Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fr. Geoffrey King, SJ On The Excommunication Of Sr. Margaret Mary McBride

Abortion and excommunication

As a canonist I was taken aback by Bishop Olmstead’s declaration of a latae sententiae excommunication in the case of Sr Margaret Mary McBride. The immorality of Sr McBride’s action in giving advice that the termination of the pregnancy is at very least open to question, as Charles Curran (5 June) indicates. But I would argue on more narrowly canonical grounds that Bishop Olmstead’s declaration of a latae sententiae penalty is unjustified.
Canon 1329§2 deals with accomplices in a delict, and imposes a latae sententiae penalty only on those without whose cooperation the relevant offence would not have been committed. Laws imposing penalties must be interpreted strictly (canon 18). It seems to me that in the strict sense Sr McBride’s ethical advice was not indispensable to the termination of pregnancy.

Even if this argument were to be rejected, there would remain the even more significant list of factors that in effect excuse from a latae sententiae penalty. These are enumerated in canon 1324, and include motivation from necessity or even grave incommodum – which is a bit more than “serious inconvenience”, but still a rubric under which saving a human life would surely fall. Even if one erroneously believes that such a factor is present, it is enough to excuse from the penalty. Canon 1324§1 ends with the more general statement that one who acts without full imputability, even where the imputability remains grave, is not bound by a latae sententiae penalty (cf. canon 1324§3). Given that we are dealing with a disputed moral question, and that Sr McBride was surely motivated by the desire to save a woman’s life, her imputability surely falls short of being “full”.

Whether Sr McBride acted rightly is perhaps open to argument, but it is a huge canonical step from a wrong action to an offence meriting excommunication.

Fr. Geoffrey King, SJ

Link (here) to the Tablet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful responce, and im sure that throughout history wrong judgements are made, and unfair penalties imposed. Yet at the end of the day, the Perfect Judge, GOD ALMIGHTY, will vindicate all injustices at the Great Judgement Seat of Christ. All will be revealed, and HE makes ALL THINGS BEUTIFUL IN HIS TIME, for at the end of the day, He is A PERFECT GOD.