Blog Template Theology of the Body: William T. Cavanaugh and a Case for Excommunicating Pro-Aborts

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

William T. Cavanaugh and a Case for Excommunicating Pro-Aborts

In Torture and Eucharist, Cavanaugh provides a theological justification of the decision by Latin American bishops to withhold the Eucharist from perpetrators of torture under the abusive Pinochet regime in Latin America. On the Catholic Church's understanding of abortion as a grave offense against the dignity of the human person, in the form of murder by dismemberment, we may find here a direct analogy to the decision of some American bishops to excommunicate public defenders of abortion and to require penance for those who cast a pro-abortion vote.

Cavanaugh simply proposes the application of excommunication for offenders against the human person, as designated by the Church’s extant social teaching. Cavanaugh does not seem to be advocating direct political intervention by the Church, but rather, stronger enforcement within the Church of its proper pastoral guidance of its own people. In this way, the Church remain a “supra-political plane” in excommunicating torturers in modifying one of it’s own internal practices as the community which is constituted by the Eucharist. This internal action has “revelatory” value in making otherwise hidden offenses and offenders visible both within the Church and without. Here, Cavanaugh refers to Augustine’s notion of the Church as the only true polity, since only therein is justice towards God accomplished, in that He receives the proper sacrifice that is due to Him; and on this model, the Eucharist is itself the meeting of justice and propitiation which should not be administered to the perpetrators of grave injustice.

In this way, Cavanaugh proposes that the Church, as Eucharistic community in se, can and must “intervene” in national politics by duly observing the “public performance of the true City of God in the midst of another city which is passing away.” (13) In this way, Cavanaugh presumes that the antidote to political totalitarianism, which the Chilean Church provided, is “the determined practice of the Eucharist as an act of community that knowingly situates itself over against the brutalizing reach of the state.” (ibid)

Cavanaugh's central theses on point may be summarized as follows:

1. For the Church to administer the Eucharist to torturers and murderers would be to cede to the brutalization of the bodies of the vicitm, and would also be to hand over the bodies of the perpetrators to grave harm.

2. For the Church to administer the Eucharist to torturers and murderers would indicate the Church’s acquiescence to the idea of “a prior conflict” from which the state saves us and would affirm the idea of the state as a political realm which fundamentally excludes the Body of Christ. This would mean that the Church would not not so much solve conflict as enact it. (8, 9) Furthermore, the Church would thus ‘disappear’ itself through its own ecclesiastical practice. (16)

3. The Church is the true Body of Christ, capable of enacting a counter-practice to the state via the resources of the Eucharist; as such, the Eucharist is the Church’s counter-politic against a politics of torture and abuse: “formal excommunication remembers the tortured body of Christ and anticipates judgment against the torturers, thus making visible in the present what is and is not the Church. Excommunication is one of the clearest examples of how the Eucharist is a resource for the social practice of the Church.” (263) Thus the Eucharist is a community stronger than any other nation-state; and one’s identity as a member of Christ’s Body is ultimately more important than citizenship/identity with the country of one’s birth. (18)

4. For the Church to excommunicate torturers and murderers is "to participate in a communal/public discipline of bodies (and) to be engaged in direct confrontation with the politics of the world-” (12) which is properly part of the Church's mission.