Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Good Medicine

Tough Love

A question that arose the other day was why the Church, which is suppose to be loving like her Bridegroom, could ever consider excommunicating someone. There unfortunately, is a lot of misunderstanding on the subject.

The Church only censures an individual(s) following a defined period of discussion at which time the individual(s) prove themselves to be obstinate in their sin. Censures are medicinal, meaning, the idea of separation becomes so heartbreaking that it leads to repentance. Sometimes it is medicinal for the community in the case of public figures or events/places that could compromise the faith. In an effort to prevent the spread of the error, the Church censures the official/event/place so that Catholics understand that the decision or beliefs must not be followed.

There are basically three types of censures. Each are surrounded by technicalities and can be in different forms:

Interdict (on a place or its inhabitants)

Withholds certain privileges from the faithful who remain, nevertheless, in communion with the Church. Examples of privileges withheld by interdict are attendance at liturgical services, Christian burial, some of the sacraments. The bishop of LaCrosse, WI , imposed an interdict in 1975 on those who followed the false apparitions at Necedah.

Excommunication (anathema if formal)

Affects generally one’s ability to receive the sacraments, notably Eucharist; it pertains to one’s relationship to the communion of the faithful and depends on such factors as public obstinacy. It may be remitted by the Pope, Bishop or in certain cases, even by a priest confessor.


The most severe form of excommunication: public by name, by the Holy See; literally, “to be avoided” – shunned (“except in the case of husband and wife, parents, children…”). A remedial measure reflecting Paul’s mandates to the early Christian community (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15).

Cultural Relevance

Abortion and Excommunication

“A person who actually procures an abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” So says the Code of Canon Law, practically repeating the former 1917 code. This excommunication can be remitted by the local Bishop. (Confessors have been delegated by many Bishops to absolve from this penalty – at least in the care of a first abortion.) This penalty:

  1. Includes accomplices without whom abortion would not have happened (i.e., drivers, individual(s) who knowingly provide money for the procedure, etc.).
  2. Presumes other requirements of the law are present:
  • The abortion was intended and successful.
  • There is knowledge of this penalty attached to the law.
  • The individual is of majority age (at least eighteen).
  • The person has the full use of reason.
  • There is full consent (one is not acting out of fear).

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