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 CNS Story:

DOCTRINE-BALESTRIERI Oct-19-2004 (730 words) xxxi

Vatican denies it responded to lawyer seeking Kerry's excommunication

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- An official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said a California canon lawyer seeking a formal decree of heresy against Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, Democratic presidential nominee, has misrepresented his contact with the Vatican office.

"The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has had no contact with Mr. (Marc) Balestrieri," said Dominican Father Augustine DiNoia, undersecretary of the congregation.

"His claim that the private letter he received from (Dominican) Father Basil Cole is a Vatican response is completely without merit," Father DiNoia told Catholic News Service Oct. 19, declining to discuss the matter further.

Balestrieri is the head of De Fide, described on its Web site as an organization created "to deal with the burgeoning scandal of Catholic politicians supporting the 'right to choose' murder."

In an Oct. 15 interview on the Eternal Word Television Network and in an Oct. 18 statement posted on his Web site, Balestrieri said he had "received a written response prompted by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirming that Catholic politicians who persist in supporting the right to abortion are 'automatically excommunicated.'"

He said Father Cole "was delegated" by Father DiNoia "to formally respond" to questions Balestrieri had sent the congregation.

Father DiNoia denied that Father Cole, a theologian who resides in Washington, was delegated in any way to address the questions on behalf of the congregation.

Father Cole's letter to Balestrieri, also posted on De Fide's Web site, begins by saying he had been asked by Father DiNoia "to respond unofficially" to Balestrieri's questions.

The priest concluded that "if a Catholic publicly and obstinately supports the civil right to abortion, knowing that the church teaches officially against that legislation, he or she commits that heresy envisioned by Canon 751 of the Code" of Canon Law.

Vatican officials contacted by CNS Oct. 19 said they did not agree with Father Cole's conclusion that Kerry has incurred excommunication.

"You can incur excommunication 'latae sententiae' (automatically) only if you procure or perform an abortion," one said.

In Washington, Father Cole told CNS the Holy See "gets these requests ... tons of them," and that Father DiNoia asked him to respond to Balestrieri in a private capacity.

"I have no relationship to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ... and the letter that I wrote to Balestrieri was purely private," he told CNS Oct. 19. "I wrote it as a private theologian, not with any authority. It has no authority whatsoever.

"Its worth is disputable," he added.

One Vatican official contacted by CNS said no church official had seriously approached the point of declaring Kerry a heretic.

"No, Kerry is not a heretic," he said.

"There are three distinct questions involved" in the current U.S. discussion about support for legalized abortion and the worthiness of Catholic politicians and voters to receive Communion, he said.

The three questions, he said, are: "Is Kerry a heretic? Is Kerry an 'obstinate sinner' because of his support for legalized abortion? Can a Catholic vote for Kerry?"

Even if one answered "yes" to the second question, he said, it would not mean the senator is a heretic, nor would it oblige Catholic voters in all situations to vote against him.

The questions Balestrieri wrote in Latin and sent to the congregation asked whether the church's condemnation of abortion is a matter of Catholic faith and dogma for which opposition would constitute heresy.

When he wrote to the congregation, Balestrieri did not identify himself as the head of De Fide, he did not mention Kerry or politicians in general and he said he did not inform the congregation that he was trying to formally sue Kerry for heresy in the Archdiocese of Boston.

The doctrinal congregation, like other Vatican offices, receives dozens of letters and questions each day. Those from bishops are handled formally.

The tone of letters from lay people dictates how they are handled, a Vatican official said Oct. 19. Most letter writers are encouraged to discuss their concerns with their parish priest.

When a letter appears to be from a serious student, the writer may be referred to a book or published article, or he or she may be referred to a theologian or canon lawyer who could be able to provide direction.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Barb Fraze in Washington.


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