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Colman McCarthy Misinformed about Excommunication

Letter to the Editor

(Please note this letter appeared in THE CATHOLIC STANDARD dated July 19, 1990.)

Maybe the taking of human life in abortion is a kind of poker for Colman McCarthy (WASHINGTON POST, July 8, “Calling the Cardinal’s Bluff”), but for others, it is a deadly serious matter.

Looking at the secular newspapers, most reporters who write about religion do not have an informed understanding of the Catholic faith and, in Colman’s case,  what excommunication means.

Playing the minor theme of anti-life people, “Personally I am opposed, but…” and the failed Nuremberg defense, “My boss made me do it– I didn’t want to” (read “constituents” for “boss”), Colman says he is against violently taking human life, but he is in favor of keeping it quiet.  In other words, do not disturb the people, just the babies.

To understand a little of what excommunication is, one has to understand what the Church is.  It is not a building or a club or an agreed-upon philosophy or just a listing of tenets.  It is a union with Christ, and not just Christ the individual, but Christ the community.

St. Paul has beautiful references to Christ being the Head and we His members.  We are personally in relationship with Christ but also incorporated into the whole Christ, the Church.

The reading on Sunday, July 8, 1990 says that the Spirit of God lives in you.  Excommunication has as its purpose both healing and remedy.  What the Church is saying is perhaps you do not realize how far you have strayed from the Spirit of Christ.  How can you live in Christ and Christ in you if you advocate killing His children?  “Let the children come unto me.”

Excommunication is instructive.  What it says is that God cannot possibly live in you if you advocate the killing of His little ones.  Those who do so, in effect, excommunicate themselves.  They walk away (by their own choice) from the community, which is Christ.

A bishop has the responsibility to instruct.  Through his predecessors he was instructed by Christ to  “teach all I have commanded you,” especially if we do not realize how far we have strayed.  If we are to be our brother’s keeper, if we are to practice fraternal correction (Matthew 19:15-18), how much more responsibility has our father in faith, the bishop, as he lets his children know how far they have strayed by their own choice and conduct from Christ (the Church).  Of course, if you do not have the gift of faith, you won’t understand that at all.

As far as being harsh, I would accept the bishop’s warning as gentler and kinder than those of Scripture.  “You are whited sepulchres, attractive on the outside but inwardly full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27).  Because you “are neither hot nor cold… I begin to spew you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15).

Thank you, bishop, for taking on the added burden and criticism for cautioning your faithful as to just how far they have strayed from home.

Msgr. William J. Awalt
Pastor, St. Ann Parish
Washington, DC