By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Santa Barbara, California
tAn auxiliary bishop in Austria has declared that a mall owner who rented space to an abortion clinic has excommunicated himself, under provisions of church law which make “material cooperation” in abortion grounds for automatic excommunication.
tAuxiliary Bishop Andreas Laun of Salzburg made the comments in a late January interview with the Catholic News Agency of Austria, Kathpress. He was asked about Austrian business magnate Richard Lugner, whose new Lugner City shopping mall includes a “sexual medicine center” where abortions can be performed. The center opened on Feb. 1.
t“The formal cooperation in an abortion is a grave delict,” Laun said, using the formal term in canon law for a crime. “The Church punishes this violation with the penalty of excommunication.”
tTraditionally, canon lawyers have interpreted “formal cooperation” to mean direct involvement in an abortion, such as the doctor who performs the act or the person who pays for it. It’s long been a subject of debate whether more remote forms of cooperation, such as the contractor who builds a clinic, also trigger automatic excommunication.
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tSpokespersons for Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, appeared to distance Schönborn from Laun’s comments.
“Academic discussions about excommunication will not help to save the right to life of even one child,” said Erich Leitenberger, the cardinal’s spokesperson.
Schönborn also told an Austrian newspaper Feb. 5 that he had not reached any judgment about excommunication for Lugner.
tSchönborn, however, also said yesterday he has been “pleased” by the public discussion Laun sparked.
“The destruction of life must not be made banal and viewed like a shopping trip,” Schönborn said. “It must not be that a society is viewed as a way out. Everything you need to know about abortion is to be found in the Fifth Commandment.” Schönborn said that he had asked Lugner not to sign a contract with the center which offers abortion, but to no avail.
Schönborn said that Lugner should “examine his conscience.” Reportedly, Lugner initially considered legal action against Laun, but has since decided against it.
Austria’s population of 8.2 million, according to figures from the latest national census, is 73 percent Catholic.
As a footnote, the 74-year-old Lugner is well-known in Austria for flouting social convention. This year, for example, he invited Paris Hilton to be his date for the Feb. 15 Opera Ball, one of the highpoints on the annual calendar for Viennese high society.