Italian coverage of the Pope’s “excommunication” answer

Some of the Italian journalists  "covering" the papal trip to Brazil could use a workshop on Church law and making distinctions.

One of the key points in the news these days rests in the distinction between excommunication and exclusion from Communion. These are not the same.  

Looking at a a few stories in the Italian press we can see very different attitudes about the story and how the journalists shaped the story, for good or ill.

Luigi Accatoli of Corriere della Sera (10 May) more or less presented the proper distinctions about excommunication and exclusion from Communion.  "It seems one can conclude that the excommunication foreseen in the Code of Canon Law remains reserved for one who is involved in the abortive act (both the woman and the doctor) whereas for permissive legislators pertains the appeal to ‘self-exclusion’ from Communion."  We can debate about how involved in abortion you have to be in order to incur the excommunication, but Accatoli basically gets it right.

Marco Tosatti of La Stampa (10 May) adds the interesting note that the Pope seems to have tried to elude the initial question of whether or not he "shared the excommunication".   Tosatti goes into the situation in Mexico City and how Card. Rivera Carrera had to himself make some corrections to statements of his "bellicose spokesman" in the diocese.  He says that, on the papal airplane, Card. Bertone, Secretary of State, also clarified that "excommunication" is not the correct term to be using.  Tosatti also says that while the question was being put to the Pope by a journalist, you could see by the expression on Card. Bertone’s face that he had a problem with the way it was framed. Tosatti also makes sure to contextualize this dust up by explaining Benedict’s wider focus on "life, family, abortion, and laicality (the exclusion of religion from the public square and policy)".

The slithery Marco Politi of La Repubblica (10 May) focused on what he sees as the Pope’s "ok" for what he sees as the Mexican bishops excommunication of pro-abortion politicians.  The problem is that the Pope didn’t "ok" that.  He goes on: "Nevertheless the papal OK for the extremist ‘made in Mexico’ line is destined to stir up polemics".  And Mr. Politi will help make sure it does.  About the papal spokesman’s clarification about excommunication and self-exclusion from Communion, Politi blithely continues "But the thunderbolt that strikes the politicians remains."

Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale (10 May) states accurately that the politicians who voted to decriminalize abortion in the district of Mexico City were told not to present themselves for Communion.  He cut to the chase: "One of the questions, however, directly mentioned the presumed excommunication (in reality never officially declared and therefore non-existent) of Catholic pro-abortion politicians."  Being told you can’t come to Communion is not the same as the censure of excommunication.  He reports that Benedict XVI spoke about the excommunication incurred by those who participate in abortion, but does not say he applied it to the Mexican politicians.  Tornielli identified the improper attribution of the Pope also declaring an excommunication as a "misunderstanding".  Then he cites words of the papal spokesman explaining what the Cardinal Archbishop of Mexico City wrote in his document.

Antonio Socci of Libero editorializes the most (10 May) but he gets it right.  Socci, author of a strongly critical book, Il quarto segreto di Fatima, arguing that the third secret has been purposely buried by the Holy See) leads off with strength: "These words are going to cost [the Pope], because the press and laicist intellectuals, who expect to impede Catholics from speaking about public matters, then dare to open their traps about the internal laws of the Church (excommunications, funerals, the sacrament of holy orders, marriage, and so forth).  It is evident that the Church has every right to provide itself with norms which regulate ecclesial membership."  He digs into the pertinent canons of the Code and cites Evangelium vitae and Sacramentum caritatis.  Socci raises the good question, taken up by the last Synod and by Sacramentum caritatis, of the difference between a terrified impoverished woman who has an abortion and a cold, calculating politician who knows what he is doing and purposefully does it anyway.  Socci frames the issue in South America reminding the reader that in Europe and the USA the Church hasn’t censured pro-abortion politicians with excommunication.  He then cites the statistics of the number of abortions and reminds us that the Soviets and Nazis legalized it too.  Socci’s coverage drips with disdain for the "laicist" intellectual position which would exclude the Church from the public square.  He seems by implication disgruntled about Churchmen who don’t fight back.

Caterina Maniaci of Il Foglio (10 May) gets it right about the Mexican pols: "whoever favors abortion risks the excommunication and cannot receive Communion".  She goes on actually to cite can. 1398 of the Code!  She goes on to cover what the Pope said concerning life when he hit the ground in Brazil: "promoting respect for human life from the moment of conception until its natural decline, as the proper demand of human nature, will create also for the promotion of the human person an axis of solidarity, above all with the poor and abandoned".  In sum, she gets it right and provides also a deeper view of Benedict’s objectives in going to Brazil at all.

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