Sunday, January 8, 2023


By Tim Rohr

Catholic Church Law (Canon Law) addresses abortion only once.  And from 1983, when the revised code was first promulgated, until Dec. 8, 2021, the code at Can. 1398 stated: 

A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

The Latin phrase "latae sententiae" means "a sentence already passed," or more popularly: "automatic," i.e. an automatic excommunication due to the act itself without any further action by ecclesial authority. 

In other words, no letter from your bishop is necessary. 

Can. 1398 does not address politicians who support abortion or anyone else involved in the abortion. It only addresses the person who directly procured the abortion. 

So where does the idea that pro-abortion politicians should be excommunicated come from since it appears only the mother can willfully "procure" an abortion?

Up until Dec. 8, 2021 (and we will discuss what changed in 2021 in a bit) it came from a combination of the afore-referenced Can. 1398 and another canon which does not mention abortion but sets forth a familiar legal principle:

Can. 1329 §2. Accomplices who are not named in a law or precept incur a latae sententiae penalty attached to a delict if without their assistance the delict would not have been committed, and the penalty is of such a nature that it can affect them; otherwise, they can be punished by ferendae sententiae* penalties.

*"sentence to be passed"

This should be familiar because accomplices to a crime under most secular law systems are just as guilty as the actual perpetrator. (Remember the word "actual" for later.)

The question is whether or not a pro-abortion politician is an accomplice to the crime of abortion - as said crime is defined by the Catholic Church - and should said pro-abortion politician, if Catholic, be excommunicated?

The answer - at least until 2021 - was a pretty hard "yes." 

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict one year later, and as then-Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, weighed in definitively on this matter when a pro-abortion Catholic, John Kerry, became the Democratic nominee for the office of U.S. President.

Said Ratzinger:

Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person's formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

Bringing the matter closer to home (Guam), there is a question of whether or not Governor Lou Leon Guerrero can or should be excommunicated for vetoing the Heartbeat Act. 

The answer, in this writer's opinion, and pursuant to Ratzinger's instruction,  is "no." 

Vetoing a bill is not "campaigning and voting for (a) permissive abortion... law." In fact, vetoing a bill that still permits the killing of unborn children up until a fetal heartbeat is detected could be construed as functionally a "pro-life" act - that is, of course, if you didn't know Lou Leon Guerrero. 

LLG's real excommunicable act - in this writer's opinion - is her very public use of the governor's office - not to mention our tax dollars - to solicit, recruit, and procure abortion doctors to come to Guam to perform abortions after the last abortion clinic in Guam closed in 2018 - which happened to coincide with LLG's first election as governor. 

While it could be argued that said efforts by Gov. LLG (via the Bureau of Woman Affairs and her abortion-lieutenant, Jayne Flores) is neither "campaigning" nor "voting for...permissive abortion laws," it can JUST AS JUSTLY be argued that LLG is using the full force of her public office to promote and provide abortions. 

However, no one, to my knowledge, has objected - from the Catholic pulpit - about LLG's hard abortion advocacy...even though LLG's virulent advocacy for abortion has not only been obvious since her elevation to the office of Governor, but has been very public since at least 1990, when LLG backed Atty. Anita Arriola, in attacking and successfully suing the Government of Guam for enacting "Belle's Bill." 

However...and this is a big HOWEVER, the real reason we may not have heard anything from the pulpit may be due to Pope Francis, in 2021, adding a single word to Can. 1398 (which he renumbered as Can. 1397 §2. )

That canon now reads:

A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

Compare the 2021 canon to the original 1983 canon:

A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

The addition of the word "actually" changes things a bit...or a lot. Before proceeding, copied here is a short commentary on the change:

The Vatican’s English translation of the new norms deviates from the currently approved English translation of the canon on abortions and excommunication. The translation change is likely to be appreciated for emphasizing directly the person to whom a latae sententiae excommunication for abortion actually applies.

The old translation of canon 1398 said that “a person who procures a completed abortion” incurs such a penalty.

While canonists have emphasized in recent years that “procurement” refers to a person undergoing, funding directly, or performing an abortion, numerous popular commentators have at times argued that canon 1398 could also apply to politicians supporting legal protection or state funding for abortion, given that they might be considered to have remote moral participation in particular abortions.

The new Vatican translation of the norm, which in the official Latin edition remains the same, makes an effort to thwart that argument, and to state more clearly the intended meaning of the canon: Renumbered as canon 1397 §2, the canon’s translation adds a crucial word: “A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.” 

Incredibly, Pope Francis - despite his demonstrable liberal sympathies for women - with his amending and renumbering of Can. 1398, functionally relieves all accomplices to abortion - including politicians - and lays the blame completely on the person who "actually procures an abortion," which could only be the mother (if said mother proceeded under complete free will). 

As an aside, the word "completed" was deleted from the now-renumbered Canon 1398. 

This may be one of the "pro's" to the amendment of the subject canon since - on its face - the previous wording inadvertently allowed for the still full communion of anyone who formally or materially participated in the intentional death of a defenseless, innocent human being - a baby - in the event that said "baby" survived" a failed abortion, i.e. not "completed."

No matter. LLG would want that child dead anyway

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