Our Catholic bishops: Called to lead

Commentary by American Life League president Judie Brown

Nearly three years ago, American Life League embarked on a serious campaign. We decided it was no longer possible to sit on the sidelines and watch while public figures, who claim to be Catholic, advocate, support, promote and vote for abortion. Action became imperative. After all, the Catholic Church teaches that the act of abortion is an intrinsic evil, which means, in plain English, that abortion is wrong. It is bad; it is despicable; it kills an innocent human being prior to his or her birth.

So, we asked ourselves, why are these public figures – especially political leaders -getting away with supporting murder?

The Catholic Church not only teaches this strong truth regarding abortion, but gives bishops (and, in fact, any ordained member of the priesthood, as well as deacons and Eucharistic ministers) the ability to do something about this obvious contradiction.

As is the case with our nation, and each of our cities, the Church has established laws written for the guidance and for the safety of all its members. For the private citizen, state and local laws offer protection from crime. So too, with Catholics, there are Church laws designed to protect the Church, her sacraments and her people from grave moral injustices and scandals.

Among these laws, known collectively as the Code of Canon Law, there is one in particular that we have been asking every bishop to enforce. Canon 915 states:


Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or the declaration of a penalty as well as others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to communion [emphasis added].

A public figure who claims to be Catholic while supporting the direct act of abortion is obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin. We know this objectively; there is no need to judge the person. It is not necessary for anyone – including a bishop – to make a subjective evaluation of what the individual believes or is thinking. The actions are public. We can see, as plain as day, by statements and actions, that the person supports the act of abortion, and is therefore at odds with Church teaching and should be denied Holy Communion.

Let's imagine for a moment that Catholic bishops are policemen. There are 272 U.S. Catholic bishops, each charged with enforcing Catholic Church law in the same way that every policeman is charged with enforcing local and state laws.

Imagine that of 272 policemen in your community, fewer than five percent of them publicly pledged to protect the citizens from grave harm. What do you suppose would happen? Clearly, there would be chaos everywhere as criminals would soon get the idea that their chances of getting away with crime were pretty good.

How long would you remain in a community with a police force like that?

The same thing applies to the Catholic Church and her bishops. Of the 272 Catholic bishops in the United States, there are 13 who today have publicly stated that they will enforce Canon 915. The others have taken a variety of public positions; but suffice it to say, they are not publicly proclaiming that they will enforce Canon 915.

Canon 915 does two things. It protects Christ who, according to Catholic teaching, is truly present in Holy Communion. This law, when enforced, protects Christ from sacrilege. Any Catholic who knows that he is in a state of grave sin and still receives Holy Communion is literally scoffing at Christ.

Further, Canon 915 – when enforced – protects the offending Catholic's soul from even further eternal problems. A public figure that supports the direct killing of a preborn child by an act of abortion is already in pretty serious trouble, according to Catholic teaching. He is supporting the act of murder, which is a very grave offense against God.

So if that person chooses to ignore this fact, even after his bishop has talked with him and explained the seriousness of the situation, and chooses to receive Communion anyway, and the sacrament is not denied him, that person is placing his soul in graver circumstances than ever. So denying this person Communion is really one of the most charitable things anyone can do for the erring Catholic.

There is also the question of the example the offending Catholic is setting for all those Catholics who see him getting away with this. Won't most people see this and think that if it's okay for a senator or a popular celebrity to promote abortion and receive Communion, then it must be okay for everybody? It's obvious where this would lead. There would be confusion, disbelief, misunderstanding – and worse.

Just like that town where very few policemen chose to enforce the law and thus chaos reigned, so too within the Catholic Church, when very few bishops choose to publicly enforce Church law, chaos is sure to follow.

And it has.

This is why we were dismayed to learn that during the national meeting of Catholic bishops this month in Washington, D.C., Canon 915 is not listed among the highlights of the gathering. The agenda has many items on it, but protecting Christ from sacrilege, protecting Catholics from scandal, and protecting pro-abortion Catholic public figures from their own erroneous actions is apparently not part of that agenda.

The bishops do have a draft statement on the death penalty which has been widely reported in the Catholic press. In this draft, it apparently says that Church teaching on the subject of capital punishment presents "an unavoidable moral challenge."

Isn't the act of abortion an unavoidable moral challenge? Aren't those who persist in supporting it on an unavoidable collision course with God? Isn't it time to put priorities in order and strive to stop the public advocacy, by well-known Catholics, of the surgical murder that involves more than 3,500 innocent victims daily?

I am deeply concerned for the American bishops – the Church's police force. I am praying that the crisis confronting our nation's most vulnerable citizens – preborn children – will be addressed with boldness and courage. I am praying that our bishops will valiantly do their duty in a way that will shake to the core the laissez-faire Catholics in our midst.

I am hopeful that our bishops – our shepherds, our teachers and our moral guides – will be inspired by God to not only address the prudence required to enforce the death penalty in our unjust society, but to address the crucial nature of a public conscience that has grown numb at the mention of the word abortion.

Every direct abortion kills an innocent child, and surely that reality will overshadow any other social or political concern on the bishops' agenda this month.

That is my hope; that should be our prayer.

Release issued: 2 Nov 05