Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, rising star of the Catholic right, has ruffled the dovecotes of the Catholic left with a broadside published on the First Things website, addressing the issue of excommunication for pro-choice politicians and those who support them. Of particular concern to him is the group called Roman Catholics for Obama ’08.
Let’s be clear how far Chaput and company have raised the stakes. For them, it is not sufficient for Catholics to say that they support a politician despite his or her pro-choice position. They
also need a compelling proportionate reason to justify it. What is a “proportionate” reason when it comes to the abortion issue? It’s the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life—which we most certainly will. If we’re confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.
(Not to be flip here, but does Chaput also expect to be meeting unbaptized miscarriages face to face in the next life?)
Catholic conservatives have decided to take their stand on a piece of ecclesiastical law known as Can. 915:
Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.
On their reading, supporting pro-choice politicians is manifest grave sin, and even pro-life public figures like Bob Casey, Jr. and Douglas Kmiec, by refusing to stop backing, say, Barack Obama, ought to be refused holy communion.
Whether Catholic prelates of as high or higher stature than Chaput will say this nay remains to be seen. What’s clear, however, is that the Catholic right regards with exceeding concern the readiness of some prominent pro-life Catholics (including some women religious) to publicly support the Democratic presidential candidate. Like the Dobsons of the evangelical world, they seem to regard it as anathema for a pro-choice Democrat to vie for the votes of the faithful.