Priest who paid for abortions will not be excommunicated

I’m sure there must be a good explanation for this — but I haven’t yet found one.

Details:

The Archdiocese of Barcelona has announced that it has no plans to excommunicate Rev. Manuel Pousa i Engroñat, having found that the Catholic priest had not had any “primary complicity” in an abortion performed on a young woman. This was despite the Spanish priest’s autobiography in which he recounts that he had actually paid for the procedure.

Known as ‘Pare Manel’ (Father Manuel, in his native Catalonian), the priest was called to book by the diocese following the publication of a book entitled Padre Manel: Closer to earth than heaven, which consists of the results of interviews with the journalist, Francesc Bouxeda. He has served more than 30 years among the poor of the Nou Barris district of Barcelona. In the book, he recalls that he paid for a young woman’s abortion, allegedly so as to avoid putting her life at risk.

Archbishop Lluis Martinez Sistach, upon learning of the revelations, directed that a canonical law inquiry be made into the matter by diocesan judicial vicars, Rev. Xavier Bastida and Rev. Juan Benito, as well as a member of the ecclesiastical tribunal, Rev. Ramon Batlle.

On April 18, released a communiqué that noted the tribunal’s finding that “Rev. Manuel Pousa i Engroñat does not appear to have incurred a canonical punishment,” as established by Canon 1398 of the Canon Law of the Catholic Church. The article in question establishes that anyone who procures an abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication. The statement from the diocese also reiterated that the well-known priest “always exercises his work of service to the poorest and most marginalized in accordance with the teachings of the Church and its social doctrine and with respect for all human life.”

There are more details here. Canon lawyer Ed Peters has also written about the case.  And CNA has more as well.

Comments

  1. The explanation is this: clericalism, pure and simple.

  2. When I studied Canon Law, it was made brutally clear to us that driving someone to the clinic knowingly, or paying for the abortion, were formal cooperation and incurred latae sententiae excommunication.

    Now, it could be that this priest has already confessed his sin and been taken back into the Church, however, if molesting a child merits laicization of a priest, then I think paying to have one murdered ought to as well.

  3. I’m not here to defend the Spanish decision, for, based on what is publicly known about this case, there simply is not enough information to conclude EITHER that CDF/Barcelona were wrong OR that they were right. But I can say that GN’s comments miss the point. (PGR’s comments don’t merit a reply.)

    The question of “formal cooperation” in another’s sin/crime is relevant to moral theology, yes, but not directly to penal canon law. Canon 1329 does not look for “formal cooperation”, but looks for, among other things, what may be called “necessary cooperation” in crime for liability to attach. They are different things. Setting aside whether the law ought to read that way, that is in fact how the law reads.

    If we had all of the essential facts of the case, we could assess it; but absent numerous important facts, all I can say is, there are ways for this to have been the right result for this case under the Code.

  4. Dr. Peters,

    1329 states:

    “§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.”

    Paying for the abortion of an impoverished individual sounds to me like the priest making the payment falls squarely into this criterion for latae sententiae excommunication, as the delict could not have been committed without such payment. If Father admitted that he payed for the abortion in a case where the woman could not have pated by herself, how is this not sufficient information to satisfy the law?

  5. that should read “payed by herself…”

  6. “…how is this not sufficient information to satisfy the law?” Fair enough, here’s two ways how: (1) do you know under what pre-conditions the abortionist worked? I don’t know what the payment policies of the abortionist/clinic were. Some places list a fee, but don’t collect it or bill it out, but either way, the procedure actually gets done without someone paying. Or again, (2) did Pousa pay the doctor, or did he reimburse the woman? There are other ways this could fall outside the law, but there’s two right off the bat, and neither of us have the facts to conclude otherwise. I could do the same thing to, say, your driver’s example, there are many ways that would not be formal, let alone necessary, cooperation.

    Again, I’m not saying CDF (who also ruled on the case, you know) or Barcelona are correct, I’m just saying, no one has yet levied any objections against the ruling that must stand based on the few facts we have.

    Okay? Best, edp.

  7. I would agree that the facts are very thin. Not everyone speaks precisely, and in real life people might describe as “paying for an abortion” situations ranging from driving the girl to the abortionist and handing the money over on the one hand, to giving a pregnant girl money and finding out later that she spent the money on an abortion. While I am scratching my head over the inquiry’s “move along nothing to see here” conclusion, I have to agree that we don’t really know what the circumstances were.

    But, Dr. Peters, if you are still around, I am curious as to the question of the statute of limitations. How can that be in issue in the case of a latae sententiae excommunication? There the excommunication is accomplished the instant the crime is committed, and persists unless and until the person repents and receives absolution, right?

  8. Chris Sullivan says:

    Dr Peters,

    Could you say more about “necessary cooperation” ?

    I interpret that as the priest paying for the abortion being “necessary” for the abortion to happen.

    My understanding, although the facts are thin, is that the impoverished girls were determined to abort by backstreet methods, the priest was presumably unable to dissuade them from aborting, and acted to minimize the harm by enabling them to at least abort in a way much less risky to the mothers.

    I think that would be per se morally licit and in accord with long standing instructions to confessors to minimize harm when they are unable to persuade someone intent on doing evil.

    In other words, the priest’s payment does not appear necessary to the crime of aborting.

    God Bless

  9. How does this case differ from that of the Sister of Mercy, Margaret McBride, who as a member of the ethics board of a Catholic hospital, had approved the abortion of a pregnant woman dying of pulmonary hypertension and too ill to transfer to another hospital?

  10. Good question, HMS. Could it have anything to do with the fact that Sr. McBride is a woman, and women are not allowed to hold positions of great authority (e.g., pope, cardinal, bishop, priest) in the church? I’d like to believe that’s not the reason; but if it isn’t the reason, what DOES distinguish the priest’s actions from the sister’s? (True, sister did not publicly repent of her sin, if indeed her decision was sinful. Yet I haven’t seen any evidence that the priest publicly repented of his sin, assuming his actions were seriously sinful.) Certainly seems like a double standard here.

  11. naturgesetz says:

    HMS — The law makes distinctions. Allowing something to happen in a facility over which one has an element of control and to be done by people over whom one has an element of control is certainly a different thing from paying for it.

    The law does not give the same treatment to everybody who has something to do with abortion, regardless of whether the connection is direct or indirect, formal or material, necessary or incidental.

    One has to be able to see distinctions in order to understand the law.

    As Dr. Peters says, maybe the law should be written differently, but that’s beside the point. People are treated differently for doing different things.

  12. HMS,

    Sister McBride made the decision to allow the abortion in her hospital. She signed the death warrant, and that merited her an automatic excommunication.

    Dr. Peters has raised the issue of whether Father’s actions were the type of cooperation that merit excommunication, and stresses the dearth of information in the case. Fair enough.

    In the Phoenix case, it became evident that Sr. McBride, et al. were allowing abortions in cases of rape/incest, etc. So she excommunicated herself several times over before the case of pulmonary hypertension in question.

  13. I am just a simple Catholic left wondering what is, is. Is it okay to feel scandalized by this? Have the tribunal just issued a way for Catholics to cooperate, formally but not necessarily in abortion without being excommunicated? Is it okay to write a book which literally brags about this cooperation? I am so sorry, I just feel like my common sense has to be shredded in order to conclude this or to accept the statement made by the diocese at the end of the blog post.

  14. naturgesetz says:

    Cathy — I think we have a right to question whether the law is well written, and to be dumbfounded by the statement of the diocese. But we also have to remember that we don’t know the whole story. God does.

  15. Sr. Margaret McBride made a medical act-of-good-conscience decision. She saved a life and saved a family of children from being motherless. She was correct morally and legally and needs not explain or clarify further to anybody.

  16. naturgesetz says:

    Frank — According to what I’ve seen about the story, she allowed one person to be killed in order to avert a high risk to another. That is not moral. You cannot morally subordinate one human life to another however much sentimentality urges you to.

  17. Naturegesetz — When all options have negative consequences the moral thing is to choose the option that is least evil/negative or has the least far-reaching negative consequence. Decisions of that nature are grounded in Catholic doctrine.

    In Sr. McBride’s case there is the added fact that it was a matter of conscience, which trumps all else, also in Catholic doctrine. It closely parallels Baptism by Desire — the wish to do the right thing.

    The importance of conscience is so highly recognized that an examination-of-conscience is a desired step before confession.

    There is no sentimentality here. I stand by what I wrote.

  18. pagansister says:

    IMO, Sr. McBride did the right thing—and the woman lived, thus making it possible to return home to take care of her other children. The facts on ths priest who was said to have paid for an abortion seem to be incomplete—whereas the situation with Sr. McBride was straight forward. IF the surgery had not been done, both would have died.

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