BY FATHER THOMAS A. FLOWERS
Many have expressed anguish over the pro-abortion/pro-infanticide law in New York and asked why we don’t excommunicate Gov. Cuomo. Please understand that this is something we never do out of anger or vengeance. As an adult disciplines a child not to hurt but to teach a lesson, so Holy Mother Church uses this measure of last resort to bring a believer to his senses in order to save his soul. An excommunicated Catholic is denied Eucharist, prohibited from participating in church life (e.g, escorting one’s daughter down the aisle at her wedding), and even burial from the church. This harsh punishment challenges a sinner to recognize how heinous is the offense of which he is guilty, the harm it causes, and to repent.
Some sins are so egregious that excommunication is automatic. (The offender must be aware that this is so for it to apply.) An attack on the person of the Holy Father, a priest’s violation of the seal of confession, and procuring an abortion are some of the sins that invoke the penalty. Only when notorious, persistent, public action of an individual threatens grave scandal, however, does Rome or a local bishop consider issuing a formal decree.
Every Christian should be outraged that signing of the New York legislation led to loud cheers and special pink lighting of city landmarks to celebrate. Reeling from this blow, we were shocked by attempts to pass a similar law in Virginia and Gov. Northam’s suggesting that what would be done with a baby who survived the assault would be up to the mother and her doctor. Apparently out of fear that the Supreme Court will finally recognize the error of Roe v. Wade in inventing a right about which the Constitution says nothing, other states are planning similar action. (Note that an exception “for the health of the mother” has been interpreted so broadly that use of this phrase essentially guts any law that initially appears to limit abortion.)
There is concern that some politicians will actually take pride in posturing themselves as victims of church authoritarianism. Certainly, the current abuse crisis has weakened our effectiveness as a moral voice in the public square. Those who have dedicated time and energy to the pro-life movement may feel abandoned, frustrated, even betrayed when it seems that nothing is being done. (We are, of course, not privy to what may be happening out of the public eye.) You have every right, however, even a duty, to respectfully express how grievously you are scandalized, by both passage of these barbaric laws and by pro-abortion politicians flaunting their Catholicism when it serves their political purpose.
Years ago someone told me that we should never say “at least” we can pray, because prayer is never the least we can do but the most important action we can take. Prayer opens us to the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and discernment to know God’s will and courage to do it. Prayer empowers, encourages, inspires, and unites us in the war for truth and justice, especially in defense of the voiceless and the most innocent and vulnerable. Each of us must be part of the solution. Ask the Lord what he wants you to do to end the abominable evil of abortion and infanticide.
Father Thomas A. Flowers is pastor of St. Jude the Apostle Church in Lewes.