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Polish bishops debate discipline for Catholic lawmakers who support in vitro fertilization

Catholic World News - October 22, 2010

Poland’s bishops are apparently divided on the appropriate disciplinary treatment for Catholic lawmakers who support a bill that would provide government support for in vitro fertilization.

Earlier this week the Polish bishops’ conference denounced the proposed legislation, saying that in vitro fertilization is “the younger sister of eugenics” and pointing out that many human embryos die for every one baby successfully implanted in a womb. Archbishop Henryk Hoser, the chairman of the Polish bishops’ committee on bioethics, added that legislators who support the proposal “will automatically find themselves outside of the Church.”

When reporters interpreted the statement by Archbishop Hoser as a threat to excommunicate the politicians who voted for the bill, retired Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski of Gdansk said that such a threat was unwarranted. Archbishop Goclowski was quoted by Polskie Radio as saying that “no bishop may excommunicate someone—only the Pope.”

It seems likely that the quotation attributed to Archbishop Goclowski is inaccurate, since it is certainly wrong. A diocesan bishop has the authority to declare the excommunication of a Catholic under his jurisdiction. Polskie Radio had already confused the story by saying flatly that Archbishop Hoser had threatened to excommunicate Catholic politicians, when in fact he had said that the lawmakers would be separating themselves from the Church.

Still it is clear that Archbishops Hoser and Goclowski were in sharp disagreement on the appropriate response. Their dispute echoes the longstanding debate among American prelates over the proper discipline for lawmakers who support abortion, and the more recent debate in the Philippines about the discipline of Catholic politicians who support the distribution of contraceptives. (It is also instructive for American Catholics to recognize that the public policies being debated by bishops in Poland and the Philippines have been generally accepted for years in the US.) Archbishop Goclowski said that a politician who disagrees with Church teachings should “make his own decision according to his own conscience”—a line of argument that should be familiar to anyone who has followed the debate on abortion in the US.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: wsw33410 - Oct. 23, 2010 9:45 PM ET USA

    the problem lays somewhere else - in the media. Please note that Polish Radio (as well as TV and newspapers) misinterpreted both statement from both archbishops ... how typical, not only for Poland ... it happens also in Vatican, doesn't???

  • Posted by: Obregon - Oct. 22, 2010 5:43 PM ET USA

    Perhaps Rome should clarify for bishops what their job is since the bishops are pleading ignorance. I thought Canon law is clear on the matter but apparently some bishops need the Pope to tell them what to do.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Oct. 22, 2010 5:06 PM ET USA

    It really is the universaal Church, isn't it? The same the world over.

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