« The Angelus | Main | Yes, we're here »

July 03, 2006



This is so obvious to me . . . but I guess we need the Ph.D's to figure it out.

Ed Peters

Sandro has some great stuff. He just needs to read my post on this, to see who one gets from c. 1398 to an excomm for destruction of embryonic humans....happy 4th everybody.

James Kabala

I have no doubt that abortion is a grievous sin, but I am a little curious as to how it became an excommunicable offense. I've noticed over the last few years that excommuniction tends to used mainly offenses that directly relate to the Church and her administration, such as persistent heresy, disputes over church property (as at St. Stanislaus Kostka in St. Louis), refusals to obey a direct order from a Bishop, etc. It's an excommunicable offense to hit the Pope, but not to murder an ordinary guy. How did abortion get on the list of excommunicable offenses?

James Kabala

Missing words: it should have been not "to used mainly" but "to be used mainly for."

Ed Peters

JK: basically, because as states dropped their protection of pre-born life, the CHurch felt the need to step in, as far as she could, to lead the way back toward legal protection for the innocent.

Little Gidding

Wouldn't "persistent heresy" be applicable here? Take murder, for instance. Committing murder is not heresy but a serious crime. But coming to believe that murder is not a serious crime, and acting on that belief by committing murder, and advocating its practice as a boon to mankind, and looking for funding for ways to increase the incidence of murder--all based on this belief that murder is not immoral. Isn't heresy involved here?


"I was raised as a Catholic, I share Catholic values, but I am able to make my own judgment on some issues, and I do not need to be told by the church what to do or to think," said Mr. Galli, a professor at the Laboratory of Reproductive Technologies, in Cremona, Italy.

Translation: I will not serve. Sounds familiar...


I read your argument, Dr. Peters, and I agree that embryo destruction *ought* to be an excommunicable offense, for the same reasons that abortion is.

But how is it that it can be when it hasn't been declared so by the magisterium?

John Lowell

I feel certain that the decision to excommunicate this man will resonate in the hearts of the Evangelical equivalentists in the ETWN Hlinka Guards, and it should. But real progress might be made if we could distract them from their affection for the reasoning of cafeteria Catholic, Richard John Neuhaus, who, at the time of the Bush embryonic stem cell research compromise, couldn't raise an eyebrow about the decision, calling it "morally defensible" when the Vatican and the American bishops together termed the decision "morally unacceptable". One wonders if the experiments authorized by Bush were sufficiently "defensible" for Neuhaus to have performed them? Clearly no one these days would have to struggle to imagine him outfitted in a flak jacket.

John Lowell

Concerned & Scrupled

In the chapter on penalties for “crimes against life and human liberty,” the only acts which merit excommunication are abortion and “physical violence against the Roman pontiff”.


Last Easter, the Bishop of Cremona, Dante Lafranconi, made news when he announced that he was extending the power to absolve abortion to all of his priests.

Gotta ask the Canon Law folks out there:

Does this mean that the sin of aborion cannot be absolved through confession to just any priest? If one has confessed this sin to a priest and been assured of absolution and forgiveness, will one have been receiving the Eurcharist wrongly? What if the sin occurred prior to one's reception into the church?



I think someone has to be aware that an offense is excommunicable for it to apply. The Priest would know more about that, though, in the confessional. But, even if it has to be absolved by the Bishop, I think the Priest just has to call the Bishop and get his ok, and then you can come back the next day or whatever and be absolved.


Does anyone recall the Georgetown scandal a while back??

.....A Florida-based group wrote to Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington that some scientists at Georgetown, a Catholic university, were doing research using cells derived from aborted fetuses.

An in-house investigation verified the claim. But when 14 of the researchers involved said that ending the use of the cells in question would jeopardize years of work and funding, the matter was turned over to ethicists. In a recommendation that scholars said could mark a first in Catholic medical research in the United States, Georgetown has decided to let those researchers continue their work.

The Rev. Kevin T. FitzGerald, a university bioethicist, said he reasoned that the scientists did not know the cells had come from aborted fetuses when they began their work and should not be forced to abandon potentially lifesaving studies or risk forfeiting grants. The benefits to society, he said, far outweigh the harm done by using the cells, because the abortions were not performed for the purpose of providing the cells to scientists.

"The ideal would be not to be involved with [aborted fetal cells] at all," said FitzGerald, a Jesuit priest who holds a doctorate in molecular genetics. "Obviously, we don't live in an ideal world. We do the best we can."


Fitzgerald also is the Ethicist for the Juvenille Diabetes Association which promotes ESCR. Maybe he is getting a bit uncomfy..

Ed Peters

folks, i am reading your good qq. i just haven't time to respond to each, even here. tehre are good answers to all i've seen so far.


For Concerned:

Canon 1398 provides that, "a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication." This means that at the very moment that the abortion is successfully accomplished, the woman and all formal conspirators are excommunicated.

Using abortafacient like the morning after pill as far as I know is included. Also, the woman must be an adult (over 16). Latae sententiae ex communication isn't a public excommunication, and confession, and penance normally lifts the excommmunication.

This issue has gotten so heated, and politcal, I think some have forgotten what is at stake. Hell is a reality, but it can certainly be avoided.

Fr. Shawn O'Neal


A few bishops delegate unto the priests serving within their respective diocese the ability to lift an excommunication latae sententiae in conjunction with a specific canon. Some bishops might require that the Chancery be notified that such an act of absolution has been performed, but some do not.

Clare Krishan

"a US Jesuit priest who holds a doctorate in molecular genetics" and the director(*) of an Italian business trading in Arabian horses do not the Catholic Church make - beware of following these kind of quotes from the media.
(*) who insults his Catholic heritage with the following statement "Like Prometheus who took fire from God from Olympus, we hoped she would be brave to face these people who do not like what we do,")

This is probably exactly what got the Cardinal all hot under his collar in the first place, along with the South Korean scandal (where 3 babies are aborted for every one born, the penultimate world ranking).

Rather consider the National Catholic Bioethics Center Resources on Stem Cell Research and Human Cloning , where another US priest with a PhD in neuroscience Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D lists "The Ten Great Myths in the Debate Over Stem Cell Research" the biggest being of course that the mdia always forgets the adjective embryonic when maligning the Church's position on stem cells. Many reading the story about the Cardinal may also be mistaken in this line of thinking, even encouraged by some to think the Church attacks science, as Galli does wih his appearance at the WORLD CONGRESS FOR FREEDOM OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH in February of this year.

Rather than dissemble over 'canon law' let us consider the horrendous implications if this cavalier approach to medical therapy God-forbid is permitted to hoodwink us into trading in this sort of snake oil using compassion for the disabled to cloud their deceit. Forgive my unflattering turn-of-phrase, but the truth of the matter is those who are ignorant of these issues are VERY vulnerable to these chicaneries. Consider that it took the scientific establishment a long time to acknowledge the infectious agent behind Mad Cow Disease - a fragment of protein called a prion (my familiarity stems from being someone who has spent more than 6 months in the UK over the last 10 years so my blood is now suspect and rejected by the Red Cross donation service, I've given blood my whole life and its sad but true that these diseases are a scourge, but recall no one thought you could get variant Creutzfeld Jakob from eating infected meat, until poverty striken children fed on a diet of very low quality beef burgers -- the kind made from ground beef extracted by grinding bones -- started getting sick and dying in the blink of an eye in the UK).

Kuru, another prion disease was spread by cannabilism in Papua New Guinea, as this quote from Nobel-Prize-winning scientist Prusiner credited with their discovery attests "With the cessation of cannibalism at the urging of missionaries, kuru began to decline long before it was known to be transmissible. Sources of prions causing infectious CJD include improperly sterilized depth electrodes, transplanted corneas, human growth hormone (HGH) and gonadotropin derived from cadaveric pituitaries, and dura mater grafts. More than 90 young adults have developed CJD after treatment with cadaveric HGH, with incubation periods ranging from 3 years to more than 20 years. Dura mater grafts implanted during neurosurgical procedures seem to have caused more than 60 cases of CJD, with incubation periods ranging from 1 year to more than 14 years."

Now imagine in these purported therapeutic "cadaveric" stem cells (or genetically manipulated meats): a segment of DNA (or a segment of RNA anywhere in the cell) coding for a prion protein - do you think there'll be enough personal injury lawyers around to put the genie back in the jar...? Beware of those who claim that creating new creatures by killing an embryo is "only" murder (undeserving of excommunication). It is so much worse... and only the Roman Catholic Church has the courage to stand up and proclaim the truth that the cannibalism of cloning is diametrically opposed to human life.

James Kabala

Ed Peters: I defer to your expertise, but I thought the penalty of excommunication for abortion dated at least as far back as the 1917 Code of Canon Law, when all civilized countries still outlawed abortion.


I thought the penalty of excommunication for abortion dated at least as far back as the 1917 Code of Canon Law

Aside from the fact that abortion was expressly mentioned and prohibited in the 1st Century Didache, 1,900 years ago, the Catholic Encyclopedia reports --

"The Catholic Church has not relaxed her strict prohibition of all abortion; but, as we have seen above, she has made it more definite. As to the penalties she inflicts upon the guilty parties, her present legislation was fixed by the Bull of Pius IX 'Apostolicae Sedis.' It decrees excommunication . . . Now Gregory XIV had enacted the penalty of excommunication for abortion of a 'quickened' child but the present law makes no such distinction, and therefore it must be differently understood." (emphasis added)

Gregory XIV was Pope in the late 16th Century, while Pius the Pope in the mid-19th Century.


Casare Galli says he does not need to be told what to do or to think by the Church. The Catholic Church does not tell anyone what to do or what to think. She tells you what to do and to think in order to attain salvation. Galli is free to reject that if he so desires and of course, at his own peril.

Ed Peters

guys, i was asked why the excomm. penalty was retained (presumably, in the 1983 Code) not why it appeared in canon law in the first place....anyone asking that?



As you are offering: yes please tell us why it appeared in canon law.

And while I am at it another question. Granting that abortion is an "excommunicable" offense for Catholics is not the same thing as saying that abortion is murder from the time of conception (slapping the Pope leads to excommunication but is not murder). For abortion to be murder it must be that the fertilised egg has the same rights as a person. This makes a BIG difference in terms of public policy. What are the most authorative statements from the magisterium which take this position?



For abortion to be murder it must be that the fertilised egg has the same rights as a person. This makes a BIG difference in terms of public policy. What are the most authorative statements from the magisterium which take this position?

A fertilised egg does not have "the same rights as" a person, rather, an individual human entity is a person from the moment of conception. It is a full person, not merely the "same as" a person, even if you label it a mere "fertilized egg." As for authoritative statements from the Magisterium, with good historical overviews as well, go read the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, or the Declaration on Procured Abortion.


Pope John Paul II, of happy memory, states authoritatively (and many would say infallibly due to the specific language used), in section 62 of Evangelium Vitae, pertaining to abortion --

"In the Church the purpose of the penalty of excommunication is to make an individual fully aware of the gravity of a certain sin and then to foster genuine conversion and repentance.
"Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and unchangeable. Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops -- who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine -- I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. 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." (emphasis added)

In section 63, the saintly Holy Father continues --

"63. This evaluation of the morality of abortion is to be applied also to the recent forms of intervention on human embryos which, although carried out for purposes legitimate in themselves, inevitably involve the killing of those embryos. This is the case with experimentation on embryos, which is becoming increasingly widespread in the field of biomedical research and is legally permitted in some countries. Although 'one must uphold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but rather are directed to its healing, the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival,' it must nonetheless be stated that the use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person.
"This moral condemnation also regards procedures that exploit living human embryos and fetuses -- sometimes specifically 'produced' for this purpose by in vitro fertilization -- either to be used as 'biological material' or as providers of organs or tissue for transplants in the treatment of certain diseases. The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act."

Clare Krishan

More good stuff from NCBC at Catholic Educators's Resource Center by Fr. TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK
Theology or embryology?


Thanks for that link Clare Krishan. The story about the runners at the Seattle Special Olympics made my day!

Paul Zadik

We are (nearly) all implicated. Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are grown on cell lines from aborted fetuses (back in the 60s). Obviously if vaccination rates fell their would be outbreaks and there would be a large number of abortions to "prevent" congenital rubella. The harm has been done so (most think) it is better to carry on vaccinating and prevent future harm.

James Kabala

Actually, I was indeed asking how it became an excommunicable offense in the first place. Since Bender seems to have misunderstood me, I want to say that I agree wholeheartedly that abortion is a mortal sin, and I have no objection to its being excommunication-incurring, I just wondered how it came to be that way, since other murders are not so classified.


Bender, thank you.


Ed Peters

hi guys: basically, among serious crimes, the harder a crime is to detect, the higher the sanction attached to it, since the chances of getting away with it are higher, the consequecnes of getting caught need to be higher. abortion has always been easier to commit without detection than have other forms of homicide, hence the higher penalty in canon law for it than other similar offenses. had states not dropped the ball on this one, i would generally favor joining cc. 1397 and 1398, but timing is all wrong now.


Thanks Ed--

But how does abortaficient contraception play into this? It is certainly among the easiest of abortions to have since it is only abortaficient a minority of the time (anywhere from 3-30%). But over time it is virtually certain that women using contraception and not getting pregnant are having abortions, because contraception simply isn't as effective as marketed without the abortaficient action.

Is this a case where, while the crime is most serious, it is virtually undetectable, as the woman using contraception herself is extremely unlikely to know if it was abortaficient?

James Kabala

Mr. (or is it Dr.?) Peters: Thank you.

c matt

For abortion to be murder it must be that the fertilised egg has the same rights as a person.

That is a bit misleading. Murder is the intentional killing of a human being without justification, not a person ("Killing" a corporation, for example, assuming one could do so, would not be murder, although you would be taking the life of a "person"). Because a fertilized egg IS a human being (whether or not our present laws realize it) it remains murder under a moral (as opposed to legal) framework.

And even among those you would consider persons, not all persons have the same rights - eg, a twelve year old does not have the right to vote; neither does an alien. Using "person" as the moral standard is not sufficiently correct, as persons can be recognized or not at the whim of the law. And while it is true that laws do not necessarily follow moral standards, laws tend to go awry when they stray from them. You are confusing moral and legal concepts. This thread focused on excommunication from The Church - based upon moral principles. You brought in the irrelevant (although not insignificant) concept of legal rights.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)