You don't have to look far to find many who insist the Church should excommunicate pro-abortion politicians. Nor will you have trouble finding people very critical of the bishops for not doing so.
So, I got thinking: if the bishops together -- or a particular bishop -- were to do this, how would it work? (Can anyone tell me if any bishop in the U.S. has actually done this? I mean, actually excommunicated anyone over a public policy position, such as abortion or related issues?)
Here's the problem I ran into right away: in such matters, the penalty is incurred for a concrete action, but its not merely the act per se, it also includes the intention. In the example of the woman participating in a simulated ordination, that ordination is the concrete act; for those receiving or imparting the invalid ordination, how can they have any intention that is defensible? On the other hand, one who was merely present might be able to say, "I wasn't there to support it, I was there as a journalist, reporting on it," or, "I work on the boat" -- such people, while present, did not have the culpable intention: i.e., their cooperation was not formal, but only material; and not immediate (i.e., the one actually imposing hands can hardly disclaim intention).
OK now, let us apply this to "supporting legal abortion." The Church, in giving warning about this, would have to specify certain acts that incurred the excommunication; or would there have to be a hearing, an examination, etc., after the fact? Canon lawyers, please advise...
But let me share with you where this line of thinking foundered for me--and feel free to contribute constructive solutions: in trying to name the concrete act that would incur the excommunication, I found myself well able to think of an intention that would be legitimate.
So let us take poor Senator Kerry as an example. What has he done?
* He votes for tax funding for abortions
* He votes against every abortion restriction put before him -- or, if not every one, most of them.
* He gives vocal support to the status quo on abortion, he accepts financial support and endorsements from pro-abortion organizations.
Can any of these actions have defensible intentions?
Well, what if he says--as he well may--that he believes the constitution requires abortions be provided at taxpayer expense. Likewise, he could well argue that all the laws put forward violate the Constitution. (In the latter case, it's clear the Supreme Court thinks so.) However faulty I think that reasoning is, does the Church really excommunicate someone for bad constitutional reasoning?
Is accepting political contributions and endorsements from the abortion industry an excommunicable act? I'm not asking if its bad, offensive, and all that--is it such that one can be excommunicated for it? Could he not say, "I don't agree with them about abortion--I agree with my Church that it's a terrible evil. But we do agree on the constitution and on other issues, and I'm not endorsing them, they're endorsing me."
Then, supposing we took that route, that would mean he merely needs to refuse the contributions -- that doesn't help much, does it?
As far as defending the status quo -- what if he were to say (and I think he does say some of this), "As awful as I think abortion is, I believe the Constitution protects it. And I regret this, but I think the constitution is so important to us that we have to honor the constitution, but oppose abortion in other ways." Is his excommunicable act his opposition to changing the constitution? I'm not sure, but this might be the best grounds. However, would it not have the effect of meaning a Catholic is bound to support a constitutional amendment against abortion, if not another equivalent remedy?
And--supposing we took this route, and he changes his behavior, then while that would mute his pro-abortion rhetoric, and commit him to supporting a change in Roe v. Wade or a constitutional amendment, he'd still be voting mostly the same way he has . . .
You might say, he voted against Alito and Roberts. Well, whatever one thinks of that, how can that incur an excommunication? Can't a Catholic oppose a Supreme Court nominee? In any case, surely Kerry could have cited a morally defensible reason: "I voted against them because I believed they would distort the meaning the framers intended for the constitution."
I'm not trying to be cagey; the classic rule in Canon Law is to interpret strict provisions strictly -- i.e., anything that brings such a severe penalty on someone must not be done in a loosey-goosey fashion. And if you want the bishops to do this, this is the sort of examination of the matter that would have to be done, only better, because I'm no canon lawyer.
After all, consider this. Let us imagine, happily, that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Now someone introduces federal legislation outlawing abortion in all 50 states. But you have a fair number of conservaties in Congress, including probably some Catholics, who say, I want to outlaw all abortions, but I believe the states have that authority; not the federal government. I believe it distorts our federal system when Congress takes on more and more legislative power. So I will oppose this measure for that reason.
Should that person be excommunicated?
See the problem?
Has anyone else explored this in detail? What have they come up with?