Excommunication is a medicinal penalty of the Church. Its purpose is not necessarily to obtain justice or satisfaction but is meant to awaken an individual’s conscience to repentance (canon 1312 & 1331). (Ed. feudal lords feared it, since it removed any citizens’ duties, as part of a religious obligation, since coronation and monarchy had religious underpinnings/overtones, of fealty to one’s lord. It meant secular disobedience was permitted by the Church, and in some cases, revolt and coup d’etat were encouraged by the Church, to return a rightful ruler, obedient to the Church, to leadership.
In addition, historically, the Christian obligation to feed, clothe, shelter are no longer required as this person knew the love and mercy of God and rejected them. The Church technically had shunning until 1983.)
Excommunication can either be imposed by the competent authority (usually a bishop) through a canonical process. In such cases, the action would be mentioned in canon law and the code would call for the competent authority to punish with a “just penalty.” If the competent authority felt in those specific circumstances a just penalty would be excommunication, he could then issue the decree.
The other way it can be imposed by canon law itself when certain actions take place. This one is called latae sententiae or “automatic” excommunication. Automatic excommunication happens when someone commits an act that is specifically punished in canon law by a penalty of automatic excommunication.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law attaches the penalty of automatic excommunication to the following actions:
Latae sententiae (automatically, none for Eastern Catholics)
- uses physical force against the Pope (reserved to the Apostolic See, for Eastern Catholics even to the Pope in person; can. 1370 CIC, can. 1445 CCEO; used to result ipso facto in a vitandus excommunication until 1983, can. 2343 CIC/1917),
- pretends to absolve (which is invalid, can. 977) his own partner in a sin against the Sixth Commandment (reserved to the Apostolic See; can. 1378 § 1. CIC, can. 1457 CCEO, can. 728 §1 CCEO),
- violates directly the Seal of the Confessional (reserved to the Apostolic See; can. 1388 CIC, can 1456 § 1 CCEO, Canon 728 §1 CCEO)
- throws away, or for sacrilegious purpose keeps back the Blessed Sacrament (reserved, for Latin Catholics, to the Apostolic See; can. 1367 CIC, can. 1442 CCEO,)
- consecrates, as a bishop, another bishop without mandate by the Apostolic See or receives such consecration (reserved, for Latin Catholics, to the Apostolic See; can. 1383 CIC, can. 1459 § 1 CCEO),
- is an apostate (can. 1364 § 1 CIC, cf. can. 751 CIC; can. 1436 § 1 CCEO), that is, one who totally repudiates the Christian faith,
- is a heretic (can. 1364 § 1 CIC, cf. can. 751 CIC; can. 1436 § 1 CCEO), that is, contumaciously denies or doubts a dogma of the Catholic Church,
- is a schismatic (can. 1364 § 1 CIC, cf. can. 751 CIC; can. 1437 § 1 CCEO), that is, denies submission to the Pope or community to the other members of the Church subordinate to the Pope (this is not, per se, true of one who merely disobeys an order of the Pope)
- performs, has performed on herself, assists in, or makes possible, including paying for, an abortion (can. 1398 CIC, can. 1450 § 2 CCEO),
- commits simony in a Papal election (Universi Dominici gregis [UDG] no. 78),
- as a Cardinal or any other person taking part in the conclave (the conclave’s secretary, etc.), makes known an exclusive or helps, in any other manner, a secular power to influence the papal election (UDG no. 80),
- as a Cardinal, makes any pacts, deals or promises regarding the papal election at a conclave; this does not forbid the Cardinals to discuss whom to elect (UDG no. 81).
- as a bishop attempts to confer Holy Orders on a woman, alongside the woman who attempted to receive the consecration.
Ferendae sententiae (through a process/judgment)
A person may be ferendae sententiae excommunicated if he:
- tries to celebrate the Mass without being a priest (incurs, for Latin Catholics, also a latae sententiae interdict for laymen and suspension for clerics, can. 1378 § 2 no. 1 CIC, can. 1443 CCEO),
- hears a Confession or tries to absolve without being able to absolve (for Latin Catholics; this does not, of course, include hindrances on the penitent’s side for the mere hearing of the Confessions, and hidden hindrances on the penitent’s side for absolutions; can. 1378 § 2 no. 1; incurs also a latae sententiae interdict for laymen and suspension for clerics)
- breaks the Seal of the Confessional indirectly (?) or as someone not the Confessor, e. g. an interpreter or one who overheard something that was said (for Latin Catholics, can. 1388 § 2 CIC),
- who breaks a penal law allowing excommunication that was enacted on local level, which the local authority, however, may only do with great caution and for grave offences (for Latin Catholics, can. 1318 CIC).
- omits stubbornly, as an Eastern Catholic priest, the commemoration of the hierarch in the Divine Liturgy and Divine Praises (not mandatorily, can. 1438 CCEO)
- commits physical violence against a patriarch or a metropolitan, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1445 § 1 CCEO),
- incites sedition against any hierarch, especially a patriarch or the Pope, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1447 § 1, not mandatorily),
commits murder, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1450 § 1 CCEO),
- kidnaps, wounds seriously, mutilates or tortures (physically or mentally) a person, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1451 CCEO, not mandatorily),
- falsely accuses someone of a [canonical] offense, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1454 CCEO, not mandatorily),
- tries to use the influence of secular authority to gain admission to Holy Orders or any function in the Church, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1460, not mandatorily),
- administers or receives a Sacrament, excluding Holy Orders, or any function in the Church through simony, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1461f. CCEO, not mandatorily).
In order for the penalty to be considered to apply, certain conditions must be met (can. 1323):
- The individual must be at least sixteen years old.
- The individual must know that his action was a violation of Church law.
- The individual must have acted freely without threat of force or grave fear, have the use of reason, and not have acted mistakenly.
- Unless the canon reserves removal of the penalty to the Holy See, the local ordinary can remit the excommunication, or he can delegate that authority to the priests of his diocese (which most bishops do in the case of abortion).
By and large, automatic excommunications are not known to the public. Unless the individual committed the action in a public manner that would cause the local ordinary to issue a statement about the automatic excommunication, the burden is on the offender to confess the sin and seek the removal of the penalty.
An excommunicated person is not to receive the sacraments. However, if he does so in violation of the law, the sacraments are valid. An excommunicated person who marries has illicitly but validly received the sacrament. In such circumstances the grace of the sacrament would be of no effect, since the person is in a state of mortal sin. In the case of confession, the sacrament would be invalid because all mortal sins must be confessed for a valid confession (CCC 1456), and if the individual withholds the action(s) that incurred automatic excommunication, he’d be withholding a mortal sin.”
According to Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, “excommunication does not expel the person from the Catholic Church, but simply forbids the excommunicated person from engaging in certain activities…” These activities are listed in Canon 1331 §1, and prohibit the individual from any ministerial participation in celebrating the sacrifice of the Eucharist or any other ceremonies of worship; celebrating or receiving the sacraments; or exercising any ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or functions.
Under current Catholic canon law, excommunicates remain bound by ecclesiastical obligations such as attending Mass, even though they are barred from receiving the Eucharist and from taking an active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.). “Excommunicates lose rights, such as the right to the sacraments, but they are still bound to the obligations of the law; their rights are restored when they are reconciled through the remission of the penalty.” They are urged to retain a relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.
Ed. It is the loss of graces which flow from the sacraments of the Church which places the soul in peril. Not the excommunication itself. There salvation probability moves from “likely” to “possible”, my words and interpretation. The Church states CCC 846 “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus (Outside the Church there is no salvation.)…Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; He is present to us in his body which is the Church…Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. LG 14 implies a possibility only God can know, since He is the ultimate judge, and no one on earth is, not a certitude.
Love, and ultimate hope in Him & reunion with His Church, from which flows the fountains of grace necessary for salvation,