Thursday January 7, 2010

Bishop Vasa Affirms Church’s Use of Excommunication

By Matthew Anderson

BAKER, Oregon, January 7, 2010 ( – Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker Oregon has written a column in the diocesan Catholic newspaper defending the Catholic Church’s teaching on and use of excommunication.

The article by the outspoken and deeply pro-life bishop aims to show that the practice is motivated by mercy and charity, and that the bishops who resort to its use are not “tyrannical power mongers,” contrary to the typical mainstream media treatment of the subject.

Rather, he explains that the first purpose of excommunication is for the good of the person being excommunicated. “It is intended primarily as a means of getting the person who is in grave error to recognize the depth of his error and repent,” says Vasa.

Vasa says that the declaration itself does not cause the excommunication, but rather, by excommunicating somebody, the bishop “only declares that the person is excommunicated by virtue of the person’s own actions. The actions and words, contrary to faith and morals, are what excommunicate.”

Using medical imagery, Vasa explains that just as it is not good for a doctor to allow a patient with diabetes to continue eating sugar, so also a bishop cannot let a Catholic who is in error remain so. It is the duty of the doctor to prescribe the proper medication and “accusing the doctor of being a tyrannical power monger would never cross anyone’s mind,” says Vasa.

“In fact, a doctor who told his diabetic patient that he could keep ingesting all the sugar he wanted without fear would be found grossly negligent and guilty of malpractice.

In the same way, bishops who recognize a serious spiritual malady and seek a prescription to remedy the error, after discussion and warning, may be required to simply state, ‘What you do and say is gravely wrong and puts you out of communion with the faith you claim to hold.’ ”

Further, Vasa also explains that excommunication guards the rest of the faithful from falling into the same error as the excommunicated. If a person is allowed to publicly dissent from the Catholic faith, Vasa says that other Catholics may become confused as to what the Church actually teaches.

“When that moral error is espoused publicly by a Catholic who, by the likewise public and external act of receiving Holy Communion, appears to be in ‘good standing’ then the faithful are doubly confused and doubly discouraged. In that case, the error is certainly not refuted. Furthermore, the impression is given that the error is positively condoned by the bishop and the Church. This is very discouraging to the faithful.”

Thus, Vasa says that excommunication is a practice that at certain times must be employed by bishops to guard the rest of their flock. He says that the Church and bishops have the two-fold responsibility of defending the faith and protecting the faithful, which sometimes involves excommunicating dissident Catholic. He says, though, that “we do not generally see the dissidence of public figures as something that harms the faithful but it has a deleterious effect upon them.”

“The Lord has called bishops to be shepherds. That shepherding entails both leading and protecting… Bishops and the pastors who serve in their Dioceses have an obligation both to lead their people to the truth and protect them from error.”

The subject of excommunication gained national attention late last year when Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island publicly acknowledged that he had asked Rep. Patrick Kennedy to refrain from receiving communion. Though Tobin never excommunicated Kennedy, the incident was enough to respark debate over the practice.

To read the column in full, click here.

See related coverage:

Bishop Vasa: Pro-Abortion Candidates are “Disqualified” – Clarifies “Faithful Citizenship”

American Bishop: Catholic Disobedience on Contraception has caused “Tremendous Harm to Society”