral good of the human person, which is impacted by the issue of abortion, is linked to the moral law, which Catholics are to commit themselves to uphold, the document says.
The Church holds that no Catholic may claim that “the autonomy of lay involvement in political life” allows him or her to support policies that counter the ethical precepts that are rooted in human nature and which belong to the natural moral law.
The actual position of the Catholic Church is that any law legalising the direct killing of an unborn child is an unjust law that violates the natural law and is, therefore, no law at all.
Similarly, Benedict’s predecessor Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1995 encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae, that laws which authorise and promote abortion are “radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity.
“Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good,” the Pope said.
“Consequently, a civil law authorising abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.”
Abortion is a crime which no human law can claim to legitimise, John Paul II wrote.
“There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection,” he said.
“In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion…it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it,” John Paul II said.
Whether they face excommunicated or not, Catholic politicians in Ireland must re-examine their consciences if they are considering supporting this legislation. Rather than worrying about the prospect of being refused Communion at Mass, TDs should concern themselves with combating the immoral legislation at hand.
Catholic politicians are now faced with the decision to legislate for the deliberate killing of the pre-born child in the womb. Can a Catholic politician live with that?