A priest friend and I were discussing the Gospel for this coming Sunday and how we might preach about it and I told him that I would post my current column in this week's issue of The Wanderer. Here it is:
Fraternal correction, excommunication and words that "hurt"
I have been doing some homework, or research, lately on a somewhat unpleasant topic and, at the same, reflecting on “ words that hurt.” There are times indeed when, out of love, we must make a fraternal correction, speak the truth in charity and, without judgment, call a sinner back to the true way of faith in the universal Church of Jesus Christ which is the Catholic Church. But there are other times when words are used that are unnecessarily strong or condemning and gentler and more inviting language could and should be used.
In light of a certain Catholic politician lately posing in a television interview as a theologian and doing a very bad imitation of such, it is good to refresh our memories in regard to the fact that procuring an abortion does result in latae sententiae excommunication. This means that one removes oneself from communion with Christ and the universal Church by the act of committing a particular sin. Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., of Denver has also recently taught that not only is abortion a moral evil, but also morally evil are the evasions used to justify abortion. Our Catholic bishops have issued a statement clarifying the fact that the Church has been clear since the first century that the intentional taking of the life of the child in the womb is evil. They have referred us to the relevant paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC, n. 2271)
In the Church, and in the world, there is talk sometimes of “excommunication.” People will say that the Church excommunicated “so and so” or that a family member heard someone say someone was excommunicated. Catholics, both priests and lay faithful, have not always used the word appropriately, as the Church uses it.
The work of the Church is the salvation of souls. Judgment is for God alone. Even when the Church uses the word “excommunication,” and she does so only in seven possible instances as ennumerated in canons 1364-1399 of the Code of Canon Law, it is done not to judge but for medicinal reasons. That is, to call a believer back to the way of salvation in the Lord Jesus through the Church He founded, the “place of faith” in the world. The truth offered in love is the highest service one person can offer to another. Charity is the love that seeks above all the salvation of the other as well as of self.
All of us are sinners, and all of us intend, say, or do things that damage or sunder our relationship with Christ and His Church, especially in the case of mortal sin. These damage our communion with Christ and His Church but are not necessarily always with the result of excommunication.
The seven instances when the Church uses the word excommunication are (and these are described briefly due to space limitations): 1) Using violent force against the Pope, 2) committing a sacrilege such as throwing away a consecrated Host, 3) absolving a person with whom one has committed a sin against the Sixth Commandment, 4) consecrating a bishop without a pontifical mandate, 5) directly violating the seal of Confession, 6) procuring an abortion, and 7) formal apostasy, heresy, or schism.
Only in these seven possible situations does the Church use the word “excommunication” to describe the status of a believer in reference to his relationship with the Lord and His Body the Church. In these cases what has been done is so serious that the whole Church makes fraternal correction to call the sinner from the error of his way and back to the sheepfold of the Lord. In some cases the Bishop may speak on behalf of the Church in what is called a latae ferendae excommunication.
The lay faithful serve as a leaven in the world when they dedicate themselves to studying the faith with the help of the authentic sources such as Scripture and the Catechism. Thus they are capable of reaching out to others in confidence with the truth in the New Evangelization. If one soul is reached with the truth of Christ, who alone can set us all free to love and serve Him in this life and be happy forever with Him in the next, this effort will be of infinite worth.
"...remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." James 5:20
Email: meetingchristintheliturgy AT gmail DOT com
(Art: The Parable of the Blind, Peter Bruegel the Elder.)