Monday, October 18, 2004

Is John Kerry Excommunicated?

Father Basil Cole, a Dominican theologian representing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says yes in an "unofficial" letter to Los Angeles canon lawyer Marc Balestrieri. The excommunication is said to be latae sententiae, an automatic separation which requires no formal pronouncement by the Catholic Church. De Fide, a lay organization of canon lawyers, has posted a copy of the letter.

Needless to say, this is a potential bombshell, and not just for the Catholic community. Skeptics are stressing the "unofficial" nature of the communication, and asking "Says who?" However, by the nature of latae sententiae excommunication, no individual need pronounce excommunication on Kerry, and no official statement is required. Kerry, by his own words, has effectively excommunicated himself, and so have a number of other prominent Catholic politicians: Edward Kennedy, Tom Harkin, and Mario Cuomo.

This is about abortion, of course, and the fact that Kerry's stock-liberal-Catholic position on abortion is officially and explicitly a heresy. An actual heresy, that is; not one of those figure-of-speech heresies. It is not possible to champion it and remain a Catholic. Therefore: Kerry, Cuomo, Kennedy, Harkin, et al, are ex-Catholics. No bell, book, or candle required.

Being the heretical Protestant that I am, I might be moved to sympathize with these boys and girls, though I have no sympathy for their attempt to have their pro-Choice cake and eat it, too. But watching an exchange between Michael Novak and Mario Cuomo on The NewsHour recently made me realize that Cuomo's Catholic blood runs so cold that I can't believe a papal delegate hasn't been dispatched to kick him in the butt. Or at least give him a hug. I have considerably more sympathy for the Catholic position than Cuomo does, so why does he bother with the pretense of being a Catholic? And the same question would be posed to Kerry.

Cuomo's rationale is that if Catholics followed Church doctrine on abortion, no Catholic would ever get elected to office again. Not a very spiritual answer, but one which clearly shows where the priorities are. Render unto Caesar ... whatever Caesar wants. And render unto working class Catholics whatever it takes to get you elected.

But I suspect Cuomo's realpolitik - and realpolitik mixed with sweeping references to Saint Augustine is still realpolitik - features more than a little flawed reasoning. Devout Catholics vote for pro-Choice liberals not because they support abortion, but because they've been assured (by pro-Choice liberals) that in politics, abortion is okay. It's not Catholic voters that Cuomo (and Kerry) fear, it's the left wing of the Democratic Party, which mostly hates the Catholic Church anyway. Except, of course, when Catholicism can be exploited to gain votes. And they are increasingly determined to destroy any Democratic politician who opposes abortion.

Kerry argues that the constitution forbids the writing of Catholic doctrine into law. This is an excellent argument, because it's true. No such thing will be allowed. That doesn't mean he can't fully support Catholic teaching, both in word and in deed, even though he is powerless to make everyone obey it through legislation. Wouldn't a devout Catholic want to do so? Even if it incurred the wrath of people who had the ability to torpedo that devout Catholic's presidential ambitions? Wouldn't the devout Catholic bravely face up to that opposition, and if he failed to overcome it, wouldn't he take reassurance in the fact that he put his faith ahead of his own selfish ambitions?

That'll be the day, right?

UPDATE: The undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith disclaims Father Cole's letter. Comment at Catholic World News: "The Vatican soup kitchen is back in business. Bon appetit."

UPDATE (10/20/04): De Fide and Balestrieri issue press releases: I went to the Vatican in search of the truth – the Undersecretary’s response was to refer the matter to Fr. Cole. And in the words of the Undersecretary, the Response was “excellent and solid.”