Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Has Robert Miller incurred latae sententiae excommunication?

Rob Vischer has posted below (http://www.mirrorofjustice.com/mirrorofjustice/2007/05/miller_on_excom.html )an excerpt from my colleague Robert Miller's most recent essay at First ThingsIn it, Miller argues that the Pope should have stated unequivocally that the Mexican politicians who voted to legalize first-trimester abortion do incur latae sententiae excommunication.  The sole authority on which Milles bases the legal claim is Canon 1398, which provides that "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication."  The Latin reads, "Qui abortum procurat, effectu secuto, in excommunicationem latae sententiae incurrit."  The question, then, is whether a politician voting to legalize abortion "procurat" an abortion?  The leading commentators with which I am familiar are unanimous in concluding that politicians voting for abortion do not "procure" an abortion, do not cooperate in the delict.  The experts seem to agree that however morally objectionable such politicians behavior, they do not "procurat" an abortion within the scope of Canon 1398.  Miller's reading is expansive beyond that of any commentator with whose work I am familiar.  (To be sure, politicians voting for abortion may be subject to penalties under canons not mentioned by Miller). 

But let's assume, for the sake of a hypothetical, that we adopt Miller's principle of expansive reading of the Church's penal law.  Canon 1370 provides the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication against "a person who uses physical force (vim physicam) against the Roman Pontiff."  Is the electronic communication of the the sentiment that "The pope, of all people, must be straightforward about the truth of the Gospel (Gal. 2:14)" not, on an equally expansive reading, the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff.  Voting for is to procuring, as writing and disseminating around the globe is to causing physical force?  No one can deny that quoting the Gospel against the Pope is strong (vis?) medicine.

All kidding aside, then there's Canon 1369, which provides, "A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication utters blasphemy, gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty."  Does this Canon have any bearing on quoting the Gospel against the Pope for failure to take an implausibly broad reading of a penal canon that, by the same Code of Canon Law, must be interpreted strictly (Canon 18) and cautiously (Canon 1318)? 



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