Monday, January 23, 2006

Catholics and Abortion: Moral Evil and Punishment

Catholics and Abortion: Moral Evil and Punishment
(Number 4 in a series)

In a prevous post I described the Catholic Church's position that abortion is a grave moral evil.

Notice: This post contains information about excommunication. Readers have asked for more information about the Catholic Church and excommunication. I am planning a post specifically about excommunication (not limited to just the abortion issue) and also about reception of the sacrament of Eucharist/Communion. That will be posted about middle to late March, 2006. If you have a specific interest or concern please add a comment below or send me an e-mail.

The Catholic Church considers a moral evil as an evil or wrong that is caused by a human choice. A physical evil is the Church's term for natural events such as hurricanes, lightning, or disease.

A grave moral evil (also called a mortal sin) is a complete turning away from God through an act done by human choice.

By Catholic definition, a grave moral evil (or mortal sin) requires full knowledge and complete consent. It requires that the person performing the act knows that the act is evil and knows that the evil is opposed to God. Though ignorance can diminish the graveness of an evil act but no one is considered ignorant of the principles of moral law. Murder is consided so basic in moral law that no amount of ignorance would be a total excuse.

Since the Catholic Church considers abortion to be an act of murder, abortion is therefore considered to be a gravely moral evil act.

So, what authority does the Catholic Church have over people who participate in abortions? Though it considers all who participate in abortion to have committed a grave moral evil, the Church really only has authority over its own members and punishments can only involve church related sanctions.

The Catholic Church has an internal set of laws called the Code of Canon Law. The individual laws are called canons. The canons have evolved through the centuries, last totally revised in 1983. The canons are numbered 1 through 1752.

Canon 1398 states, "A person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication."

The Latin term "latae sententiae" means that the punishment takes effect automatically because it is stated in the law. The Church also has a system of courts and trials, which for other offenses can impose lesser punishments or even excommunication for serious offenses.

Excommunication is the Church's most severe penalty (or censure) which removes a person from membership in the Church and prescribes that a person may not participate in any Church activities or sacraments.

What about people who assist in abortions such as doctors, nurses, clinic staff, friends who assist the woman in any way to achieve an abortion? Canon 1329 says that such accomplices, though not named in the law, are subject to the same automatic penalty attached to the offense, thus excommunication.

But who accomplices are can be difficult to determine. If a person contributes money to an organization that provides abortions is that person an accomplice? That determination would be based on the intention of the person and of their knowledge of the facts (an issue that I will address below). For example, if a person contributes money to Planned Parenthood would they be automatically excommunicated. It would depend on the intention. Planned Parenthood does other thing besides provide access to abortions. If the intention of the contribution was to support their other efforts then excommunication for abortion would not apply. (Though contributions to Planned Parenthood to support their contraceptive efforts might qualify as an accomplice in another area that the Church has rules against, those rules do not automatically incur excommunication.)

Another Church canon, number 1323, lists several reasons by which someone would not be "subject to a penalty when they have violated a law." Some of those reasons are: a person under 16 years old, a person who was forced into an act, a person who was unaware of violating a law. That last one is important: for a penalty such as excommunication to apply, the person, at the time of the act of offense, must have known that they were violating a Church law.

Can the penalty of excommunication be forgiven or remitted? Yes. The penalty of excommunication for abortion is not reserved to the Pope, so it can be forgiven or remitted by the bishop where the offense took place or the bishop where the person lives. Also, if a person is in danger of death then any priest can absolve any censure (Canon 976).

Your comments and questions are welcome.
Please feel free to contact me via e-mail if you would like to make private comments or ask about anything.


At Monday, January 23, 2006 8:04:00 PM, Blogger L. said...

I`ve also heard some say it`s an excommunicable sin of heresy, if a Catholic publicly speaks out in favor of abortion, and really means it.

Also, there`s the "intent to sin" part. I had prenatal testing in all my pregnancies, in order to determine that my babies didn`t have severe defects - the idea was that I would have ended the pregnancies if they had. I felt very strongly about this, and this has also been described to me as a mortal sin in my heart.

I`ve never had an abortion, procured one for anyone directly (though I have contributed to Planned Parenthood) or convinced anyone else to have one, yet I do declare myself to be pro-choice and do not vote for pro-life politicians. So I would say I am an "accomplice" -- or at least an "abortion sympathizer."

At Monday, January 23, 2006 9:30:00 PM, Blogger Andrea said...

I havent read this properally yet, but I thought you might be interested in this post and the comment discussion that follows.

At Monday, January 23, 2006 9:40:00 PM, Blogger jw said...

L. if you want to change this to a private discussion just let me know.

The heresy thing might come from your reading of Ron Conti's writings. I don't trust him; in fact I have found clear errors in some of his writings. I do plan to investigate the heresy and schism issues more and I will tell you what I find. Hey, they would apply to me too!

The abortion canon 1398 says, "A person who procures a successful abortion..." Note the word "successful". Another currently authorized translation says "completed abortion". (The Latin is "effectu secutu".)

From what I know of canon laws, "attempted" crimes are not considered offenses unless there is a specific law (Example: Canon 1394 states "a cleric who attempts even a civil marriage". Yes, that is the one that applies to me.)

In the Church we have to start with the presumption that is most loving. I've only known you (through the comupter) for about a month. I am quite convinced that you, L., are a loving, caring person. A sympathizer is not the same as an accomplice to an act or abortion.

There is another topic that I may write about in the future. That is the primacy of conscience. That is, a person must always act following their own conscience. Each person has a responsibility to have well formed conscience, to which the Church will contribute information. But ultimately each person must make their own decisions.

This discussion here points out a major problem with the Catholic Church. It has too long a history of meddling in minutia. The 1983 revision of Canon Laws was a major improvement. But clearly it does not act clearly or have clear rules (I've already looked into the heresy stuff and it is complicated at every step.) When faced with difficult Church situations I have learned to say "What would Jesus do if he were standing here today? Love one another..." After that question, I usually start with a different answer than I might have otherwise.

Since we've already openned the can of worms, let me just say that another heartbreak situation that results from Church rules is divorce and remarriage. So many Catholics have been alienated because of the "rules" about those.

There are a lot of comments there. That will take a while to digest. I found an interesting phrase at the beginning of the post: "virulent anti-abortion views". Wow.

At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 3:42:00 PM, Blogger L. said...

JW, I`m completely comfortable discussing my thoughts, opinions and sprituality in the public blogosphere. In fact, the only reason I don`t usually discuss such topics (including the experience I chronicled on my blog yesterday) is that they tend to make some people uncomfortable, and so they don`t often come up in ordinary conversation.

I never want to see abortion criminalized. There are women who know exactly what they are doing when they decide to do it (and I said, in certain circumstances, I would be one of them), and I do not want to see them forced to gestate pregnancies. I am an "accomplice" to abortion in the legal sense of the word -- I do not favor banning it. I am not pro-life.
But I can`t imagine supporting a group like Catholics For a Free Choice -- what would be the point? The church is what it is, and as you say, we all have free will to follow our individual consciences based on our particular experiences in life. I don`t lose any sleep over the contradiction of being Catholic and not being pro-life.
And anyway, I`m not supposed to receive communion because I married Buddhist who wouldn`t promise to raise the kids Catholic. I didn`t get communion at my own wedding, and I fully accept this situation.

At Friday, January 27, 2006 9:17:00 AM, Blogger Granny said...

Still reading, still quiet. I've had stuff going on and am a little behind.

When you get around to it, here's a topic that might give us all something to think about and that troubles me more that the Church stand on abortion.

At Friday, January 27, 2006 2:09:00 PM, Blogger jw said...

Hi, Ann. I've been lurking on your blog. Praying for all of you.

I'll send you an e-mail about Greeley's article.

At Sunday, January 29, 2006 5:41:00 PM, Blogger Granny said...

I missed your last comment - just now getting back. Thanks.

L. and I think very much alike.

If I can find it again, I'm sending you a link to our local paper that you might find interesting.

At Sunday, November 11, 2007 8:26:00 AM, Anonymous Joane said...

as you noticed i am a new commentor here...
but anyway, im a senior highs school student here in the Philippines and currently am working on a research paper.
umm.. since my sister is a nursing student, she suggested that i use the topic "ectopic pregnancy". i dont know much about this but im relying on internet n books for information.

umm.. i havent fully read your posts because as of now, there isnt much time... so i would just want to ask for your views on the topic about "Ectopic Pregnancy: Christian DOctrine vs. the Medical View"...
your answer would be s0o much appreciated..
thank you s0 much for your time in reading my c0mment.


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