"I don't think it's for me to decide. I can't decide when life begins. All that I can decide is, you know, what are the constitutional issues? What are the legal issues? How do you deal with these things?"
So spoke Rudy Giuliani this past weekend as he tried to clarify his positions on abortion, embryonic stem cell research and other issues of concern to those who value innocent human life from the moment of conception to natural death. He seemed confused about when life begins and wondered how to deal with "these things."
Luckily for him, a self-professed Catholic, there happens to be age-old and specific teaching on these issues from some fellows in Rome who might be inclined to help him out. One of these is named Pope Benedict XVI, and he and his predecessors have had much to say on these subjects. When asked last week whether he agreed with Mexican bishops who threatened pro-abortion lawmakers with excommunication, he replied that such penalties are incurred automatically (latae sententiae) under Church law:
"Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon law which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with receiving communion, which is receiving the body of Christ. They did nothing new, surprising or arbitrary. They simply announced publicly what is contained in the law of the Church... which expresses our appreciation for life and that human individuality, human personality is present from the first moment."
As in civil law, the Church extends the penalty to those who aid and abet the offense. And, lest some Catholic politicians insist that they have never voted to keep abortion legal since our secular gods on the U.S. Supreme Court have made that decision for us, they should realize that the charge of heresy carries the same penalty.
Rudy in particular should pay special attention to the Church's definition of heresy as "the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith." The Church regards sins against faith as especially dangerous because, like scandal, they kill the life of the soul.
This is not the first time Giuliani has run afoul of the Vatican. In 1996, after Bill Clinton vetoed the Partial Birth Abortion Act for the first time, Pope John Paul II took him to task, calling his action "a shameful veto that in practice is equivalent to an incredibly brutal act of aggression against innocent humans." How did Giuliani respond? Predictably:
"Such direct involvement in politics is not a good idea, because I think it confuses people. I think that religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, have every right to do everything they can to persuade their members and others as to their moral views. That can be done without focusing on a particular political figure, in this case the President of the United States."
An important precept of the Church involves spiritual works of mercy, one of which is known as fraternal correction or admonishing sinners. With his remarks on the Mexican politicians, Pope Benedict is exercising that charity. What many people fail to realize is that the Church does not desire to oust those members who have disagreements with her. Like her founder, she is in a constant search for the lost sheep of her flock; eager to return them to the fold.
Indeed, the Church views excommunication for abortion as a healing instrument. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi explains this beautifully: "Excommunication for procured abortion constitutes a gesture of maternal love. It expresses and puts into action the love of Mother Church, who comes to the defense of the defenseless unborn child, and who recalls and supports the one who has erred so that it doesn't happen again."
Sadly for them, many Catholic pro-abortion politicians will no doubt wear their self-imposed excommunications as a badge of honor, as does Mexico's Leticia Quezada who haughtily declared, "I'm Catholic and I'm going to continue being Catholic even if the church excommunicates me. My conscience is clean."
It remains to be seen whether other Catholic politicians will repent their positions on abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research and whether bishops will instruct their priests to deny communion to those who have so publicly excommunicated themselves.
In any case, this will be a test for those like Senator Joe Biden who claims that he is "prepared to accept my church's view" that life begins at conception, but at the same time says "I strongly support Roe v. Wade." He continues, "Look, I'm a practicing Catholic, and it is the biggest dilemma for me in terms of comporting my religious and cultural views with my political responsibility."
He and others like him may soon be forced to face that dilemma at the altar rail.
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