Did Cardinal Dolan Violate Church Law?

The background to this posting is set out @ http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2013/05/violating-natural-law-under-protest.html

There the blog managers and commentators examined a report in The New York Times that the Archdiocese of New York is (and has for a long time been) paying for health insurance that covers abortions and birth control. The news irritated a lot of readers, some of whom suggested that Cardinal Dolan, head of the Archdiocese, ought be excommunicated.

The blog referred the question to a group of canon lawyers who exonerated Cardinal Dolan on grounds explained at the Rorate Blog and summarized here below.

Did the canon lawyers reach the right conclusion?

I think not for the reasons that follow . . . adapted slightly from what I posted at Rorate.

Material Facts:

“[T]he archdiocese [Dolan] heads has quietly been paying for such coverage, albeit reluctantly and indirectly, for thousands of its unionized employees for over a decade.

The Archdiocese . . . has previously acknowledged that some local Catholic institutions offer health insurance plans that include contraceptive drugs to comply with state law; now, it is also acknowledging that the archdiocese’s own money is used to pay for a union health plan that covers contraception and even abortion for workers at its affiliated nursing homes and clinics.” /1/

Applicable Law:

Can. 1398 “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication.”

Catechism 2272: “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae, /2/ by the very commission of the offense, /3/ and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. /4/ * * *”


Paying for an abortion, as the Archdiocese does, is the equivalent of procuring an abortion. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “procuration” as “the action or an act of causing, arranging, or bringing about, esp. through an agent; authorization, instigation; prompting, contrivance; (in early use) spec. the use of improper influence; bribery, inducement.”

The “strict interpretation” defense offered by the canon lawyers  is hyper-technical, is cavilling over the 9th part of a hair. “In light of [“strict interpretation”], they say, “it is clear that while the direct procurement of an abortion is punished with a latae sententiae excommunication as per canon 1398, there is no penal sanction attached to the act of making provision for health care plans which provide abortion (much less that fund contraception).”

Here the Archdiocese, through its agents, Dolan and the other collaborators or cooperators, past and present, were procurers and thus ought to answer for their actions or inactions. Paying “under protest” hardly seems an adequate defense, but in any case the matter, at the least, ought to proceed.

And I wonder how many were killed by this seeming moral indifference.–Judge Bartley


/1/ From http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/27/nyregion/new-york-archdiocese-reluctantly-paying-for-birth-control.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1

/2/ “Someone directly involved in a completed abortion is “automatically” excommunicated. In Latin, this is called a “latae sententiae” excommunication — that it happens automatically by the law itself.” * * *

Ferendae sententiae excommunications are those imposed as a result of the intervention of Church authority. Depending on the delict and the circumstances, this might be done by a diocesan bishop through an administrative procedure, through a Church Tribunal, or by the Vatican by either administrative procedure or a Tribunal. The authority involved and the means used (either executive or judicial authority) depends on the delict and the circumstances.” http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?number=481429&Pg=&Pgnu=&recnu= (Father Mark J. Gantley, JCL on 9/27/2006

If Dolan were not subject to automatic excommunication, the case could, I believe, still proceed under Can. 1329 §1-2. “If ferendae sententiae penalties are established for the principal perpetrator, those who conspire together to commit a delict and are not expressly named in a law or precept are subject to the same penalties or to others of the same or lesser gravity.

§2. Accomplices who are not named in a law or precept incur a latae sententiae penalty attached to a delict if without their assistance the delict would not have been committed, and the penalty is of such a nature that it can affect them; otherwise, they can be punished by ferendae sententiae penalties.”

/3/ Reference Note : 78 CIC, can. 1314.

/4/ Reference Note : 79 Cf. CIC, cann. 1323-1324.

Published in: on May 30, 2013 at 7:12 am  Leave a Comment  

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