Friday, May 21, 2004

Update: Abortion and Excommunication

The headline reads, "Arizona Bishops: Communion OK for Pro-choice Politicians." Where Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis acted to refuse communion to Sen. John Kerry while he was campaigning in the diocese, and Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs has ordered that those who support politicians who hold positions opposed by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church should not receive communion, Bishop Thomas Olmstead of the Diocese of Phoenix has said that he prefers persuasion to excommunication. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson and Cardinals Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C. are also counted among those Roman Catholic hierarchs who oppose the policy of blanket excommunication. Cardinal McCarrick is the chairman of a commission that has been formed to consider how to respond to politicians who advocate views contrary to the positions of the Roman Catholic Church; Bp. Kicanas is a member of that commission.

The article also reports that 48 House Democrats sent a letter to Cardinal McCarrick, expressing their opposition to attempts to use excommunication as a means of changing the positions of politicians, calling it “counterproductive,” and citing fears of an “anti-Catholic backlash.” (Huh?) Two Arizona Congressmen, Ed Pastor of Phoenix and Raul Grijalva of Tucson, signed the letter. Mr. Pastor (I live in his district) is reported to have said that he supports abortion rights, and that he is sworn to uphold the law, which includes the law allowing abortions.

I’ve never met Mr. Pastor; but I’m sure he is an intelligent man, who also has bright and capable people employed on his staff. So I’m sure that he is aware that, from the standpoint of “law” as what is enacted by the vote of the legislative branch of government, and signed by the executive, there is not a “law” which allows abortions. In fact, prior to the 1973 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, the laws of all 50 states either restricted or banned abortion. What we’re talking about, then, is the action of the judicial branch of the government “making law” – and this is what Mr. Pastor says he is sworn to uphold. I don’t suppose his “pro-choice” stance colors his support of judicial law-making… (As for the whole “pro-choice” issue – “I’m in favor of a woman’s right to choose” – let’s also be real on two counts. First, as I’ve said before, when a woman chooses to engage in an activity potentially resulting in pregnancy, she’s made her choice. Second, when we say “the right to choose” in reference to abortion, we talking about the right to choose to kill another human being – to choose to murder.) What, I wonder, would Mr. Pastor have to say to those who were sworn to uphold the law, when the law in question was the “Nuremberg laws” in Germany in the 1930’s? Or to those who swore to uphold the law when the “law” in question was the “Jim Crow” laws in the South after the Civil War? But I digress.

As my friend Steve has (eloquently and correctly) argued, communion is a “personal thing.” He opposes a policy of blanket excommunication; and is concerned that the efforts of the Roman Catholics in this matter may constitute an attempt to influence who is elected to public office, including the President of the United States. For myself, I am thankful that it is not the practice of our Orthodox bishops to make such a blanket statement. It is also not the place of the Church, in my opinion, to advocate the election of one candidate or another. I cannot imagine saying, either from the pulpit or in the trapeza, “Vote for…,” or, “Do not vote for…” – much less denying the holy Mysteries to someone who then does the opposite. As for the politician? That would be a matter between the two of us in the Mystery of Confession, and I will do everything in my power for the salvation of any and all of those whom God has entrusted to my pastoral care. This would include excommunication – a radical treatment, to be sure, a last resort – but if that is what is necessary, so be it. This would not, however, be a matter for public notification or discussion.

But we do not, and cannot, put aside our beliefs and convictions as Orthodox Christians when we enter the voting booth. We are responsible for our actions – indeed, we will be held accountable before God for every thought, word, deed, and feeling. This would, it seems to me, include how we use the vote entrusted to us. This is not attempting to “influence the vote” in a “Bush vs. Kerry” sense – but I do encourage everyone to be aware of the issues being decided, and the positions of the various candidates on the ballot, when deciding how to vote. Does a candidate advocate actions or policies that are inconsistent with our Orthodox faith? If so, why would you want to support that candidate?