In an interview this week
with the Italian magazine Famiglia Cristiana, Cardinal Alfonso
Lopez-Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said
that those who take part in embryonic stem cell research are subject to
"Destroying human embryos is equivalent to an abortion... it's the same
thing," Lopez Trujillo said.
Lopez Trujillo was likely referring to canons 1364-1399 of the Code of
Canon Law, where a few particularly serious offenses are listed as grounds
for automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication, including:
- Apostasy, heresy or schism
- Sacrilege with the Eucharistic species
- Use of physical force against the pope
- Absolution of an accomplice in a sexual sin
- Consecration of a bishop without mandate from the pope
- Direct violation of the seal of the confessional
- Procuring an abortion
While the church's condemnation of embryonic stem cell research is
clear, there will be canonical debate about whether it is "the same thing"
as abortion in the sense that it too constitutes grounds for latae
sententiae excommunication. In canonical tradition, penalties are to
be construed narrowly, so that expanding the range of a latae
sententiae penalty is deliberately difficult to do.
In the Famiglia Cristiana interview, Lopez Trujillo also said
that excommunication "applies to all women, doctors and researchers who
The question of whether women who have abortions are automatically
excommunicated has also been the subject of debate. Canon 1324 states that
punishment due to a grave offense can be tempered if the person acted
without "full imputability." For a crime to be "imputed" to someone means
they knew that what they did was wrong, and acted with "deliberation of
mind and consent of will." Some canonists argue that given the emotional
duress women face in contemplating an abortion, it's not always clear
their choices satisfy that condition.
In any event, the Lopez Trujillo interview marks another escalation in
the Catholic church's struggle against what John Paul II termed the
"culture of death." That struggle will be in the forefront of Benedict
XVI's upcoming July 8-9 trip to Spain, where the Socialist government
under Prime Minister Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has moved to streamline the
process for divorce, and to legalize both abortion and gay marriage.