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Archbishop Burke: No Communion or Church Funeral for Pro-Choice Catholics

By       Message Thomas Farrell       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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<Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) November 9, 2009 -- Is the Roman Catholic Church un-American? Does it presume to deny political free speech to American Catholics -- not just to Catholic voters but also to Catholic politicians? Or is it just a minority view of certain Catholics that pro-choice Catholic politicians and voters should be excommunicated and denied a church funeral?

The November 16th issue of Time magazine calls attention to the views of Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke, an expert in canon law, and his fans. At the present time, he holds a Vatican post. His official title is Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. In effect, he is the chief justice of the high-ranking judicial body. In the past, he served as archbishop of St. Louis and as bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

In St. Louis, Burke gained notoriety for his outspoken views regarding the outspoken views of American Catholics who had dared to endorse pro-choice political views, which are contrary to the official views of the Roman Catholic Church on abortion. His basic argument centers on the charge of scandal -- the supposed scandal to other American Catholics of endorsing views that are different from the official views of the Roman Catholic Church.

According to Burke, American Catholics who are pro choice are giving scandal to Catholics who are against abortion when the pro-choice Catholics make their views known in public, so that antiabortion Catholics come to know about their pro-choice views. Naughty, naughty pro-choice Catholics. According to Burke, they should be punished. For example, pro-choice American Catholic politicians should be denied communion at Mass and also be denied a church funeral when they die. Yes, Burke is on record as saying that Senator Ted Kennedy should have been denied a church funeral. Burke is quoted in Time as saying at a September 18th dinner in Washington that "neither Holy Communion nor funeral rites should be administered to [pro-choice] politicians" (p. 36). Other than the late Senator Kennedy, other pro-choice Catholic politicians include Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Nancy Pelosi, among others.

But wait! What exactly is the binding status of the Catholic Church's views on abortion? No pope has ever spoken ex cathedra about abortion. In short, the ban on abortion has not been defined ex cathedra as binding in conscience on all Catholics everywhere. In plain English, the ban on abortion is debatable. As a result, the Catholic Church's ban on abortion is circumscribed, not absolute. Therefore, Burke's argument about supposed scandal is a bogus argument at best, because the ban has not been dined as universally binding.

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Moreover, the Catholic Church's ban on abortion is based on dubious moral reasoning. The underlying premise behind the ban was set forth in Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae" in which he reaffirmed the Catholic Church's dubious ban against all forms of artificial contraception. The basic argument for banning artificial contraception is that the act of conjugal intercourse should be open to God's possible creative act of conception. In short, nothing should close off this possibility. But we may wonder why not. Shouldn't the woman have the right to say "yes" or "no" to God's possible initiative in bringing about conception through natural means? But if the woman has no choice in the matter, isn't her conception tantamount to rape by God against her free consent to conception?

But the argument for leaving the conjugal act open to God's initiative makes the process of conception smack of fate, a pre-Christian view of life. Over against the idea of fate, the Christian tradition of thought has for centuries emphasized the idea of free choice in any given set of circumstances. In light of the paramount importance of free choice in determining culpability, on the one hand, and, on the other, moral merit, the reasoning of the encyclical "Humanae Vitae" should be expunged from the record and replaced by the idea that the woman should have free choice in whether or not to accept conception. It's her body. So it should be her call.

Next, we need to consider the infrahuman lifeform that emerges at the moment of conception, the zygote. Not all zygotes that come into existence go on to become embryos embedded in a woman's womb. Natural processes regularly lead to the destruction of some zygotes and embryos, just as natural processes can later lead to the destruction of a fetus. However, in addition to natural processes that can lead to the destruction of these infrahuman lifeforms, there are also processes initiated through deliberate human agency that can lead to the destruction of these infrahuman lifeforms during the first trimester of the pregnancy. By definition, the destruction of these infrahuman lifeforms during the first trimester involves abortion, the aborting of infrahuman lifeforms.

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But is it murder to destroy infrahuman lifeforms through deliberate human agency during the first trimester, as certain Catholic antiabortion subversives claim? No, it is not. Let me explain why not. By definition, murder involves the deliberate taking of an innocent human life through human agency. In accord with this definition, the state's use of capital punishment is not murder because the life that is deliberately taken is not an innocent human life. The executed person has been found guilt through the due processes of the law of crimes that are punishable by capital punishment. This puts an enormous burden of proof on the state. In recent years we have seen a number of death-row convictions overturned through DNA evidence. As those cases show, the death penalty should arguably be used sparingly. Life sentences without the possibility of parole might be used instead. But the infrahuman lifeform during the first trimester can be presumed to be innocent of any crimes that would be punishable by the death penalty.

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized about during the first trimester was revolutionary in granting to women the legal right to deliberately terminate their pregnancies during the first trimester. This ruling was based on the idea that it is her body, so it is her choice to carry the pregnancy to term, or to terminate it during the first trimester. Moreover, the ruling legalized abortion in the first trimester on the presupposition that the infrahuman lifeform is not a fully human lifeform. To repeat, the deliberate destruction of a fully human lifeform through human agency is by definition murder. But the ruling did not legalize murder, because the infrahuman lifeform that is destroyed during the first trimester is not a fully human lifeform.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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