A bishop’s power of excommunication in grave cases is like that of a doctor who cuts off a diabetic patient from sugar, Bishop of Bend, Oregon Robert Vasa has said. Explaining the practice, he noted that excommunication is an act of charity intended to instruct a wayward Catholic about the gravity of his or her situation.
Writing in his Jan. 7 column for the Catholic Sentinel, Bishop Vasa noted that bishops are “extremely reluctant” to take the step of excommunication.
Accusations of abuse of power towards bishops who talk about excommunication are “unfair,” the bishop said.“Excommunication is a declaration, based on solid evidence, that the actions or public teachings of a particular Catholic are categorically incompatible with the teachings of the Church,” he explained. “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.”
Bishop Vasa added that a secondary reason for the practice is to assure the faithful that what they believe to be Catholic teaching is true and correct.
“Allowing their faith to be shaken or allowing them to be confused when Catholics publicly affirm something contrary to faith or morals, seemingly without consequences, scandalizes and confuses the faithful. This is no small matter.”
The bishop noticed that he receives “a significant number” of messages from supportive Catholics when he speaks on matters of morality and discipline. Further, allowing public error to stand without comment is “discouraging” to faithful Catholics and may give the impression that the error is condoned by the bishop and the Church.
He compared excommunication to a doctor’s treatment of a diabetic patient.
“Accusing the doctor of being a tyrannical power monger would never cross anyone’s mind,” he noted. When a doctor “excommunicates” a diabetic man from sugar, Bishop Vasa explained, “it is clear that his desire is solely the health of his patient.”
Any doctor who encouraged a diabetic patient in destructive habits, he noted, would be “grossly negligent and guilty of malpractice.”
Bishops must tell the faithful when they are gravely wrong and out of communion with the Catholic faith, he said.
“In serious cases, and the cases of misled Catholic public officials are often very serious, a declaration of the fact that the person is de facto out of communion may be the only responsible and charitable thing to do,” the bishop added.
Not naming an error for fear of causing offense is not compassionate or charitable, he continued.
“Confronting or challenging the error or evil of another is never easy yet it must be done,” Bishop Vasa concluded his Catholic Sentinel column.
“In an era when error runs rampant and false teachings abound, the voice of the Holy Father rings clear and true. The teachings of the Church are well documented and consistent. 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.”