A Catholic lawyer has filed heresy charges against Sen. John Kerry with the Archdiocese of Boston, accusing the Democratic presidential candidate of bringing “most serious scandal to the American public” by receiving Holy Communion as a pro-choice Catholic.
The 18-page document was sent to the archdiocese June 14, but released to the public only yesterday by Marc Balestrieri, a Los Angeles-based canon lawyer and an assistant judge with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ tribunal, an ecclesiastical court.
“Heresy is a public, ecclesiastical crime,” said Mr. Balestrieri, 33, whose complaint is posted at www.defide.com. “It affects entire communities. It is one of the greatest sins you can commit.”
If the Boston Archdiocese, which is refusing comment on the case, decided to press heresy charges, the Massachusetts senator could be excommunicated.
“My goal is his repentance, not excommunication,” Mr. Balestrieri said. The charges do not seek monetary damages.
The Rev. Arthur Espelage, executive coordinator for the Canon Law Society in Alexandria, said a Catholic layman can legitimately bring a case against another layman in a church court. The charges, known in church parlance as a “denunciation,” are similar to a criminal complaint in secular law.
But “this is really unique,” he said. “I have never heard of a case like this being processed before.”
The charges must be filed in the diocese where Mr. Kerry lives. If the Archdiocese of Boston rejects the case, Mr. Balestrieri can appeal it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Rome.
Father Espelage said church officials, not politicians, are the ones usually accused of heresy. But this suit may change that.
“It’s as if someone has launched the nuclear missile now,” the priest said. “I’d suspect there will be communication between the [Boston] Archdiocese and the Holy See on this.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Kerry refused comment because the campaign had not seen the document.
Mr. Balestrieri said he filed the heresy charge — plus an additional complaint charging “harm” to himself as a result of Mr. Kerry’s pronouncements on abortion and related issues — because canon law entitles Catholics to “possession of the faith unharmed.”
“By spreading heresy, he is endangering not just mine by every Catholic’s possession of the faith,” he said.
“I am inviting all baptized Catholics who feel injured by Kerry to join the suit as third parties” by reading the document on the Web site and then sending a certified letter of agreement to the Boston Archdiocese.
“People are saying you can be pro-choice and be a good Christian, that it is not contrary to the faith to support aborted murder,” Mr. Balestrieri said. “This is a life-threatening heresy.”
“Bishops have had 31 years [since the Supreme Court made abortion an individual right] to do something on this matter, but they’ve done nothing,” he said.
Charles M. Wilson, director of the St. Joseph Foundation in San Antonio, which has filed numerous complaints in church courts across the country on behalf of Catholic laity, doubts the Boston Archdiocese will respond to the case.
The weak point of a “denunciation” suit, he said, is that the bishop need not take action. Usually a bishop will first investigate the case and determine whether the charges have substance, Mr. Wilson said, but Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston is under no obligation to prosecute the accused.