The Merciful Act of Excommunication

Whether cohabiting couples, out and proud gays, “social” alcoholics, serial monogamists, or persons engaged in any one of the number of socially acceptable sins, they are members in churches—maybe yours—who have gone unchallenged for behaviors and lifestyles that are incongruent with Scripture and Church teaching; and many are in leadership roles.

Most egregious are Catholic and other Christian public officials who, in open defiance of plain and unambiguous Church teaching, not only support abortion but vow to use the full force of their office to undermine and remove any protections to the unborn. If the unapologetic promoters and enablers of the wholesale taking of innocent human life are not excommunicable, no one is.

Those who claim otherwise, suggesting that to deny communion to unrepentant pro-choice politicians is to act like a politician rather than a pastor, have it exactly backward. It is the pastor who continues to administer them the Sacrament that allows his pastoral care to be influenced by politics, both outside and inside the Church.

According to a recent Pew Center poll, about one-half of self-identified Christians, including 55 percent of Catholics, say that abortion should be legal in “all/most cases.” What’s more, over one-half of the nearly one million abortions per year are performed on self-identified Christians, and 24 percent on Catholics. Thus, the pastor who considers bringing a prominent public figure under Church discipline knows that he risks offending and alienating a large swath of his parish.

The possibility that such actions could lead to further hemorrhaging in a Church that has already experienced a 20 percent decline in membership since 2000 is certainly not lost on Pope Francis. Rather than speak with moral clarity on the issue, the pope, in characteristic ambiguity, has suggested that those who would excommunicate the unrepentant are acting Pharisaical by placing adherence to Church doctrine over the law of mercy.

But discipline and mercy are not at cross purposes as the pope and others seem to think. To the contrary, the law of mercy demands Church discipline up to and including excommunication for the willful and unrepentant offender of Church doctrine. It is a principle rooted in Genesis.

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