Several years ago, after a course I had taught on Church history, my students presented me with a gift. It was an eight-inch-tall action figure of Pope Innocent III they had purchased from a novelty store in Frankenmuth, MI. A pope of the thirteenth century, Innocent III—besides approving the Rule of St. Francis—is known for calling the Albigensian crusade. This odd children’s plaything came with a short biography which included: “Action-figure’s Weapon of Choice: Excommunication.”
On January 22, appropriately and deliberately timed for the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the New York state legislature passed the “Reproductive Health Act” (RHA). It was immediately and happily signed into law by Catholic governor Andrew Cuomo. Abortion-on-demand was already permitted in the state through the sixth month of pregnancy, but the revision now permits the killing of the unborn through the ninth month, not only for the life, but even the health of the mother. The health of the mother doesn’t mean a serious threat to physical health. Consistent with Roe’s companion case Doe v. Bolton: “medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” The new law is radical in that other health care professionals besides licensed physicians may perform abortions. Furthermore, protections are removed for unborn children killed by assault upon the mother or who are born alive. In short, the legislation does not recognize the unborn child as a person at any time during pregnancy.
On January 25, CNN reporter Daniel Burke posted to his Twitter account that he had asked Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York “about calls for Gov. Cuomo to be excommunicated.” Through a spokesman, Dolan responded: “Excommunication should not be used as a weapon.” Dolan went on to explain why, despite the atrocity of a law that will send thousands of human beings to their deaths, no ecclesial penalties would be forthcoming. Apparently believing that excommunicating the governor of New York would be using such a penalty as a “weapon,” the Cardinal went on to say:
Too often, I fear those who call for someone’s excommunication, do so out of anger or frustration.
Second, notable canon lawyers have said that, under canon law, excommunication is not an appropriate response to a politician who supports or votes for legislation advancing abortion.
Read more at Crisis Magazine.