The following was submitted to us from Archbishop Mark Haverland of the ACC.
Michael Heidt, commenting on the newly adopted Constitution and Canons of the (ACNA) writes:
Title II…Canon 7…Section 3 may be breaking new ground. It syllogises: "God, and not man, is the creator of human life. The unjustified taking of life is sinful. Therefore, all members and clergy are called to promote and respect the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death." There may not be a clearer, canonical statement against abortion and the culture of death in the Anglican Communion - certainly not in the West.
Father Heidt may be correct about the Anglican Communion. The problem, however, is that the Anglican Communion is so far gone from the Catholic Faith that its standard is useless. It is much more instructive to compare the ACNA canon with other, better authorities.
Canon 1398 of the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church is brief and clear: ‘A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae [that is, ipso facto or automatic] excommunication.’ The Roman canon imposes the gravest of penalties for abortion or similar killings. The ACNA canon, in contrast is a moral exhortation, without sanction or penalty.
Canon 15.1.01 of the Canons of the is also clear and is more detailed than the Roman canon:
The defencelessness of the unborn entails a great responsibility on the part of every Christian, and especially on the part of each of his or her parents. The deliberate and willful abortion, directly procured, of any unborn child at any time from the moment of conception, is always an act of grave sin not only by the person who procures the same, but also by [any] person or persons who effectuate the same or acquiesce therein.
While no penalty is specifically stated here, the ACC’s law elsewhere incorporates the common law of the Western Church: and as so often in this case also the Roman canon simply codifies what is in fact the content of that common law.
By clearly stating that ‘every human life from conception to natural death’ is sacred, the position of the ACNA is vastly superior to that of the pro-abortion This is important for Continuing Churchmen, because in the United States the Minneapolis General Convention (1976), which brought in priestesses and the 1979 prayer book, also adopted a pro-abortion position. The moral premise of the ACNA on life is sound and is a major, welcome improvement over the innovative heresy and immorality of the Episcopal Church..
Nonetheless, there is a serious problem with the ACNA canon, apart from its merely hortatory nature. The problem is that the canon includes a formal element which largely empties it of content. A formal element in a moral principle or rule or law is an element in the formulation of the law itself which presumes what is in fact in question. The more specific content a rule has, the more questionable it becomes. The more formal and vague a law, the closer it may come to being true without exception. ‘Do good,’ is always a sound rule. But the real question is almost always, ‘What is good in this case?’
For instance, if a mother tells Johnny, ‘You must never push your sister,’ Johnny has been given a rule that has clear content. However, if Johnny’s sister is about to be hit by a car, Johnny should push her out of danger. The rule needs an exception because its specific content runs up against many conceivable circumstances and situations which would make it a bad rule.
‘It is wrong to murder’ is a formal norm and is true without exception. It is a ‘formal norm’ because murder is by definition wrongful killing. The rule is a kind of tautology: ‘It is always wrong to kill when the killing in question is wrong.’ The formulation itself assumes that we can correctly distinguish wrongful from appropriate killing.
The ACNA canon smuggles in such a formal element when it condemns as sinful ‘the unjustified taking of life’. The canons says, in effect, ‘when it is wrong to take life, then taking the life in question is wrong’. The canon is formally true, but in that respect is emptied of much of its content. I do not assert that the canon is entirely without content: as noted, its extension of the realm of the sacred to embrace all life from conception to natural death is very significant. But the smuggling in of the formal term ‘unjustified’ introduces a hole large enough to drive a truck through.
Incidentally, the Affirmation of Saint Louis on this particular matter is little better than the ACNA canon: ‘Every human being, from the time of his conception, is a creature and child of God, made in His image and likeness, an infinitely precious soul; and…the unjustifiable or inexcusable taking of life is always sinful.’ Yes. But what does or does not justify or excuse in this case?
In this respect the Canons of the ACC build on the statement of the Affirmation and add content to its correct but overly formal starting point. By using traditional terms of art from moral theology, the ACC canon in this case distinguishes direct from indirect acts of will, which distinction allows us to navigate complex moral situations in which the life of a mother is threatened by pregnancy.
In the case of the sanctity of life, the ACNA has come more than half way back from the errors of the Episcopal Church and of most of the Anglican Communion. But in this case as in others, the journey back has not yet been completed. The ACNA is reinventing the wheel, but the new wheel isn’t as good as the one we are already riding on.
+ Mark Haverland
(The ) Mark Haverland, Ph.D.