Category Archives: Excommunication

Excommunication


-Excommunication of Lord Gilbert, servant of King Henry II, scene from “Becket” (1964) film starring Richard Burton as St Thomas a Becket and Peter O’Toole as King Henry II. “Becket” was nominated for 12 Academy Awards.

The phrase “bell, book, and candle” refers to a Latin Christian method of excommunication by anathema, imposed on a person who had committed an exceptionally grievous sin. Evidently introduced by Pope Zachary around the middle of the 8th century. This ritual persisted until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

“Idcirco eum cum universis complicibus, fautoribusque suis, judicio Dei omnipotentis Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, et beati Petri principis Apostolorum, et omnium Sanctorum, necnon et mediocritatis nostrae auctoritate, et potestate ligandi et solvendi in coelo et in terra nobis divinitus collata, a pretiosi Corporis et Sanguinis Domini perceptione, et a societate omnium Christianorum separamus, et a liminibus sanctae matris Ecclesiae in coelo et in terra excludimus, et excommunicatum et anathematizatum esse decernimus; et damnatum cum diabolo, et angelis ejus, et omnibus reprobis in ignem aeternum judicamus; donec a diaboli laqueis resipiscat, et ad emendationem, et poenitentiam redeat, et Ecclesiae Dei, quam laesit, satisfaciat, tradentes eum satanae in interitum carnis, ut spiritus ejus salvus fiat in die judicii.”

In English:

“Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive him and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.”

After this recitation the priests would respond: “Fiat, fiat, fiat” (“So be it! So be it! So be it!”) The bishop would then ring a bell, close a holy book, and he and the assisting priests would snuff out their candles by dashing them to the ground. After the ritual, written notices would be sent to the neighboring bishops and priests to report that the target had been anathematized and why, so that they and their constituents would hold no communication with the target. The frightful pronouncements of the ritual were calculated so as to strike terror into the ones so excommunicated and bring them to repentance.

Prior to the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983, in rare cases (known as excommunication vitandi) the Catholic Church expected adherents to shun an excommunicated member in all matters. In 1983, the distinction between vitandi and others (tolerandi, secular intercourse/business was still allowed with the excommunicate) was abolished, and thus the expectation is not made anymore.


-by Jimmy Akin

“Excommunication is widely misunderstood. Probably the most common misunderstanding is thinking that it means you can’t go to Communion. That is part of excommunication, but only a part.

Another common misunderstanding is that excommunication means being kicked out of the Church. It used to mean that, but it doesn’t anymore.

Today, excommunication is a penalty with very specific and clearly stated effects—that almost nobody knows.

So what is it, and why is it so often misunderstood? Let’s talk about that.

The two common misunderstandings both have the same source: trying to figure out the word excommunication based on its word origins instead of its current usage.

People have the idea that ex- means things like “former” (an ex-wife as opposed to a current wife), “out” (to export rather than to import), or “deprive” (to expropriate rather than appropriate).

Communion is understood in terms of either receiving the Eucharist (sacramental communion) or being part of the Church (ecclesiastical communion).

To excommunicate would thus mean to deprive someone of the Eucharist or kick him out of the Church.

Or so you’d think. The actual way to figure out what excommunication is and does is by looking at canon law, and this has changed dramatically over the centuries.

For much of the twentieth century, canon law was embodied in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (CIC), but that was replaced by a new code in 1983. This year (2021), Pope Francis replaced Book VI of the Code, which deals with penalties, including excommunication.

So what is excommunication? In the first place, it’s a penalty, which is why it’s dealt with in Book VI of the Code (“Penal Sanctions in the Church”).

People often think of penalties as punishments intended to satisfy justice by inflicting pain on someone who deserves it. But there is more than one kind of penalty, and excommunication is what’s known as a censure.

Censures are mainly medicinal; they are meant to wake up a person to his wrongdoing so he can repent and return to normal functioning within the Church. Penalties that go beyond the medicinal and are primarily focused on achieving justice rather than healing are known as expiatory penalties.

The primary, but not exclusive, purpose of medicinal penalties, or censures (e.g., excommunication), is breaking contumacy [stubbornness], or contempt of Church authority, and reintegrating the offender within the community.

In contrast, expiatory penalties such as deprivation of office primarily envision restoring justice and repairing the ecclesial damage done by the offender (Beal, et al., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, at can. 1312).

If excommunication’s function is primarily medicinal, what effects does it have?

Under the 1917 Code, a person was kicked out of the Church. It provided that “excommunication is a censure by which one is excluded from the communion of the faithful” (can. 2257 §1).

However, this was not repeated in the 1983 Code, and so it lapsed (CIC [1983] 6 §1), so today, being excommunicated does not mean one is no longer in the Church.

Instead, the current (2021) revision prohibits an excommunicated person from doing a variety of things (can. 1331).

Thus, he is prohibited “from celebrating the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.” This means that an excommunicated priest could not celebrate any of the sacraments, and a layperson could not baptize anyone or get married.

Excommunicated clergy and laity are equally prohibited “from receiving the sacraments,” so it’s true that you can’t receive Holy Communion if you’re excommunicated, but that’s not what excommunication is. If it were, every time a person commits a mortal sin, he’d be excommunicated, and that’s not the case.

Clergy are called upon to administer sacramentals (e.g., blessings) and participate in non-sacramental liturgies (e.g., the liturgy of the hours). Laypeople can administer some sacramentals and take active parts in the liturgy of the hours, but when excommunicated, both clergy and laity are prohibited “from administering sacramentals and from celebrating the other ceremonies of liturgical worship.”

This does not mean that excommunicated people can’t be present at liturgies. In fact, they are still required to fulfill their Sunday obligation. But they are prohibited “from taking an active part in the celebrations listed above.”

They also are prohibited “from exercising any ecclesiastical offices, duties, ministries or functions.” In the case of laypeople, this would mean not functioning as catechists, altar servers, lectors, and so forth.

Finally, excommunicated people are prohibited “from performing acts of governance”—something that normally applies to clergy, as typically only they can perform legislative, executive, or judicial acts within the Church’s internal system of governance.

These are the basic effects common to all forms of excommunication, but there can be additional effects.

Currently, there are two types of excommunication: latae sententiae excommunication, which takes place automatically upon the commission of a particular crime, and ferendae sententiae excommunication, which is imposed after the bishop has warned a person but he keeps offending anyway.

If a bishop imposes a ferendae sententiae excommunication or declares that a person has automatically excommunicated himself, then canon 1331 has additional effects.

For example, an excommunicated person might want to defy the prohibition on celebrating the sacraments, receiving the sacraments, administering sacramentals, or being only passively present at such celebrations. If he seeks to violate these prohibitions, then he “is to be removed, or else the liturgical action is to be suspended, unless there is a grave reason to the contrary.” In other words, he is to be escorted out of the church, and the service may be suspended if he won’t go quietly.

Although all excommunicated people are prohibited from performing acts of governance, these acts can still be valid even though they aren’t lawful. However, if the excommunication has been imposed or declared by the bishop, the excommunicated person “invalidly exercises any acts of governance”—meaning they are null and void.

Similarly, a person in this situation “is prohibited from benefiting from privileges already granted.” A privilege is a special favor granted by the competent authority. For example, if the bishop has created a diocesan tax, a person might benefit by being granted a privilege so he doesn’t have to pay it—but not if that person goes on to have an imposed or declared excommunication.

If the person has been deriving an income from the Church, this also can be impacted, for the Code provides that he “does not acquire any remuneration held in virtue of a merely ecclesiastical title.”

And, finally, he “is legally incapable of acquiring offices, duties, ministries, functions, rights, privileges or honorific titles.”

Does excommunication still occur today? Yes, though bishops are hesitant to impose it.

Probably the most common way it happens is through the handful of canons that provide for automatic or latae sententiae excommunication, such as knowingly, deliberately, and directly participating in an abortion (can. 1397 §2). Such automatic excommunications may never come to public attention.

However, even when the Code provides for such an excommunication, it may not take effect. There is an extensive list of factors that may stop an automatic excommunication from happening (can. 1321-1325). Not the least of these is being unaware that the excommunication exists (can. 1323 °2).

Since bishops don’t like imposing excommunications ferendae sententiae, they will often announce that a person has excommunicated himself in latae sententiae manner. This helps make it clear to the public that the excommunicated person is responsible for what happened to him and that the bishop isn’t being cruel or capricious.

For example, in 2020, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento declared that Fr. Jeremy Leatherby had incurred excommunication latae sententiae by placing himself in a state of schism (cann. 751; 1364 §1) since he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Pope Francis.

However, there are cases when bishops warn people and then excommunicate them ferendae sententiae. Thus, in 2008, then archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis excommunicated a woman for simulating the sacrament of holy orders (can. 1379).

Even when such imposed excommunications take place, their purpose is medicinal. The Church prays for excommunicated people to repent and longs to welcome them back into normal Catholic life.

As Jesus said, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).”

Latae sententiae penalties

Excommunications

Unless the excusing circumstances outlined in canons 1321–1330[6] exist, the 1983 Code of Canon Law imposes latae sententiae excommunication on the following:

  • an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic;
  • a person who throws away the consecrated Eucharistic species or takes and retains them for a sacrilegious purpose;
  • a person who uses physical force against the pope;
  • a priest who absolves his accomplice in a sin against the commandment against adultery;
  • a bishop who ordains someone a bishop without a papal mandate, and the person who receives the ordination from him;
  • a confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal of confession;
  • a person who procures a completed abortion;
  • accomplices without whose assistance a violation of a law prescribing latae sententiae excommunication would not have been committed (such as those who performs an abortion, assisting medical personnel, one who provides transport or financial assistance to procure an abortion);
  • a person who attempts to confer a holy order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive it.

Legislation outside of the Code of Canon Law may also decree latae sententiae excommunication. An example is that governing papal elections, which applies it to persons who violate secrecy, or who interfere with the election by means such as simony or communicating the veto of a civil authority.

The ipso facto excommunication that applied before 1983 to Catholics who became members of Masonic associations was not maintained in the revised Code of Canon Law that came into force in that year. However, the Holy See has declared that membership remains forbidden and that “the faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion”.

Interdicts

A censure forbidding the faithful, while still remaining in communion with the Church, the use of certain sacred privileges, such as Christian burial, some of the sacraments, and attendance at liturgical services. It does not exclude from Church membership, nor does it necessarily imply a personal fault of any individual affected by the interdict. When imposed for a fixed period, it is a vindictive penalty because of some grave act done against the common good of the Church by one or more parishes. Usual religious services are curtailed, but sacraments may be given to the dying, marriages celebrated, and Holy Communion administered if the interdict is general or local (not personal). A general interdict may be inflicted only by the Holy See. Parishes or persons may be interdicted only by the local ordinary.

Instances in which one incurs a latae sententiae interdict include the following:

  • using physical force against a bishop
  • attempting to preside at Eucharist, or giving sacramental absolution, when not a priest
  • falsely denouncing a confessor for soliciting a penitent to sin against the commandment against adultery
  • a perpetually professed religious who attempts marriage

An example of an interdict that is not latae sententiae but instead ferendae sententiae is that given in canon 1374 of the Code of Canon Law: “One who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or moderates such an association, however, is to be punished with an interdict.”

Suspensions

Automatic suspension applies to clerics (those who have been ordained at least to the diaconate) in the following cases:

  • a cleric who uses physical violence against a bishop;
  • a deacon who attempts to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass; or a priest who, though not empowered to grant sacramental absolution, attempts to do so or hears sacramental confession (the empowerment or faculty in question is granted either by the law itself, for instance to those who hold certain offices, or by certain ecclesiastical superiors of the penitents and penitents in danger of death can be validly absolved even by a priest without the faculty to hear confessions, and even if a priest with the faculty is present);
  • a cleric who celebrates a sacrament through simony;
  • a cleric who has received ordination illicitly;
  • a cleric who falsely denounces before a church superior a priest as having committed the delict of soliciting, in connection with confession, to a sexual sin.

Ferendae sententiae suspension (along with other punishments) is to be inflicted on any cleric who openly lives in violation of chastity and on any priest who “in the act, on the occasion, or under the pretext of confession” solicits a penitent to a sexual sin.

Truth in Love,
Matthew

Excommunicating the Queen


-Elizabeth Tudor, please click on the image for greater detail.

Although excommunication has a softer tone now, and is interpreted as medicinal, currently, it was not always so.  It was always hoped the impenitent would return to the faith in true sorrow and penance, but if not, for a monarch, especially at the time of Elizabeth I, it absolved all her subjects from allegiance to her and her laws.  It also excommunicated all those who did obey the monarch’s laws and commands.

Excommunication is a great disgrace to Catholics. An excommunicated person was not to be dealt with, as it was believed that they were unchristian and would go to hell. Even until as recently as 1983, shunning was at least on the books, the tolerati, with whom the faithful were allowed some measure of social or business interaction, and the vitandi, literally, “to be avoided”. the faithful were not to associate with them “except in the case of husband and wife, parents, children, servants, subjects”, and in general unless there was some reasonable excusing cause.


-by Steve Weidenkopf


-Mary Tudor

“The day, long feared by Catholics, had arrived. Beloved Queen Mary’s five-year reign ended with her death while she was hearing Mass on November 17, 1558.

The daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon proved a brave ruler, who deemed it God’s will to see the Catholic Faith openly practiced in the kingdom once more. Although her father, in order to be free of his wife, had taken the initial step of controlling the Church in England, the crown did not embrace heretical doctrine until the rule of her half-brother Edward VI (son of Henry and Jane Seymour).

Edward’s reign marked the expunging of the Faith and the use of force and penalties to impose the Protestant heresy on the Catholic people of England. But Edward was a sickly boy and his reign ended after six years. The men at the royal court responsible for implementing Protestant teaching and worship on the people, chief among them Thomas Cranmer, were brought to justice under Mary’s reign.

The Catholic Church flourished during the time of the beloved queen (the later moniker “bloody” associated with her name, applied by Protestant historians, is a travesty of charity) but fear always lurked behind the scenes. The queen was not married when she assumed the throne at the age of thirty-seven, but that was soon remedied with nuptials to Prince Philip of Spain. Sadly, the union produced no heir, which fueled the fear that Mary’s Protestant half-sister Elizabeth Tudor (daughter of King Henry and Anne Boleyn) would assume the throne upon Mary’s death.

English Catholics believed the legitimate heir to the English crown was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (r. 1542–1567) because of her Catholic faith and relationship to the Tudor line (she was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister). However, political intrigue, not the least of which was the religious revolution in Scotland unleashed by the Protestant revolutionary, John Knox, prevented Mary Stuart from assuming the English throne.

Raised Protestant, Elizabeth spent much of her forty-five years upon the throne violently suppressing the Catholic Faith in England. One of the longest reigning monarchs in English history, Elizabeth is widely known as “Good Queen Bess”—a strong, independent, intelligent “Virgin Queen” who led her people into an era of unprecedented prosperity and represented the strong Protestantism of her people.

This narrative is, as Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc aptly described, “a monstrous scaffolding of poisonous nonsense.” In reality, Elizabeth was a figurehead monarch controlled behind the scenes by powerful men, who had been enriched by the dissolution of the Catholic monasteries under Henry and had an economic incentive to prevent the permanent restoration of the Catholic Faith in England.

English Catholics during the time of Elizabeth suffered greatly under the first state-sanctioned persecution of the Catholic Church since the Roman Empire. The first salvos in a long legislative campaign to eradicate the Catholic faith in England began in 1559, when Elizabeth was declared the Chief Governor of all Spiritual and Ecclesiastical Affairs in England by the Act of Supremacy, which required all clergy and university professors to take an oath of loyalty to her as head of the Church. Refusal to take the oath resulted in confiscation of property, imprisonment, and the possibility of the death penalty.

Another piece of legislation, the Act of Uniformity, restored Protestant worship in England and required every citizen to attend Church of England services; refusal to do so was punished by heavy fines. This legislation also declared it a crime to believe the pope is the head of the Church in England. Other anti-Catholic legislation passed during Elizabeth’s reign included a law that made conversion to the Catholic Faith a treasonous act punishable by death. When Jesuit missionaries arrived in the embattled nation to minister to the underground Church, laws were passed making it a criminal offense (aiding and abetting rebellion) to harbor or assist a Jesuit priest.

The attack on the Church in Elizabethan England required a response, especially if the Faith was to survive, even underground. William Cardinal Allen soon recognized the need for Englishmen to be trained abroad for the priesthood and then sent back to England, so in 1568 he established a seminary across the Channel in Douai (now part of France) known as the English College. Once ordained, the seminary’s graduates would return home clandestinely to care for the persecuted faithful.

One such priest, Cuthbert Mayne (1544–1577), [Ed. a former Anglican priest who had converted to Catholicism] arrived secretly in England on April 24, 1576. He ministered to the underground Church for just over a year until he was arrested on June 8, 1577 and sentenced to death. He was given the opportunity to save his life by recanting his Catholic faith by swearing on a Bible that Elizabeth was the head of the Church. Fr. Mayne took the Bible made the sign of the cross and said, “The Queen never was, nor is, nor ever shall be the head of the Church!” He was executed in the horrific manner of being hanged, drawn, and quartered and was the first of many martyred priests in Elizabethan England.

The popes had watched with great concern the persecution of the Church and supported efforts to minister to the underground Catholics in England. Eventually, one pope believed it was time for a radical response.


-Pope St Pius V, please click on the image for greater detail.

Upon his election to the papacy, Michele Cardinal Ghislieri took the name Pius V. Racked by the Protestant Revolution throughout Europe, the Church needed a vigorous response. Although the Catholic Reformation had begun under his predecessors, it was Pope St. Pius V (r. 1566–1572) who implemented the great Reform and set the Church on the path of restoration and recovery. A holy Dominican and former head of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Rome, Pius was resolute in providing relief to the embattled Catholics in England. Elizabeth had been on the throne for twelve years and the efforts of previous pontiffs working with secular rulers to alleviate the sufferings of English Catholics had proved lacking. So, Pius V decided it was time to excommunicate the queen and call for her overthrow.

On April 27, 1570, Pius promulgated the bull Regnans in Excelsis, in which the “pretended queen of England and the servant of crime” was excommunicated for embracing the “errors of heretics.” The bull outlined the persecution of Catholics under Elizabeth and declared her deposed. All loyalty due her as monarch was revoked. Pius hoped the bull would spark a revolt in England and lead to Elizabeth’s overthrow.

This was not the first time a pontiff had excommunicated a secular ruler and called for a revolution. As with many previous examples, however, this effort failed to achieve its goal and even backfired. It was exploited by Elizabeth and her advisors, chiefly William Cecil (1520–1598), as “proof” that one could not be both Catholic and a loyal Englishman. During the following thirty-three years of Elizabeth’s reign, the Church saw six more pontificates. She continued her bloody persecution of Catholics in England, but the Faith would persevere as a result of the blood of the martyrs.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Excommunicatus latae/ferendae sententiae

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.  Neither is the love of neighbor due 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,
Matthew