American Catholic pro-lifers have set in motion a legal appeal to Pope John Paul II with the hope of excommunicating pro-abortion politicians.

“A Canonical Petition to Excommunicate Culture of Death ‘Catholics'” was originated by Timothy A. Chichester, executive director of Yankee Samizsdat. Other plaintiffs include Judie Brown, president of American Life League; Stephen Brady, president of Roman Catholic Faithful; Christopher A. Ferrara, president of American Catholic Lawyers Association; and Joseph Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League.

Brady told The Interim the petition is necessary because too many Catholic politicians flaunt Church teachings on abortion while continuing to profess to be practicing Catholics. “The laity are forced to act now because the priests and bishops have refused to carry out their duty,” he said. “Pro-abortion politicians excommunicate themselves when they support abortion, but the Church must still take the public stand against them and ensure that they do not receive the sacraments.”

Scheidler told The Interim that canon (or church) law says “that those who permit abortion to take place are by extension responsible for procured abortions.” He said without laws that permit abortion, the widespread slaughter of unborn babies would not even be possible.

Brady said while excommunication may seem harsh, “it is time to call to account” such political leaders. He sees several benefits to the petition. It will force pro-abortion Catholic politicians to re-examine their positions and perhaps lead them back to the Church. “This may save their soul,” he said. Furthermore, it will educate Catholics, and end the scandal among the faithful and the confusion within society caused by prominent pro-abortion Catholics. Brady said “only a public renouncement would bring pro-abortion politicians back into the fold and end the confusion.”

Scheidler sees the petition as mostly an opportunity to teach Catholics that support for abortion “puts oneself outside the church.” He hopes the threat of formal excommunication would lead those listed in the petition to seek salvation by renouncing their support for abortion.

The petition names 52 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, governors, and prominent former politicians who profess to be Catholic, including former Governor Mario Cuomo (D-N.Y.), Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Celluci.

The petition will be presented in Rome this fall and organizers hope to have collected 100,000 supporter signatures, all of whom become plaintiffs in the legal action. Brady said a public pronouncement by the Pope that these politicians could not receive the sacraments “would set an example for the whole Catholic population.”

Scheidler is unsure whether or not the Pope will excommunicate the politicians noting that he has thrice before submitted such petitions, none of which received any response. He said the increased media attention to the current petition might lead American bishops to take a more public stand on the permissibility of Catholics supporting abortion. He said the faithful are scandalized when parish priests give communion to Catholics who excommunicate themselves because of their actions and that the problem must be addressed immediately. “Desperate times calls for desperate measures.”