My recent essay entitled “Denying Holy Communion, A Case Study” has
prompted a number of people to suggest that the procedure which I followed
in issuing a decree of Interdiction forbidding the reception of Holy
Communion by a pro-abortion Texas State Representative is outdated. Some
have suggested that such was fitting for 1994 but that it is no longer
appropriate for 2004. They say that the times have changed. I agree that
the times have changed
Now we have candidates for the Presidency and Congress publicly professing
to be a practicing Catholics who, although supportive of many of the
Church’s teachings on social issues, on the most important issue
inalienable right to life
diametrically opposed to our Holy Catholic Faith. The most important issue
facing the world today is the assault on the sanctity of human life.
The highest teaching Authority of the Magisterium, Pope John Paul II and
his Predecessors, as well as the Prefect of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, have taught repeatedly
that the right to life is the foundation of all other rights in civil
society. The denial of this basic right leads eventually to the denial of
all others rights.
All other grave social issues, such as war, poverty, health, economic
justice, immigration, etc. are of secondary importance and indeed pale in
comparison to innocent human life under systematic annihilation. This is
not simply a matter of one’s personal faith, it is a matter of reason.
The human intellect knows intuitively that the innocent person’s right to
life has a greater priority than other social issues which are concerned
with the quality of life. By magisterial teaching it also happens
to be an article of Faith. Christ Himself instructed the Apostles and His
Disciples to uphold the Fifth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” Ex.
XX, 13. Bishops, as Successors to those Apostles, are charged with doing
the same in Christ’s name.
In 1994 the greatest assault on innocent human life was being waged then,
like now, by the abortionists. Euthanasia had begun to emerge as a growing
concern, but cloning, embryonic stem cell research and even infanticide
had not yet assumed the magnitude of the tragedy or danger that they pose
in common today.
In that year of 1994, I felt that limiting Interdiction in the internal
forum was important not only for the spiritual well being of the person
being interdicted, but also for the spiritual good of the community. I had
not felt that way about the three decrees of excommunication (latae
sententiae) which I had issued earlier for one simple reason: they were
directed at three Catholics who were directly involved in procuring murder
by abortion - two women who each administered an abortuary and one doctor
who performed the unspeakable evil of abortion himself.
Their cases, clearly constituting formal cooperation in evil, that is, the
direct immediate and voluntary participation in the physical taking of
human life, demanded the infliction of the gravest of public
ecclesiastical penalties, excommunication. On the other hand, the case of
a politician who publicly protested a “personal opposition” to abortion,
all the while publicly defending a right to choose abortion as allowed by
the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, at that time did not appear to
impel the public declaration of the gravest of censures.
In 1995 Pope John Paul II concluded that it was urgent to promulgate the
Encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Some 12,000,000 abortions later, it
has become crystal clear that the politician who actively engages his
political skills to maintain abortion-on-demand and who protects the
ongoing genocide by voting for legislation in favor of abortion formally
cooperates in the evil of abortion itself. In reality, the distinction
between the abortionist and the politician is almost nominal: One, a
murderer, is guilty of directly procuring abortions; the politician, makes
it legally possible for the genocide to continue unabated.
Critically, now, without doubt, the integrity of the Christian Faith is
under attack not just from without, but worse, from within the Church. It
is under attack by Catholic politicians who publicly and obstinately
support what in all truth is nothing less than Heresy. By heresy I mean an
obstinate denial or doubt of a core, non-negotiable dogma of the Faith
proposed by the Magisterium as revealed doctrine, as set forth in Canon
751 of the Code of Canon Law of 1983 and amended in 1998. In my recently
published essay, “The Arian Heresy Revisited,” I tried to show that
the heresy of the Fourth Century which denied the divinity of Christ, is
the mirror-image of our modern heresy which denies the sanctity of the
human person redeemed by His Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection.
Heresy is indeed committed by supporting either the moral rectitude of
abortion as a “human right,” or absent that, professing merely the “civil
right to abortion.” Both of these errors are so diametrically opposed to
the demands of Christian witness that to obstinately adhere to them
automatically cuts one off from any hope of salvation. Any one Catholic
who supports these two heresies risks eternal damnation. I say this to all
who have fallen into this error with all the voice of reason and clarity
possible, with the full and earnest hope of their swift return to the One
Body of Christ.
Recognizing the complexity of the situation in the Church and in our
society at the present time I should like to help my brother bishops find
their way through the thicket of conflicting opinions and proposals for
action. After substantial reflection, I propose a twelve-step program for
my brother bishops to help them decisively deal with the grave crisis
facing our Church and our Nation.
The proposed schema is unambiguous. The continuing scandal of
Catholics publicly bearing false witness to the teaching of the Lord Jesus
Christ has not just become collusion in genocide, but indeed now a grave
undermining of the authentic Deposit of Faith and Morals. To fail to act
decisively now is to continue to let the wolves devour the sheep committed
to us all to protect and keep.
The following are twelve simple rules enabling bishops to effectively
remedy the crisis in all transparency yet resolute firmness:
Ordinaries need to instill publicly, through their personal preaching
and through the vicarious preaching of their priests, that not only is it
against the Christian Faith to support the ‘right to choose,’ but that one
loses entirely the virtue of Supernatural Faith, the right to the
Sacraments, Christian Burial, and more importantly, eternal Salvation if
one publicly and obstinately adheres to a ‘right to choose abortion’ in
opposition to the fundamental belief of the Christian and Apostolic Faith
in the sanctity of innocent human life.
Any public and obstinate support, by word or by vote, of either abortion,
or absent that, “only” the civil “right-to-choose abortion” qualifies as
heresy. To be “personally opposed to abortion” is not a defense to
supporting a “right to choose murder.” The propositions 1) “Abortion
is not intrinsically evil” and 2) One has a “civil” or “human” right to
choose abortion are both in reason, and by Divine Law, two specifically
distinct heresies. A pro-choice Catholic politician may get away with
not committing the one, but he certainly falls into the pit of committing
The grave circumstances of the age in which we live, the obligation to
proclaim the Faith in all its purity, the need to protect the Sacraments
from sacrilege, and the obligation to eliminate grave scandal amongst the
faithful all impel the bishop to publicly and courageously inquire among
the clergy and laity of his diocese as to who amongst those Catholic
politicians having a domicile in his territory are publicly supporting
abortion or a right to choose, in accord with Canon 1717, No. 1. Evidence
verifiable in the external forum should be presented along with any
Upon being presented with evidence of the presence in the Diocese of a
politician having a domicile or quasi-domicile who both publicly holds the
right-to-murder doctrine and receives the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and,
upon verification of the evidence, the bishop should order the individual
to appear before him quam primum (Canon 1339, No. 2).
Should the politician agree to the meeting, the bishop should at that
time point out his error, reiterate to the individual the obligation to
submit with the assent of Faith to the dogmatic teaching of the Church on
the need to respect innocent human life. Clarify the absolute
incompatibility of the position he espouses with the baptismal character,
and thence order him to cease and desist from any further or private
support of his pro-choice deviance. As a Catholic in public office, the
individual can never favor or condone a right to abortion, but to the
contrary, must strive to limit and revoke pro-choice legislation. As the
obligation to publicly profess dogmatic Faith inures in the Catholic
subject whenever publicly interrogated, a Catholic can never support,
whether in public or in private, a right to choose abortion (Canon 750,
No. 1, Canon 1364, No. 1).
Should the politician not agree to the meeting, then the substance of
Step No. 4 should be sent to the individual in writing by registered mail
(Canon 1509, No. 1;)
At the conclusion of the meeting agreed to, the bishop should obtain a
formal written recantation of the individual’s erroneous beliefs. Once
done, an offer to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation should be
extended to the penitent.
If the bishop obtains a formal written recantation, with the consent of
the individual, he should release a statement publicizing the fact that
the individual and the Church are one in the same Faith once again (cfr.
Canon 1347, No. 1). Additionally, an obligation for reparation of harm and
the dispelling of scandal, commensurate to the degree of injury done to
the Faith, the Church, and civil society, needs to be completed or
seriously promised prior to reconciliation (Canon 1347, No. 2).
If the bishop is unable to obtain a formal written retraction,
fraternal correction and canonical correction should be exercised in
writing by registered mail (Canon 1339, Nos. 1-3), and, if possible, in
person, reproving that 1) the requirement of Christian witness to a
non-negotiable tenet of the Faith demands that he be publicly identified
as holding a contradictory position to that of the Catholic Church,
depriving him of the right to call himself “Catholic,” and 2) should the
individual refuse to amend his ways, the Bishop may impose an Interdict
ferendae sententiae barring him from receiving the Most Holy Eucharist
in order to safeguard unambiguously and without question the provisions of
Canon 915. Moreover, the individual may be advised that, circumstances
warranting, the Ordinary may, after the expiration of a certain allowance
of time as set forth in the monitum, publicly declare him to have
been automatically excommunicated for heresy according to Canon 1364, No.
1, and deprived from the reception of all of the Sacraments (Canon
1331, No. 1 as well as Christian burial (Canon 1184, No. 1).
After giving the individual a reasonable period of time for reflection
and consultation with his confessor/spiritual director (Canon 1347, Nos.
1-2), failing the acceptance of a further opportunity for emendation
provided to the individual within a determined time limit, the bishop
should decide by decree and after consultation with two other judges or
experts (Canon 1718, Nos. 2-3), whether he can (Canon 1718, No. 1, 1),
should (Canons 1341: 1718, No. 1, 2), and must (Canon 1728, No. 1, 3)
proceed by way of judicial process or extra-judicial administrative decree
in order to inflict or declare the commensurate penalty of Interdict
ferendae sententiae, or declare Excommunication for heresy to have
been incurred latae sententiae.
Once the Sentence is pronounced, or the extra-judicial Decree issued,
the Bishop should promulgate the decree by publication in the diocesan
newspaper with an appropriate description of the process leading up to the
issuing of the canonical decree (Canon 8, No. 2).
After the publication of the decree, the bishop should send a letter to
the clergy explaining to them what their duties and responsibilities are
in respect to the penalties imposed by the decree.
The bishop should follow up on the publication of the decree with a
letter to the recalcitrant, urging him to return into full communion with
the Church, reminding him of the Parable of the Prodigal Son: As the Good
Shepherd never refrains from welcoming a stray sheep back into the fold,
so will the bishop, in imitation of Christ, always strive to bring the one
who became lost back into the bosom of Holy Mother Church, but only in
entire Truth and Charity.
This Twelve-Step Program is clear, coherent with the Faith, and in
accordance with the requirements of canonical equity. If the Penal Canons
of the Code are now to be dusted off and brought out of the cupboard
within which they have lain dormant for almost half-a-century, it is
because the balm of mercy and discretion of measure have failed to heal
the growing infection of error and scandal inside the Church and the
genocide increasing daily in the world around us. The time for
half-measures and fear of reprisal, loss of position, temporal advantage,
or career opportunity is over
time for action in now.
Rene Henry Gracida, DD
Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi