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Sunday, May 27, 2007


Mark Brumley

This is a topic that requires much discussion and nuance. It seems that the adoption of a proabortion rights stance does not, per se, exclude one from the minimum level of communion required to be a Catholic, even if, all other things being equal, one is a Catholic in grave sin.

There is, however, such a thing as acting contrary to what one professes and asserts by implication in identifying oneself as a Catholic. Support for abortion rights is certainly to act in such a way. Consequently, in a non-canonical, theologically imprecise sense, it makes sense to put quote marks around "Catholic" as applied to certain politicians. Not because they have acted in such a way as to cease being Catholic in the canonical sense, but because certain of their actions are so manifestly contrary to Catholic teaching that someone observing those actions would wrongly infer them to be "Catholic", i.e. in accord with Catholic teaching.

At the same time, if the Church's teaching on the state's obligation to protect the unborn is included in teaching on faith and morals that has been defintively set forth by the Magisterium, even if not presented as divinely revealed, then those who reject that teaching, all other things being equal, set themselves "against the teaching of the Catholic Church" (CIC 750§2).

Now, can we really say that someone who "sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church", teaching to be definitively held, is a "Catholic"? Odd as it may seem, the answer appears to be "yes", although that "yes" would seem to demand a qualified use of the term "Catholic". Such a person would seem to be a Catholic but, paradoxically, not one "in full communion with the Catholic Church".

So it seems that we have to clarify what, exactly, we mean when we speak of someone as "Catholic". Perhaps it's time, not simply for another document from Rome, but for one that clarifies these issues and that provides a pastoral initiative, to be followed through by other bishops, that entails action regarding Catholic (or "Catholic") abortion rights proponents, and not just discussion.

Ed Peters


I had considered, but discarded for lack of space, some analogous cases: "You CAN'T be American and Pro-Nazi". Of course, an American "can" be pro-Nazi. Being pro-Nazi doesn't change one's national identity. And being pro-abortion does not change one's ecclesial identity.

Plus, there is the range of complications in trying to decide, outside of some the ergeriously obvious examples, exactly what qualifies one as being "pro-abortion". Law needs those kinds of definitions, if only because the consequences of Canon 915 are themselves all or nothing--you either may be licitly admitted to Communion, or you can't.

Jeremy Lancey

To amplify a bit on Mark Brumley's point, the following is taken from the “Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the _Professio Fidei_” which discusses the revised Profession of Faith to be taken by all those who assume an office to be excersised in the name of the Church (such as theologians). Nevertheless, as the Commentary itself makes clear, *all* faithful Catholics should be able to assent in full to said Profession. For a Catholic to be guilty of dissent in such matters would be a grave sin (provided the other two criteria for mortal sin be present). This Profession was revised in accordance with John Paul II's Motu Proprio AD TUENDAM FIDEM which modified the 1983 Code of Canon Law so that it might explicitly address what canonical penalties may (at least in theory) be imposed upon individuals who dissent from those positions in the Church which -- while *not* having been declared as formally revealed by God are nevertheless taught _infallibly_ by the Church (either by way of her extraordinary _or_ “ordinary & universal” Magisterium). As such, this sort of doctrine -- whose technical name is _sententia definitive tenenda_ -- is to be held with no less irrevocable assent as that which is definitively taught as revealed by God (_de fide credenda_). While AD TUENDAM FIDEM only lists "appropriate penalties" as that which can be canonically imposed upon individuals who dissent from any _sententia definitive tenenda_, the following Commentary issued by the CDF notes that one guilty of formal dissent from such definitive (and thus infallible) teaching places oneself in the position of being "no longer in full communion with the Church". As Mark Brumely states, this does not necessarily negate their Catholicism in principle, but it does indicate their Catholicism is tenuous at best. At any rate, here is the relevant portion of said Commentary:

"6. The second proposition of the _Professio fidei_ states: "I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals." The object taught by this formula includes all those teachings belonging to the dogmatic or moral area, which are necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith, even if they have not been proposed by the Magisterium of the Church as formally revealed.

"Such doctrines can be defined solemnly by the Roman Pontiff when he speaks 'ex cathedra' or by the College of Bishops gathered in council, or they can be taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church as a "sententia definitive tenenda". Every believer, therefore, is required to give firm and definitive assent to these truths, based on faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the Church's Magisterium, and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium in these matters. Whoever denies these truths would be in a position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.

"7. The truths belonging to this second paragraph can be of various natures, thus giving different qualities to their relationship with revelation. There are truths which are necessarily connected with revelation by virtue of an historical relationship; while other truths evince a logical connection that expresses a stage in the maturation of understanding of revelation which the Church is called to undertake. The fact that these doctrines may not be proposed as formally revealed, insofar as they add to the data of faith elements that are not revealed or which are not yet expressly recognized as such, in no way diminishes their definitive character, which is required at least by their intrinsic connection with revealed truth. Moreover, it cannot be excluded that at a certain point in dogmatic development, the understanding of the realities and the words of the deposit of faith can progress in the life of the Church, and the Magisterium may proclaim some of these doctrines as also dogmas of divine and catholic faith.

"8. With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed (those of the first paragraph) or to be held definitively (those of the second paragraph), it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings. The difference concerns the supernatural virtue of faith: in the case of truths of the first paragraph, the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God (doctrines de fide credenda); in the case of the truths of the second paragraph, the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit's assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium (doctrines de fide tenenda).

"With respect to the truths of the second paragraph, with reference to those connected with revelation by a logical necessity, one can consider, for example, the development in the understanding of the doctrine connected with the definition of papal infallibility, prior to the dogmatic definition of the First Vatican Council. The primacy of the Successor of Peter was always believed as a revealed fact, although until Vatican I the discussion remained open as to whether the conceptual elaboration of what is understood by the terms 'jurisdiction' and 'infallibility' was to be considered an intrinsic part of revelation or only a logical consequence. On the other hand, although its character as a divinely revealed truth was defined in the First Vatican Council, the doctrine on the infallibility and primacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff was already recognized as definitive in the period before the council. History clearly shows, therefore, that what was accepted into the consciousness of the Church was considered a true doctrine from the beginning, and was subsequently held to be definitive; however, only in the final stage - the definition of Vatican I - was it also accepted as a divinely revealed truth.

"A similar process can be observed in the more recent teaching regarding the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men. The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively, since, founded on the written Word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. As the prior example illustrates, this does not foreclose the possibility that, in the future, the consciousness of the Church might progress to the point where this teaching could be defined as a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed.

"The doctrine on the illicitness of euthanasia, taught in the Encyclical Letter _Evangelium Vitae_, can also be recalled. Confirming that euthanasia is "a grave violation of the law of God," the Pope declares that "this doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium". It could seem that there is only a logical element in the doctrine on euthanasia, since Scripture does not seem to be aware of the concept. In this case, however, the interrelationship between the orders of faith and reason becomes apparent: Scripture, in fact, clearly excludes every form of the kind of self-determination of human existence that is presupposed in the theory and practice of euthanasia. [If this is the case for euthanasia, surely at least as much applies in the case of abortion.]

"Other examples of moral doctrines which are taught as definitive by the universal and ordinary Magisterium of the Church are: the teaching on the illicitness of prostitution and of fornication."

Ed Peters

To "amplify a bit"? A 1,281 word post? :)

Jeremy Lancey

Yes, well, compared to the voluminous tomes which I am generally wont to post! ;-)


I don't know about Cannon 915 or any others for that matter. But, as a matter of ordinary English (and not some legalistic usurpation) usage, Judie Brown is precisely correct when she says that one cannot be Catholic and pro-abortion. People who are pro-abortion reject too much to be Catholic. The issue of Baptism is problematic at best. In the ordinary processing of time it makes you a member with straightforward access to all the perquisites. It also includes most Protestants, and all those invincibley ignorants through Baptism of desire etc.. It puts you in the position of permanent doubt, of not knowing who to believe, which contradicts one of the essential Catholic dogmas that this world is real and the truth is knowable. The only alternative is listening to the magisterium/pope. Well, we know where the pope stands, and how many actually hear and understand what he says. The magisterium, especially the American branch is at best conflicted thanks to the French Revolution, modernism and Americanism and the desperate desire for 15 minutes of media fame. Ed Peters piece may be good for Canon law enthusiasts (how many hands do I need to count them?), but how much fodder does he conveniently leave for selective qoutings by "Catholics for a free choise".
I do agree that Catholics should be educated in the truths of the faith and not in childish summaries or epithets. But I have seen little to convince me that the 1983 code of canon law is little more than an institutionalization of "I'm okay and you're good enough even if you could maybe do better". And if you are a Bishop neither heaven nor hell matters.


Dear Ed and Mark,

I'm pretty happy I am on the same side as the two of you.

Nick Milne

"I don't know about Cannon 915 or any others for that matter."

"I have seen little to convince me that the 1983 code of canon law is little more than etc."

Perhaps not knowing anything about canon law would be seen by some as a good reason not to dismiss it so stunningly.

Ed Peters

I'm happy you are too, cranky. And Nick, yes. As you can tell, my posts are for people who want to KNOW what they are talking about. For those who are quite content with their opinions, I have little to contribute.

Carl Olson

But I have seen little to convince me that the 1983 code of canon law is little more than an institutionalization of "I'm okay and you're good enough even if you could maybe do better".

I suggest reading it. Seriously. I'll never forget that David Fagerberg, a brilliant (former) Lutheran theologian/liturgist, once told me that he became Catholic largely through reading two things: the writings of Chesterton and the Code of Canon Law.

Ed Peters

Carl, you never told me that story...


Reading this blog is always something I look forward to. Occasionally, reading it's a whole lot like discovering a whole new wing of my faith house I never previously had visited.

This exchange on canon law is one of those times. It leaves me aware of just how wonderful the Church is and how much I don't know. Fortunately, ignorance isn't necessarially terminal. I realize all I really need is believe what Jesus did on the Cross when he died and resurrected, be baptized, follow what the Holy Spirit says in my heart, and listen to what Benedict proclaims from Rome; however, knowlegable folks with skin on who can successfully address we pew-potatoes by blog and book get the dots connected for me a whole lot faster than me going it alone.

And Mr Brumley gets to sell more stuff. That's good, too.

Adam Janke

"Reading this blog is always something I look forward to"

Yes. I am going to have to add Dr. Peter's blog to our list of feeds at Catechetics Online today.

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