Prepare thyself for the stupidest thing you will read today!

Ron Modras, professor of theological studies at St. Louis University and author of Ignatian Humanism, writes at the National Catholic Reporter about the rash of excommunications. It is so singularly stupid that I don’t know if I should be outraged or sorry. A sampling…

…But then last year a former canon law professor at the University of Freiburg, Hartmut Zapp, decided to challenge the church tax. He declared that he was leaving the Catholic church as a legal institution but remaining in it as a community of faith. Fearing a precedent and the potential loss of millions of euros, the Freiburg archdiocese rejected the distinction: One either left the church or did not, all or nothing at all. In May this year, a German court agreed that it was up to church authorities to decide. Zapp is now declared by church and state as having left the Catholic church. That makes him a schismatic and an excommunicate.

I first began thinking about excommunication when friends of mine attended the ordination of two women in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement in February in Sarasota, Fla. I pointed out to them, after the fact, that the Florida papers quoted the local bishop as saying that Catholics who participated in the event were excommunicated. The response of my friends, both of whom are weekly communicants, was a dismissive wave of the hand. Oh, just like that abortion case in Brazil, where everyone was excommunicated except the rapist.

if a girl becomes the victim of a date rape and takes the morning-after pill, is she excommunicated? And if so, why is she excommunicated and not the rapist? Or is she excommunicated? Is Zapp now excommunicated for leaving the church as an institution but not as a community of faith? Does opting out of paying his church taxes endanger his immortal soul? Was McBride excommunicated, if she made her difficult gut-wrenching decision with prayer and a good conscience? According to Catholic tradition, the answer is no.

When bishops declare Catholics excommunicated, they make the presumption that the alleged offenders were deliberately violating their consciences, acting in bad faith and therefore committing a grievous sin. But no one, no bishop, can presume to judge another person’s conscience. The Second Vatican Council described conscience as the “sanctuary” where the individual “is alone with God” (Gaudium et spes). In the opinion of Thomas Aquinas, we are bound to follow our consciences, even when in error, even if it means excommunication.

It goes on and on like this.

A commenter responded:

This article is riddled with flaws. The virtue of excommunication does not have anything to do with its practical effects. In other words, excommunications are not levied to bring about some practical end. An excommunication simply signals that a rupture has occurred in the Body of Christ, either through a member’s grave sin or through a violation of the Church’s disciplinary norms. As numerous theologians have pointed out, then, it’s not really precise to talk about a Bishop excommunicating someone, as if the Bishop had arbitrarily made the decision on his own. More precisely, members of the Church automatically excommunicate themselves through actions that violate existing norms. Building on this point, the validity of said norms does not depend on whether or not a certain number of Catholics honor them. In all ages of the Church, there have been and will be a large number of the baptized who live in unrepentant sin or who willfully live in discord with Church teaching. The Church’s task is to faithfully transmit and teach the totality of revelation. She cannot guarantee that a certain percentage of her children will follow this teaching, any more than a parent can guarantee that her children will never rebel after they reach an age of maturity.

And yet another commenter warned that even reading NC Reporter that a Catholic may incur latae sententiae excommunication.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I haven’t the time right now to point out all the flaws in the piece, but feel free to do so…