On June 14, some heavy news hit both the canon law community – those who oversee the Catholic church’s internal legal system – and the American political scene. Marc Balestrieri filed a formal canonical petition before the Archdiocese of Boston, in which he denounced John Forbes Kerry for the ecclesiastical crime of heresy.

Balestrieri is a respected lay canon lawyer fed up with pro-abort Catholic politicians who misrepresent Catholic teaching pertaining to life issues, so he decided to launch the Catholic church’s equivalent of a class-action lawsuit against the well-known senator from Massachusetts and Democratic presidential candidate.

This writer knows Marc personally and will gladly vouch for his credentials as a canon lawyer. He said in in our last conversation that he spent six months researching both the procedure and the merit of this canonical action before undertaking it. It shows. Those with internet access can read Balestrieri’s 18-page petition at defide.com. When it comes to the facts and to the law, Balestrieri’s research, presentation and handling of the situation is solid. If his canonical action is successful, it will likely spark similar actions against other “pro-choice” Catholic politicians.

Yet, this canonical action raises an important question; namely, what precisely is John Kerry’s alleged heresy according to Catholic teaching? Despite the misunderstanding of some sympathetic to Balestrieri’s action, Kerry’s heresy does not concern his reception of Holy Communion. This is a separate, albeit not unrelated, issue. Rather, Kerry’s heresy concerns his affirmation that abortion is a matter of private morality, with no public responsibility on the part of Catholic politicians.

For example, the presidential hopeful recently appeared on Larry King Live. When questioned about bishops threatening to deny him Holy Communion because of his voting record on abortion, Kerry responded: “Well, there are some bishops who have spoken out, but that’s not the position of the church, and as you know, we have a separation in America of church and state. My obligation as a Catholic is to examine my conscience, under the freedom of conscience under Vatican II, Pope John XXIII … I mean, being for choice does not mean you are for abortion …”

As an aside, perhaps it is no coincidence that Kerry failed to mention Pope John Paul II in his litany of church authorities whom he claims support his position. One need only read Evangelium Vitae to know where the current head of the Catholic church stands vis-a-vis this issue.

Alternatively, one can contrast Kerry’s doctrine with that taught by the Catholic church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church aptly summarizes church teaching in article 2270 as follows: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent to life.” With regard to the political responsibility of every Catholic toward the child in the womb, article 2273 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation.”

In denying these clear teachings of the Catholic church while claiming to be a devout Catholic, Kerry inflicts scandal upon Catholic and non-Catholic alike. At least this is the argument presented by Balestrieri in his petition to the Archdiocese of Boston. As fellow Catholic religious and political commentator, Lane Core, Jr., explains in somewhat more contemporary language: “John Forbes Kerry stirs up doubt among Catholics and others about the church’s teaching and the church’s authority to teach even to the point of leading innumerable others, including Catholics, into believing the right to murder unborn children heresy.”

Having received over half-a-million hits to his website since first making his petition public, Balistrieri’s political action resonates well among pro-life Catholics. Already, over 1,600 Catholics from across the United States and Canada have joined his petition, in which they claim to have felt harm from Kerry’s pro-abortion position. Non-Catholics and non-Christians may also join Balestrieri’s petition. “Because the nature of Kerry’s alleged heresy concerns the natural law, which is common to all human beings,” Balestrieri shared while discussing his canonical action, “anyone who feels they have been harmed by Kerry’s pro-choice voting record may join in this canonical action, regardless of their religious background.” Those interested in doing so may visit Balestrieri’s website www.Defide.com.

Pete Vere is a canon lawyer and freelance political and religious commentator. This is an abridged version of a column that initially appeared in The Wanderer newspaper. It is reprinted with permission.