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Excommunication Now Rare But Hovers Over Abortion With AM-Abortion-Excommunication, Bjt

June 29, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Publicly imposed excommunication has become a rare penalty in Roman Catholicism, but it’s considered automatic for those who unrepentantly obtain abortions.

Sociological studies indicate it may apply to hundreds of thousands of Catholics in such circumstances.

It also has become a potentially explosive issue between bishops and politicians.

The penalty, barring a church member from Holy Communion and benefits of other church rites and prayers, was formally imposed this month on an abortion clinic director in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Such individually specific punishment is seldom decreed in the church these days. ″It certainly is not commonplace,″ said Sister Sharon Ewart, a canon law expert of the U.S. Catholic Conference in Washington, D.C.

However, there was a 1986 case in Providence, R.I., in which a Planned Parenthood director was publicly named as automatically excommunicated.

Other cases may seem similar, yet are different. It’s a complex, variously conditioned process.

Last November, San Diego Bishop Leo Maher barred from communion a pro- choice state senate candidate, Lucy Killea. But Ms. Killea, who was subsequently elected, wasn’t excommunicated from other church involvement.

That also is the case for an estimated 5 million to 6 million divorced and remarried Roman Catholics. Those in that category had been automatically excommunicated until a change made in 1977.

At that time, U.S. bishops, with approval of the late Pope Paul VI, revoked an 1884 decree by the American bishops automatically excommunicating divorced, remarried Catholics.

Although that no longer applies, such Catholics still are barred from communion unless they secure an annulment of previous marriages, or some other pastoral resolution of their cases.

Current church canon law No. 1398 prescribes automatic excommunication of those who secure an abortion and do not afterward change their stance - meaning that they repent and seek absolution.

Another canon, No. 1329, provides for automatic excommunication of ″accomplices″ to abortion, that is, those who enable someone to obtain an abortion who could not have done so without their help.

That canon was applied in the Corpus Christi and Providence cases, and there is considerable debate over its implications in reference to politicians who uphold laws permitting abortion.

New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor touched off a recent furor in saying such politicians were skirting grounds for excommunication.

Persons excommunicated remain baptized church members, and except in certain severe cases traditionally invoked by the pope, may continue to attend church and associate with other members.

The penalty can be lifted through confessional repentance and determination to change conduct.

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