A writer who wrote a Washington Post op-ed piece arguing against the U.S. bishops’ criticism of voters who support pro-abortion politicians and ended his article with a curse of the bishops could face canonical penalties for inciting hatred against the bishops.
Joe Feuerherd, a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, attacked the bishops’ statement “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post. In their statement, the bishops noted that voters’ political decisions could affect their salvation.
Feuerherd also criticized the bishops’ efforts to ensure the worthy reception of Holy Communion in the case of pro-abortion politicians who attend Mass.
While describing himself as an opponent of liberal abortion laws, Feuerherd criticized Republicans and pledged his support for the Democrats. “Sounds like I'll be voting for the Democrat -- and the bishops be damned,” his essay concluded.
Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters vigorously condemned the curse. “To wish damnation on an individual or a group is to wish on them the absolutely worst fate conceivable: separation from God forever,” Peters wrote. “Catholics possessed of even a rudimentary catechesis know that one cannot invoke upon a human being any greater calamity than damnation, and that it is never licit, for any reason, to wish that another person be damned.”
Peters said Feuerherd’s “words of contempt” were not made in the heat of the moment. “Feuerherd's curse, ‘the bishops be damned’, was expressed in cold, deliberate, prose intended for maximum effect in a prominent national publication.”
Peters noted that Canon 1369 canon law mandates the imposition of a “just penalty” for a person who in published writing “expresses insults or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church.” Another canon, 1373, commends “an interdict or other just penalties” to be imposed on a person who publicly incites animosities or hatred against an episcopal ordinary “because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry.”
“I believe Feuerherd has gravely violated both of these canons,” Peters said. He stated that by virtue of their office, bishops should impose canonical punishments upon Feuerherd. “However much American bishops as individuals might willing to forgive Feuerherd on a personal level, they must also assess this terrible incident as Successors of the Apostles, that is, as men entrusted with a precious and holy office not of their making, but in their care,” Peters said.
J.D. Flynn, a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Denver, told Catholic News Agency the case for canonical penalties against Feuerherd was less clear.
“The bishops, in this case, are ordinaries. The Washington Post is a public forum, and it is read by subjects of the bishops. The issue, however, is that while issuing Faithful Citizenship probably constitutes an act of ministry, it is not entirely clear that Feuerherd incited others to disobey their ordinaries, so much as he stated that he was voting in accord with his conscience, as the bishops have commanded him to do. His obligation to form his conscience is another story.”
“Therefore, it is not clear to me that he violated [canon] 1373,” Flynn wrote in an email. He told CNA that any episcopal action would begin with fraternal correction, then possibly continue with an investigation to determine if Feuerherd had committed a willful wrong. If it was determined such a wrong had been committed, the bishop could then initiate a penal procedure.