Cardinal Francis George of Chicago
(Photo from Archdiocese of Chicago Web site)

Catholic members of Congress who vote for the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) could face “automatic excommunication” if the act is determined to be “formal cooperation” in the evil of abortion.

When asked last week whether a Catholic politician voting for the FOCA – which would impose nationwide abortion on demand and government funding of abortion – would incur automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said the question would need to be discussed once the actual language of the bill was known.

George is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

In order to be considered in the next Congress, which convenes in January, the Freedom of Choice Act needs to be reintroduced. In the current Congress, it has been sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

At a press conference at the fall meeting of the USCCB held in Baltimore last week, asked Cardinal George if the language in the Catholic Catechism that says “formal cooperation” in abortion incurs the penalty of excommunication would apply to a Catholic member of Congress voting for FOCA.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense and the church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life,” asked.

“If openly Catholic politicians vote for this Freedom of Choice Act, which would pretty much allow unfettered access to abortion in the United States, would it be an automatic grounds for excommunication? But even if it’s not automatic … could you just explain the process of the excommunication?” added.

“The excommunication is automatic if that act is in fact formal cooperation, and that is precisely what would have to be discussed once you would see the terms of the act itself,” responded George.

“Could you expand on that, Cardinal,” a reporter asked.

“The categories in moral theology about cooperating in evil, which make you complicit in the evil even though you don’t do it yourself, are material cooperation, which is usually remote and therefore doesn’t involve you in the moral action except in a very auxiliary and minor way, and formal cooperation, which would involve you even though you are not doing it, in the way that makes you culpable,” said George.

“So we would have to take a look at each case, and at each law, to determine whether or not the cooperation is material or formal. We’ve never done that,” he added.

President-elect Barack Obama promised in his campaign to sign FOCA. As introduced in the current Congress, FOCA denies all federal, state and local governments the power to interfere with a woman’s “choice” to abort a baby, and prohibits “discriminating against the exercise of those rights in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.”

On behalf of all the American Catholic bishops, Cardinal George put out a stern statement last Thursday warning the incoming Obama administration not to push forward with FOCA.

“A good state protects the lives of all. Legal protection for those members of the human family waiting to be born in this country was removed when the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973,” said George on behalf of the bishops.

“This was bad law. The danger the Bishops see at this moment is that a bad court decision will be enshrined in bad legislation that is more radical than the 1973 Supreme Court decision itself,” he said.

“In the last Congress, a Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) was introduced that would, if brought forward in the same form today, outlaw any ‘interference’ in providing abortion at will. It would deprive the American people in all fifty states of the freedom they now have to enact modest restraints and regulations on the abortion industry,” said George.

“FOCA would coerce all Americans into subsidizing and promoting abortion with their tax dollars. It would counteract any and all sincere efforts by government and others of good will to reduce the number of abortions in our country.

“Parental notification and informed consent precautions would be outlawed, as would be laws banning procedures such as partial-birth abortion and protecting infants born alive after a failed abortion. Abortion clinics would be deregulated,” said George.

“The Hyde Amendment restricting the federal funding of abortions would be abrogated. FOCA would have lethal consequences for prenatal human life,” he said.

“FOCA would have an equally destructive effect on the freedom of conscience of doctors, nurses and health care workers whose personal convictions do not permit them to cooperate in the private killing of unborn children,” George continued.

“It would threaten Catholic health care institutions and Catholic Charities. It would be an evil law that would further divide our country, and the Church should be intent on opposing evil. On this issue, the legal protection of the unborn, the bishops are of one mind with Catholics and others of good will.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.”

Fr. Frank Pavone of the Priests for Life told “Any legislator who would vote for such an extreme piece of pro-abortion legislation [FOCA], and any executive who would sign it or judge who would uphold it, or even a citizen who would lobby in any way in favor of it, would be committing a serious sin, objectively speaking. It is cooperation with evil in a totally unjustified way.”

Pavone said that the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law lays out multiple conditions which must be met before an automatic excommunication occurs. “This really becomes a legal question that would require analyzing those conditions in an actual situation, and it is a step removed from the more clear-cut case of a person actually performing or undergoing the procedure [of abortion],” he said.

Dr. Mark Miravalle, a theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, said of a Catholic politician voting for FOCA, “I think you would have to conclude that it would be a formal act, a formal cooperation [in the act of abortion].”

The purpose of FOCA, he continued, “is to ensure the right of a woman to have an abortion.”

One theoretical case where it would not be formal cooperation, but material, he said, was if the politician was pro-life at heart but did not favor legislation as the way to overturn abortion. Miravalle said, however, that such a case would be an "extremely rare and almost entirely theoretical impossibility, given the gravity of the legislation."

Noting that FOCA involves not only greater access to abortion, but also government funding of abortion, Miravalle said “to vote for that [FOCA], means you’re voting for an intention of a woman to have an abortion and to fund that.” If a politician intends to fund abortions, which is what FOCA would do, it would be considered formal cooperation with abortion, he said.

When asked what the church would do about a Catholic politician voting for FOCA, Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco said the bishops need to challenge themselves and the lay faithful in their respective dioceses to fight FOCA.

“So we really need to make our case,” he said, “and we need to do it early and often, with the members of Congress as well as with the new administration.”

In reply to the question of individual Catholic politicians voting for FOCA, he referred to a 2004 statement by the U.S. Bishops. “It says that we should not give a platform to people who do this, we should not give awards, we should not feature them,” he said.

“But with regard to Holy Communion we all teach the same thing, about it being a cooperation in evil to vote in favor of pro-choice legislation, but it is left up to the pastoral sensitivity and responsibility of the individual bishop to interact with those officeholders in his own diocese.”

“The approach always entails saying that this is cooperation in what is evil,” Niederauer concluded.

Niederauer’s archdiocese includes the congressional district of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is Catholic.

When asked about a pro-abortion Catholic politician seeking to receive Holy Communion, Dr. Mark Miravalle said, “Canonically, based on scandal, and based on proper protection of the Eucharist, no pro-abortion, pro-choice Catholic politician should be admitted to receive Holy Communion.”

Catholics Who Vote for Freedom of Choice Act Could Face Automatic Excommunication
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
By Matt Hadro