Friday, November 5, 2010

How do I excommunicate thee? Let me count the ways...

When I began my research for this posting, I thought I would write an article entitled, “101 Ways to be Excommunicated”.  Bad news.  There are well over 400 ways to be excommunicated.  Who knew?

As I researched all the ways to be ex-communicated a few things struck me.  Most of the offenses subject to excommunication have to do with teachings felt to be in conflict with the church’s teachings.  There seems to be a great pre-occupation with laity getting to know God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus the same way church leaders do, or at a minimum in a church leader approved fashion. 

Is this emphasis peculiar when viewed next to Jesus chastising the disciples for forbidding someone to cast out demons in his name just because the man wasn’t their follower?  He told the disciples, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:49-50)

He also said, “He who is not with me is against me…” (Luke 11:23) (Mark 9:38-40)  He didn’t say, “He who is not with you is against me.”  Did church leaders infer the latter?

Furthermore, I thought Jesus said at our judgment we’ll be asked if we cared for the least of his people not which dogmatic rules we invoked (Mt 25:34-46). 

Should we envision someone arriving at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter saying:

“Alice, I see you gave food and drink to the hungry and clothed the naked, gave most of your money to the poor also…but, looks like you disagreed with Pope Benedict on this clergy gender thing. So, I’m sorry; you are the weakest link.  Please go to Hell; go directly to Hell; do not pass “Go”; do not collect $200.”

Here’s something else I found curious:
  1. Reading or possessing books written by publicly named heretics carries the penalty of ex-communication.
  2. Physically attacking property of and declaring war upon papal states are subject to excommunication.
  3. Laying violent hands on a clergyman, bishop, archbishop, cardinal or pope carries excommunication.
  4. A priest who marries gets excommunicated.
  5. A priest who violates the cloister of religious women gets excommunicated.
  6. A priest who commits simony, charging money for sacramental care, gets excommunicated.
  7. A priest who sells indulgences gets excommunicated.
  8. A priest who collects stipends for Mass and then profits from that by paying to have the Mass said somewhere else that has a lower stipend gets excommunicated.
  9. However, priests who commit the grave delict of molesting children are punished, “according to the gravity of the crime”.  Excommunication for such perpetrators is not a given.
Since the punishment is more severe, should we understand this to mean church leaders believe it is a worse offense to hit a bishop than to molest a child?  Can church leaders understand how such priorities would be incredibly confusing to the faithful?  On the one hand the clergy are supposed to be pinnacles of service and humility.  On the other hand, they are so humble that delivering them physical violence is worse than doing so to a lay person?  Is a youth who hits a priest in self-defense to avoid being molested subject to ex-communication?

Should we envision another scenario at the Pearly Gates?

“Joe, I see you molested ten children and one of them committed suicide.  However, I also see you completely towed the line when regurgitating the catechism.  So, come on in!  Hors d’oeuvres are on the Lido Deck at 5:00 and the cruise director will be here to brief you on the activities schedule at 8:00.”

As an aside, the punishment for female ordination or a bishop ordaining a woman is excommunication, period.  So, this does seem to be viewed as more serious of a crime than molesting children.

It also struck me that some of the offenses subject to excommunication reflect very dated concepts.  For instance you can still get excommunicated for participating in a duel.  Am I out of touch or are duels a thing of the past?  They’re so 18th and 19th century.

You can also get excommunicated for abducting a woman for the purpose of marriage.  Do Catholic weddings still have a problem with marriages involving abducted women?  I’ve heard of women being abducted into sex slavery or into marriage in non-Catholic settings.  However, the “abducted for marriage” thing in the Catholic realm aligns with the feudal times when women were viewed as property to acquire via marriage.  Does the church still see women as marital chattel?  If not, why not revise the norms?

Aside from all the curiosities mentioned, the most confusing thing for me about excommunication is that it’s supposed to be a “medicinal” penalty.  This means church leaders believe depriving errant people the Body of Christ heals them because they will hunger enough for Christ to heal themselves by repenting. 

I can’t help but recall:

While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.  The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mt 9:10-13)

Jesus seems pretty comfortable hanging around and dining with the most despised of sinners.  Isn’t Jesus saying he is the medicine to cure sinners not a doggie treat to reward righteous people’s good behavior?   The Eucharist is considered the most perfect presence of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  As Catholics, we believe through the Eucharist we still dine with him.  Why would we withhold the Eucharist... Christ... the antidote that cures an ailing person?

Applying that kind of logic analogously to parenting, when my children had strep throat, I should have put the antibiotic on a shelf until they were cured and then administered it.  Not getting their medicine should have made them more hungry to be healed so they would be inspired to heal themselves.  Once they did that, they would be worthy of the medicine.

Is that what it means to deliver mercy, not sacrifice?


  1. Dear Ewe,

    Consider shortening your posts, this is the internet and we like things fast. Even the newspaper editorials are limited. Besides you have a lot of volume and points to comment on in one place. For example, Fact, in several parts of the world women are still be abducted for marriage. True, they are likely not Catholic so who really cares! See a subject unto itself. The UN is working very are on this "Treatment of Women" subject especially young girls.

    Another, Your heaven and hell stories are fun, but I know you and likely know your "Theology" on these is much deeper and richer. You seem to be playing at their (the Church's) level here. Go deeper, go spiritual, go beyond; the Kingdom of God is....

    BTW, isn't it an honor after a couple of centuries to have been excommunicated?

  2. Hey, thanks for the feedback.

    I'll work on making posts more snack-sized.

    Yes, women are abducted but typically a non-Catholic cultural thing. In the Catholic realm, abduction occurs more as non-marriage thing. For instance SE Asian women think they are signing up to be a domestic servant but upon arrival in foreign country learn they are actually sexual slaves. This is a problem. But seemed off point.

    According to my bishop and pastor, I've not been ex-communicated. So, I don't understand you last comment.

  3. To the point of withholding the Eucharist: what would you call requiring people to come to the banquet (Mass), but forbidding them to eat (if they've erred in certain areas). What kind of mother would do that?

  4. When so many parishes nowadays are cutting way back on the availability of Eucharist anyway, due to the shortage of clergy, how is excommunication (forbidding Eucharist) supposed to be a severe punishment???
    (PS, Ewe, I don't have any of those other signons-- eg wordpress, so I posted my initials, so as not to be a total anonymous writer).

  5. Don't you tell the kids to wash their hands before eating?

  6. My kids are adults now but yes, when they were very little I instructed them to wash. However, if washing wasn't possible, I didn't starve them. If they didn't follow my instructions about washing, I didn't withhold food. As they reached a certain age somewhere in grade school, I let them assume full hand-washing responsibility for themselves as I no longer reminded them. Thus, they could choose to wash or not wash their hands before eating. I didn't emphasize ritual purity over sustenance and the joy of breaking bread together.

    Why did I instruct my kids to wash? Because the dirt on their hands could taint their food and subsequently harm them. I don't think that the Eucharist can be corrupted by anything, not even the worst of sins. I definitely do not think that the Eucharist ever harms a person.

    Excommunication is not a "hand washing" thing. It says, "you are not welcome at the table." My children are always welcome at my table, regardless of the cleanliness state of their hands.

  7. Just wanted to add something my kid in medical school just explained to me about having clean hands all the time. "Actually, the way we build up immune resistance is by encountering pathogens. You are more likely to be sick if you don't have dirt every once in a while."

  8. By the way, the hierarchy tolerate pedophile priests' sullied hands that raped children to consecrate the Eucharist. They have not declared Masses celebrated by known pedophile priests to be invalid. Thus, they must believe the Eucharist is able to withstand encountering very, very "dirty" hands. That says a lot of the power of the Eucharist. Christ's presence among us cannot be deterred even by the consecration occurring in the hands of rapists. I'm not sure how any lay person can top that.