Sister McBride vs. Bishop Olmsted: Round 2
I previously discussed the case of Sister Margaret McBride, the Catholic nun who automatically excommunicated herself by being party to an abortion. This case amuses me, because it shows how truly unbiblical the Catholic Code of Canon Law is.
Catholicism, I believe, started with the best of intentions but began to heap completely unbiblical traditions onto the Gospel, and have thus become the very system that Jesus condemned as he issued his seven woes to the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:1-36).
Let’s take a quick look at what Catholic excommunication entails:
Exclusion from the communion, the principal and severest censure, is a medicinal, spiritual penalty that deprives the guilty Christian of all participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society. . . .
Excommunication, especially a jure [by law], is either latæ or ferendæ sententiæ. The first is incurred as soon as the offence is committed and by reason of the offence itself (eo ipso) without intervention of any ecclesiastical judge; it is recognized in the terms used by the legislator, for instance: “the culprit will be excommunicated at once, by the fact itself [statim, ipso facto]”. . . .
The general principle is, that whosoever is ignorant of the law is not responsible for transgressing it; and whosoever is ignorant of the penalty does not incur it. But the application of this principle is often complicated and delicate. . . .
We may now proceed to enumerate the immediate effects of excommunication. They are summed up in the two well known verses: “Res sacræ, ritus, communio, crypta, potestas, prædia sacra, forum, civilia jura vetantur,” i.e. loss of the sacraments, public services and prayers of the Church, ecclesiastical burial, jurisdiction, benefices, canonical rights, and social intercourse. . . .
All the effects that we have just enumerated are the immediate results of excommunication, but it also causes remote effects, which are not a necessary consequence and are only produced when the person censured occasions them. They are three in number: (1) The cleric who violates excommunication by exercising one of the liturgical functions of his order, incurs an irregularity ex delicto. (2) The excommunicated person who remains a year without making any effort to obtain absolution (insordescentia) becomes suspected of heresy and can be followed up and condemned as guilty of such (Council of Trent, Sess. XXV, cap. iii, De ref.; cf. Ferraris, s.v. “Insordescens”). (3) This neglect makes it the judge’s duty to deprive the excommunicated cleric of all benefices, though some judges postpone for three years the fulfilment of this obligation (see Hollweck, Die kirchlichen Strafgesetze, art. 1, note 3).
Here’s the trick: Sr. McBride incurred this penalty automatically, without a tribunal being convened to investigate the matter, as soon as she approved the abortion. If she was ignorant of the fact that this act excommunicated her automatically, then she won’t incur the penalty. But, her bishop informed her that her actions did excommunicate her, so she is now officially excommunicated.
What penalties incur automatic excommunication? The Catholic Encyclopedia either didn’t say or was maddenly unclear about that issue. According to one commenter from Jimmy Akin’s NCR blog, they are:
- Apostasy, Heresy, or Schism
- Desecration of the Eucharist
- Physical force against the Pontiff
- One who actually procures an abortion and all accomplices
- Priest who absolves a partner in adultery
- Priest who directly violates the sacramental seal of confession
Based on this list, if you absolve someone of the sin of adultery, you’re not a member of the church anymore and you lose clerical status, rights, burial, and you can’t even talk to a member of the church. But, if you touch little boys and destroy their psychological development, ability to relate normally to people, and necessitate years of therapy, you’re still a member in good standing. Gotchya.
The “right” thing to do, in the Catholic sense, was to not approve the abortion. According to what we know of the facts of this case, this would have been a death sentence for the mother, and most probably the child, since he/she was not far enough along to be sustained in the event of the mother’s death. Sr. McBride saved one life by approving this procedure.
Jesus, in Mark 11, discussed the rule of corban. “Corban” was a descriptive term for the temple treasury. If a son or daughter declared their possessions “corban,” then they didn’t have to use those things for any other purpose than to honor God. Some unscrupulous people used this to get around certain parts of the Law, as the Lord describes:
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mk 7:9-13)
This is exactly what the Code of Canon Law is doing. By heaping an unbiblical tradition on top of the Word of God, the Catholic Church is obscuring, not making clear, the correct and moral course of action.
Let’s illustrate this fact with a little thought experiment. Let’s say that two people are dangling by their pinky fingers over a 1000 ft cliff that leads to a valley filled with jagged rocks. Not a pleasant thing that’s about to happen to these guys. You wander by, and see the predicament. You are literally only going to be able to save one, because as soon as you grab either the other will lose his grip and fall.
The moral thing to do is to save the one you can.
The Catholic thing to do is to let both fall.