- Published on Tuesday, 16 August 2011 06:34
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2035
To a devout Catholic, excommunication means that you have been condemned to hell even before you die. You are publicly convicted of a mortal sin with no chance of forgiveness. So if you are a believer, this is the worst thing that could happen to you - worse than death. The only good news is that it can be reversed - you can be un-excommunicated if you repent and get the bishop (or pope) to accept you back into the fold! But let's stop and think about this - for excommunication to have any effect, you have to continue believing that the only way you are going to be "saved" and get to heaven is via the Catholic Church and its sacraments. Of course, in today's world, unless you are a person recognizable anywhere, you can simply go to another Church - maybe in another town - and continue on as before. There is no register of Catholics that is accessible world-wide! So excommunication only works if you believe in it.
But you were most likely excommunicated in the first place because you did something that you believed in but that the Church condemned - e.g. that women have equal rights to be ordained. Take the case of Sister Margaret McBride. As administrator of a Catholic Hospital, she allowed an abortion to save a mother's life. She simply chose the right moral thing to do even though it was against Church dogma. What would you have done? If she now goes to confession and says she made a mistake, she can be allowed back. Or she can tell her local priest she did that somewhere else and will be allowed back. I know what I'd do. Quite farcical. [By the way, the Catholic teaching on this would be to "do nothing" which doctors said would give the mother close to zero chance of living so both mother & foetus would die].
For Sister Margaret, this incident will cause her to think. If the Church can be so wrong, is it just the local bishop who has screwed up? Is it the rules that don't work? Isn't the Church supposed to be guided by God? Where is He? I'm sure Sister Margaret has joined the millions of Catholics doubting the faith they have had in their Church. As a minimum, they will say something like "It's mostly right but I can't accept everything they say". Some will take it further like the many thousands in Germany who have explicitly left their Church (180,000 in 2010 Deutshe Welle). But once there is one dogma that the Church teaches that is wrong, it's easy to believe that there are more.
In earlier centuries, the Pope and his bishops were seen as having a direct connection to God so if they said you were wrong and doomed, then you were. These days, with virtually everyone having a custom religion and choosing what to believe - is there anyone left who gives them any credibility? If the Pope speaks, it's seen by most - even most Catholics - as interesting but not much more. He is just a man with an opinion.
I think it's interesting to look at a list of public excommunications. Here are some taken from a longer list on Wikipedia
- Margaret McBride, a nun, for allowing an abortion that doctors deemed medically necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension.
- Members of multiple organizations in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska were excommunicated by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz in March 1996 for promoting positions he deemed "totally incompatible with the Catholic faith". (e.g. Call to Action and Pro-Choice groups)
- Father Marek Bozek and the lay parish board members of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in St. Louis, Missouri in December 2005 were declared guilty of the ecclesiastical crime of schism by then Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke.
- The Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in Brazil, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, announced the automatic excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine year old girl who had an abortion after being raped and impregnated by her stepfather.
- Bishops in China who joined the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and ordained bishops without papal approval.
- John XXIII excommunicated Fidel Castro in 1962
- Pius XII excommunicated all Catholic supporters of Communism.
Do any of these people care? Or if they do, do they really think they are doomed to hell? And do all Catholics agree that these people should have been excommunicated?