What do you have to do to get kicked out of the church?

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A major criterion for censure is the public effect of an errant stance.

It’s not as easy as you think. Being a sinner isn’t enough, since that describes all of us. Size doesn’t matter: a grave sin doesn’t necessarily put you on the curb. However, when a publicly visible attitude or action “provokes a disturbance within the faith community,” the need to “protect the integrity of the community’s faith, communion, and service” may make an equally visible separation necessary, says canonist Thomas J. Green. This separation is achieved by censure of the stubbornly disobedient (“contumacious”) Catholic. Levels of censure may include excommunication, interdict, and suspension. 

Bottom line: A major criterion for censure is the public effect of an errant stance. The main objective of censure is medicinal: separation may restore the penitent to the church.

The Catechism calls excommunication “the most severe ecclesiastical penalty” [no. 1463], barring one from reception of the sacraments. Excommunicated clerics are also denied the capacity to minister, govern, hold office, or receive benefits. Excommunication doesn’t expel you from the church; it distances you from the community. Nor is it final: it can be lifted by pope, bishop, or authorized priest. In danger of death, any priest can hear the confession of an excommunicant. 

Interdict was historically applied to errant groups; personal interdict differs only slightly from excommunication. Suspension is applied only to clerics: bishops, priests, deacons. Depending on the offense, some or all liturgical and governing exercise may be denied.

Offenses that lead to automatic excommunication are grave and few. They include: 

—apostasy (renouncing your faith publicly)

—heresy (rejecting a church dogma like the divinity of Christ)

—schism (joining a group willfully separated from the church)

—profaning the Eucharist

—physical attack on the pope

—priestly absolution of an accomplice 

—unauthorized consecration of a bishop

—direct violation of the seal of confession by a confessor

—procuring an abortion

Excommunication may also be externally applied for the pretended celebration of the Mass or conferral of absolution by a non-priest, and for violation of the confessional seal by an interpreter or others. Mitigating factors like mental illness, intoxication, ignorance, fear, coercion, or lack of malice naturally affect the grounds of censure.

Scripture: Leviticus 19:17; Sirach 19:13-17; Matthew 7:1-5; 18:15-18; John 20:23; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Galatians 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:20

Books: The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, Ed. Thomas J. Green, et. al. (Paulist Press, 1985). See canons 1311-1399 and tables following.

Canon Law as Ministry: Freedom and Good Order for the Church, James Coriden (Paulist Press, 2000)

Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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