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.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Catholics and Abortion: Civil Laws

Catholics and Abortion: Civil Laws
(Number 3 in a series)

This post is out of order from my original plan but it fits to address these issues now based on the issues and questions being raised by commenters to this blog.

The Catholic Church has no power to legislate civil laws anywhere in the world (except within the Vatican city-state).

The Catholic Church makes rules for its own members. I will cover that issue in a separate post.

The Catholic Church believes in advocacy for just civil laws. The Church encourages it members to apply the morality which they have learned through the Church to laws of their civil society.

According to the Church's own theology its role must be based on the Gospel messages. For example this passage from the Gospel of John (13:34-35): "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

From that, showing "love for another" can mean promoting just laws.

Almost all human societies have seen the necessity to have laws prohibiting and punishing acts of murder. Certainly the Catholic Church would promote such civil laws when new territories are formed and need to create their initial codes of law. Not much controversy there.

Since the Catholic Church believes that abortion is indeed murder of a human life, it should be expected that the Catholic Church would promote laws to criminalize acts of abortion.

The difference with the issue of anti-abortion laws is that people on both sides of the issue have had such very strong opinions, feelings, and emotions.

Normally the Catholic Church promotes that its members take active involvement in civil legislative matters to promote their moral values. Sometimes the Catholic Church as a church will issue public statements, even public appeals. However, in the issue of anti-abortion legislative support Church leaders themselves, including priests and bishops, have actively gotten involved in promoting their positions claiming that they are representatives of the Catholic Church. Again, as a church they have no authority in relation to civil laws except as private citizens.

Situations involving children cause people to become very emotionally involved. Since the Catholic position on abortion claims that abortion affects a human life, a very small human life. The emotions that it evokes in some people are similar to a harmful act upon a small child. Thus Catholics involved in promoting anti-abortion legislation often get very emotional. One commenter to this blog pointed out that they also may get very angry. I would say that such anger is itself contrary to the teachings of the Church.

I was going to make a separate post about fanatics. But some Catholics (and even non-Catholics) promoting anti-abortion laws have gone much further in violating Catholic principals. Some have resorted to violence and even themselves committing murder claiming to support their cause for just laws. Such acts should are not in accord with the teachings and beliefs of the Catholic Church.

Though the Catholic Church does not support murder, it does permit killing under certain circumstances, such as immediate defense of self or another person and in just wars. Though the definitions of those permitted cases can be rather technical, none of them approach justifying the use of violence or murder to support the promotion of anti-abortion legislation.

However, based on the belief that violence or killing might be permitted to defend oneself or another person in imminent danger, it might be possible to understand how some Catholics would take action against an abortion clinic or staff in the belief that they are attempting to prevent murder. I am not justifying those actions but I am pointing to how they might feel justified and feel that they are following Catholic teaching.

Now, my next post is planned be about the Catholic Church's implications of what is meant by "grave moral evil." It will also deal with how the Catholic Church attempts to punish its own members who violate its principals regarding abortion.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Legal stuff:

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner. ( )

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Catholics and Abortion: vs Pro-Choice

Catholics and Abortion: vs Pro-Choice.
(Number 2 in a series)

After an egg and sperm unite at conception to begin a new life the entity is sometimes given different names: zygote, embryo, and fetus. People disagree on at exactly what point each descriptive name should be used. However, the Catholic view is that human life began at the time of initial conception.

Those who disagree with the Catholic viewpoint place the beginning of human life, sometimes called the beginning of personhood, at later points. Many claim that the new life is not a human person until after the live birth takes place. Others claim that human life cannot be claimed until the life reaches a development point where it could survive on its own outside of the mother. The term viable is used to describe that point and occurs somewhere between 22 to 25 weeks into a pregnancy.

Those who disagree with the Catholic viewpoint of when life begins often allow that the termination of pregnancy by abortion prior to the point that life begins (prior to birth or prior to viability) is a personal decision of the mother.

Since the Catholic Church believes that life begins from conception therefore a mother who permits abortion at any point would be considered to have committed a grave moral evil.

The Catholic Church does take into account peoples' intentions. However the Catholic Church's view is that in a moral action the end does not justify the means. Thus if a woman did not want kill a small life but merely wanted to end a pregnancy, in the Catholic view, the act of killing cannot be denied and thus it would be a grave moral evil.

Thus the Catholic Church does not accept the following reasons for terminating pregnancy: family planning (unwanted pregnancy), rape, incest, fetal deformity, and mother's health (with some exceptions).

There are some instances regarding a mother's health where the Catholic Church allows that the death of the embryo may occur without being a moral evil. Such cases are usually where surgical intervention to preserve a mother's health will inadvertently cause loss of the embryo such as in the cases of ectopic pregnancy where a fertilized egg implants and begins growing anywhere outside of the uterus.

So, as one of our readers asked: "Does the embryo`s right to life trump the rights of a woman over her body?" In the Catholic view, yes, the rights of the new life must be respected and protected; an abortion would be a grave moral evil.

Stay tuned, next post will be about the Catholic Church's implications of what is meant by "grave moral evil."

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Catholics and Abortion: Basics

Catholics and Abortion: Basics.
(Number 1 in a series)

"I was asked" to do a post about the Catholic church`s stance on abortion.

Of course, for many people, this is a controversial topic. My effort here will be to state and explain the official Catholic perspective. My intention is not really to debate the topic but to try to come to an understanding what the Catholic position is and why they think that way.

There are related topics. In this first post I will just state the Catholic basic position. I want to separate out several of the other topics for future blog posts.
- how does Catholic position contradict pro-choice
- how does the Catholic Church punish its own members (like excommunication)
- if Catholics have a certain belief, why are they pushing for laws to force their beliefs onto others
- Catholic views on family planning and contraception
- Catholic and anti-abortion fanatics

The Catholic position begins with the statement that human life must be respected and protected. This concept encompasses all things that might harm a human life such as murder, assault, etc.

The Catholic belief is that from the moment of conception that the tiny being is human life and thus must be respected and protected.

Therefore the Catholic Church believes abortion to cause the death of a human life and thus to be a gravely moral evil.

Almost all civilizations and cultures consider harming human life by murder to be a serious wrong.

The most debated part of the Catholic view is the Church's assertion that human life begins at the moment of conception. Other people insist that human life actually begins at later times, possibly as late as the birth moment.

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Cursive Writing

Wow, I heard a news item on the radio today. Cursive writing is no longer being taught in many U.S. schools.

Here is a link (click here) to an article in the American-Statesman.
(If the page asks you to login, close the page, then click here again.)

Here are some quotes from the article:

"Today, written communication is increasingly being replaced by computer messages. And, while adding computer proficiency requirements, school districts across Texas and the nation are de-emphasizing cursive writing in elementary school training. In higher grades, teachers are seeing less work done in cursive and more in block lettering or on computer printouts."

"Furthermore, some teachers say that with the pressure to help students pass high-stakes achievement tests, they don't have time or classroom resources to ensure that students master all aspects of handwriting."

"Traditional penmanship, like calligraphy before it, is fast becoming a lost art."

I must confess that about 30 years ago I quit writing in cursive. My handwriting was so hard to read. If I have to write something out by hand I always print.

When I send someone a note through the postal mail I either print the note by hand or I type it on the computer, print it out, and sign it by hand. I do sometimes feel embarrassed using the computer in that way.

Here is a sample of my cursive handwriting (no laughing please!):
Click to enlarge

If you want to learn or teach cursive, here is an interesting link:
Handwriting For Kids

Maybe I am just thinking that if I had to suffer through learning cursive then so should my kids. My kids: well, at ages 20 and 17 I am quite aware that they failed to learn cursive. In fact, if my younger son ever writes using anything that does not have a built in spell checker then he is doomed.

What do you think about the demise of cursive writing?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Reason for Christmas

Reason for Christmas.

Since some of you encouraged me to begin this blog, I have also started to spend time reading blogs written by other people. I had no idea that there were so many blogs out there!

I found an interesting post that gives a story that tries to explain why there is a Christmas; that is, why would the all powerful God need to come to earth in human form.


It makes a very good point.

Now the bigger discussion: God came to us as Jesus. Now what?