With the Pope endorsing excommunication for politicians who support abortion, journalists might do well to bone up on what excommunication really is all about.
Reported Time magazine's Jeff Israely on May 9:
During an unprecedented 25-minute on-flight press conference, Benedict left little room for interpretation: pro-choice politicians not only should be denied communion, but face outright excommunication from the Church for supporting "the killing of a human child."
Wow, sounds grave. It is, but a proper understanding of excommunication is as a "medicinal" not "vindictive" measure in Church discipline, according to the online Catholic encyclopedia New Advent:
Excommunication (Latin ex, out of, and communio or communicatio, communion -- exclusion from the communion), the principal and severest censure, is a medicinal, spiritual penalty that deprives the guilty Christian of all participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society. Being a penalty, it supposes guilt; and being the most serious penalty that the Church can inflict, it naturally supposes a very grave offence. It is also a medicinal rather than a vindictive penalty, being intended, not so much to punish the culprit, as to correct him and bring him back to the path of righteousness.
Yet journalists like Israely often describe the pontiff's determination on the matter as more a matter of political brinksmanship than pastoral ministry.
Witness the opening and closing sentences of Israely's May 9 article and how they paint the Pope as a political pugilist on an issue, rather than a passionate pastor (emphasis mine):
It didn't take long for Pope Benedict XVI's first trip to the Western Hemisphere to generate controversy — in fact, it started ten hours before he landed.
Telling pro-choice Catholic politicians that they risk excommunication leaves no doubt how fiercely the Pope is prepared to fight against abortion.