Cardinal Dolan Gets Canon Law Wrong On Abortion

Monica Migliorino Miller

“Ghoulish, grisly, gruesome.” These are the strong words used by Cardinal Timothy Dolan to describe the Reproductive Health Act signed on January 22 by Catholic governor of New York Andrew Cuomo that, with a broad definition of heath, permits abortion through the ninth month of pregnancy. When the cardinal appeared on Fox and Friends January 28, to his credit he thoroughly castigated Cuomo’s support, promotion, and celebration of this despicable law. Yet when pressed on the subject of excommunicating the governor, Dolan insisted that such a measure was “counter-productive.” Furthermore, he was asked whether he would impose Canon 915 on pro-abortion Catholic politicians who would be prohibited from receiving the Eucharist. Dolan responded by saying he would not publicly sanction Cuomo, or any other Catholic politician who voted for the bill.

I have already discussed the problem of Dolan’s inaction, and the inaction of bishops generally, when it comes to the scandal of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. However on the same Fox and Friends broadcast, Dolan made further egregious errors to which a response needs to be made. Towards the end of the broadcast the cardinal answered the following question submitted by a viewer: “What is the Church’s stance on a mother who gets an abortion?”

Dolan responded:

A mom who has an abortion, we’d say, “Mom, we love you. We might not, uh, particularly condone what you just did. But we love you, and, uh, we’re not about to judge you.” It used to be people who said we should excommunicate the mothers that did that. We don’t do that anymore. You’re welcome back in the Church. If you have a sense of shame and regret about what you’ve done—and I presume you might—uh, come and ask for God’s mercy and it’s yours for the asking. So the blame doesn’t need to go on the mom here… You would say that it used to be pretty clean that an abortion would cause the excommunication not only of the one who did it, [but] people who encourage it, and the one who had it. The Church in the last 50 years—beginning with, uh, Pope John Paul II and especially intensified under Pope Francis—has said, “I don’t know if that’s gospel values, here, because mercy trumps everything.” And even though we would be uncompromising, uh, in our teaching about the horror of abortion, we would also be uncompromising in our teaching about God’s mercy.

Cardinal Dolan’s response to this question is shot through with multiple errors. It gives me no pleasure to say so, but he totally misrepresented the teachings and practice of the Church regarding the canonical penalty that applies to those who cause abortion. Perhaps Dolan was overly eager to emphasize and provide a coast-to-coast teaching moment on the mercy of God. But in doing so he left doctrinal and pastoral wreckage in his wake.

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