Louisiana church takes excommunication too far

Mike Royko

July 15, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

THE ABORTION battle is getting rougher and rougher.

In recent years, politicians have been threatened with excommunication and hell by their church leaders because they didn't follow the church's line on abortion.

But now a politician has been excommunicated by a church to which he doesn't even belong.

This happened to Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana, who vetoed several strict anti-abortion bills.

The Orthodox Catholic Church of his state has thrown him out, even though he is a Methodist and has never been an Orthodox Catholic.

(This isn't the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox Catholic Church broke away centuries ago. It doesn't recognize the pope, and its priests marry.)

Roemer sounded puzzled when told of the excommunication. He admitted not knowing much about the Orthodox Catholic Church, but added: "I don't like being excommunicated, no matter whose organization it is."

It does seem unusual for a church to excommunicate somebody who isn't a member. So we phoned Rev. Lee McColloster, the vicar general of the Louisiana Diocese, and asked him how he could excommunicate someone who isn't a member of his church. He said:

"All priests trace their authority straight to the Apostles. That gives every priest of Orthodox or Roman faith authority over all things spiritual. That includes where someone pretends to be Christian but is not a member of either one of the sister churches."

And you have that authority?

"Yes. My pedigree goes all the way back to the Apostles. I have apostolic succession. All priests have it. Some choose to exercise it in a constrained manner. Each one chooses to exercise it in a manner they deem proper."

What does this mean for Gov. Roemer's soul?

"What it means for Buddy Roemer's soul [is] that he has severed himself from the body of Christ. I've been asked whether he will go to hell. What it means is it would be very difficult for him to get into heaven. But no sane person would ever restrict what only God can do."

Have you thought about excommunicating other public figures who have similar views on abortion?

"We've given that deep thought. Ted Kennedy and Mario Cuomo came to mind. But both of those men are Roman Catholics, which means they are in the jurisdiction of our sister church, and the Roman church has that authority to excommunicate them. At the present time, we don't think it's appropriate to cross into the Roman Catholic jurisdiction because that's their province."

But Buddy Roemer is a Methodist.

"Methodists don't have apostolic succession and therefore don't have authority that every Orthodox and Roman priest has. All I can say is the practical effect spiritually is that he is severed from the body of Christ."

That sounds like a serious matter, and I can see why Buddy Roemer didn't like being excommunicated. Of course, being a practical politician, he wouldn't like being thrown out of the Elks, the Moose or the Odd Fellows, either.

Because I am not a theologian, I sought out Dr. I.M. Kookie, who is known as one of the world's leading experts on lots of stuff. And I asked him if it is common for churches to excommunicate people who aren't members.

"Oh, sure, it's been going on for centuries. They didn't always call it excommunication, but it could be a lot worse."

What's worse?

"Read your history books. Going way back, when some big-time holy man decided you weren't thinking right, he might just have you strung up or burned or put on the rack and stretched from 5-foot-2 to 6-foot-8. Or maybe a whole army would go marching into a country and chop everybody's heads off for praying to the wrong God.

"Why, in this century, millions of people got gassed because they weren't the right religion. Religious people are still blowing each other up in Ireland. Different kinds of Muslims are after each other's scalps in the Middle East.

"This Buddy Roemer got off easy. So he can't be a godfather, or best man at an Orthodox Catholic wedding. He should look at the bright side. That means he doesn't have to pay the priest or get stuck buying a kid birthday and Christmas presents every year."

But doesn't this mean that anybody who isn't an Orthodox Catholic can be excommunicated?

"Sure. But don't forget, if I want to, I can excommunicate that priest in Louisiana."

True. I had forgotten that Dr. Kookie is also the Prophet Kookie in the Church of Asylumism.

His church believes that man is descended from people who were shipped here in spaceships from a distant, highly advanced, peaceful planet. They were dumped here because they had displayed anti-social tendencies, such as becoming politicians, warriors, lawyers and claiming that God spoke to them. In that planet's language, the word "Earth" meant "loony bin."

"So if he excommunicates me," said the Prophet Kookie, "I'll just excommunicate him right back."

But what does excommunication mean in the Church of Asylumism?

It's very serious. We believe that someday the spaceships are going to come back and look around to see who has straightened out their act and is qualified to go back to the home planet and settle down to the good life."

SO?

"If I excommunicate him, he don't get a seat on the ship."

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