Front Row With Francis: Excommunication


Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the GospelIf you are divorced and civilly remarried, you are not excommunicated.

But if you are in such “irregular” situation, you cannot receive Communion.

Last but not least: excommunication is good.

Take a deep breath and repeat!

At his first General Audience after his summer break this year, Pope Francis told us that “it is necessary to have a fraternal and attentive welcome, in love and in truth, of the baptized who have established a new relationship of cohabitation after the failure” of their licit marriages.  The Pope exhorted, “these persons are by no means excommunicated — they are not excommunicated! — and they should absolutely not be treated as such: they are still a part of the Church.”

With his customary aplomb, Pope Francis waded into a bit of a minefield.  It may do us some good to follow—but in slow motion.

First, it may have been necessary for Francis to set the record straight, because there have been changes regarding excommunication in the circumstances the Pope described.  Up until 1884, excommunication was the penalty for American Catholics who got a divorce.  And, up till 1977, excommunication did apply to Catholics who divorced and remarried outside the Church.

Second, people in these “irregular” situations are no longer excommunicated, but they are still forbidden to receive the Sacrament of Communion.  They are not excommunicated because they are still in the community—in fact, they have the same usual obligation to attend Mass.  And they can go up to a priest or deacon to be blessed or to receive a “spiritual communion” in the pew.

Third—and this is the part we want to get to—this allows us to take a step back and look at how membership in this “community” (the Church) relates to the opposite of that, exclusion from the community, and the necessity of excommunication for the spiritual health and well-being of the community and its members, including those who may be subject of such censure.

Christ authorized the church’s exercise of the prerogative to exclude disobedient members when he instructed his disciples to confront a heretic “and if he will not even listen to the church, then count him all one with the heathen and the publican” (Matthew 18:17).

At one level, this is all elementary.  The Church is a society, and every society has a right to exclude those who would undermine that society’s mission.  Of course, excommunication is much more than getting kicked out of a nightclub.  The Church is a special kind of “club,” we call it an ecclesiastical society.  It exists for the spiritual care and guidance of its constituent members.

St. Paul puts exercises the power of excommunication with great pastoral fortitude, ordering that a man who was in an incestual relationship be cast out of the Church, “for the overthrow of his corrupt nature, so that his spirit may find salvation in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 5:5).

Therefore, the exercise of this “penalty” is not to write-off a person and to seek to exclude them from salvation, much less is it a power play to allow one group to impose its will upon another.  Instead, it is one more tool in the set of implements the church can use to extend her mission of salvation to all.

As Pope Francis expressed it, “her gaze as a teacher always draws from a mother’s heart; a heart which, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and the salvation of the people.”


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  • goral

    I wouldn’t say that – “With his customary aplomb, Pope Francis waded into a bit of a minefield.”
    I would say that Francis is a minefield. We will be witnessing detonations in a couple of months. He’ll be lobbying the American Catholics soon, to make sure their plumb line swings in the wind the same as his does.

    • kalbertini

      I guess Thomas aquinnas was Protestant when he said”If the ecclesiatical authority,imposes a demand,in ignorance of the true facts,that goes against a clear conscience,it is better for him to be excommunicated than to violate his conscience” . The Church is the people Of God,not a man made office

  • kalbertini

    Excommunication cannot override the supremacy of a informed conscience. pope liberius excommunicated st.Athanasius for believing Jesus Christ was true God & true man. Liberius & most bishops embraced Arianism(jesus was a creation of God). The laity won the day by rejecting arianism(as shown by Cardinal newman in his consulting the faithful in matters of doctrine). While I^m not gonna get into the matter of divorce,it must be recognized that Paul gave an exception to it for a unbelieving partner,are we to say Paul went against Christ ? Of course when the Catholic church wanted priests to get rid of their wives in the 11th century,they imposed their marriage to be null & void despite legitimately consummated with priests still wanting to remain married.The history of the church is often riddled in disgrace

    • goral

      Excommunication does override the supremacy of an “informed conscience”. That thinking is classic Protestantism. An informed conscience needs to be ratified by an objective body. Anyone can make the claim that they are following their informed conscience. Information, especially in our time, is very jaded. Christ himself said that he doesn’t speak for Himself but the Father who sent Him. No wonder the early Church struggled with a lot of the doctrine.
      Because the Church is the Body of Christ and not His conscience, over time, It must bring the parts of the body into concert. And so now, Athanasius is a saint a Doctor and his Creed is perhaps the primary reason why various sects are not considered Christian and are excommunicated. How’s that for vindication and poetic justice. A miraculous entity is this Church of ours.

      • kalbertini

        Historical reality trumps what your saying.After the council of Nicae,most bishops & Pope Athanasius hailed the arian creed.The arian creed rejected Christ^s divinity & that he was God. Most laity rejected Arianism as Cardinal Newman pointed out in his Consulting the Faithful in Matters Of Doctrine.Athanasius was excommunicated by the pope for believing Jesus Christ was true God & Man.The Council of Vienne under Pope Urban hailed the charging of interest(usury) as ex-communicable.The laity(who are the church too) rejected this as a bit of charging interest on loans helped spur economic growth.You see the church is more than the pope(peter was never a pope by the way),it is the people of God. We^ve had popes hail sex in marriage as a necessary evil tainted with sin,condemned democracy & freedom of press,slavery as good,that you can get out of purgatory by killing heretics,condemn Galileo for a view having nothing to do with scripture etc. History shows that this objective body has been a disaster at times.Remember the church has changed thru the centuries more than a person with a cold blows his nose.

        • goral

          Ahhh! a student of history. Who’s version of history?… A rhetorical question as your comments make it obvious.
          The Galileo reference is the cheapest one and a dead giveaway. Google Copernicus. Charging interest spurs economic growth for the one collecting the interest. Half truths are heresies, (by the way). It really tempts guys like me to try to get out of purgatory.

          • kalbertini

            As Pope John 23 stated :History is the great teacher of life”. Ok buddy,if you have interest collecting in a bank or investment,your a heretic according to Pope Urban & the Council Of Vienne.The Vatican bank today even charges interest on loans. The Gallileo reference is true & valid.Why you try to deny it only shames yourself

          • goral

            I don’t know where you’ve been for the last dozen yrs. or so but nobody is collecting interest on money in the bank.
            In any case when you take the bus you’re on the route that it follows whether you like it or not.
            Now in the fine Protestant Tradition (capital T), you’re proof texting the statements of popes. Why make references to them anyway, since they don’t matter.
            Petty stuff, it’s not even good sport.

          • kalbertini

            Buddy you just revealed how incompetent you are.Millions upon milllions who have G.I.C^s,investments accounts,bonds etc are collecting interest.As well as mutual funds,stocks.The Vatican Bank charges usury.As far as popes go,in the first 1,000 years all bishops were called vicars of christ,there was no papal primacy.You follow medeval theology

          • goral

            First of all, I’m not your buddy. Secondly, I have no interest (pun intended) in you other than to contradict your obtuse fallacies. The Primacy of Peter is questioned only by lightweights who take a jab here and there and exit the ring. Your time and money would be better invested in junk bonds to augment your standing in junk religion.

          • kalbertini

            Can you offer me a example of peter^s primacy in the early church,when preaching with the other apostles ?
            how about in the first 1,000 years,where does a pope excercise his authority over the whole church ? I rest my case to u, the investor of Junk Bonds!

          • goral

            I can but I won’t. There are a few Editors here whose apologetics are sharper than mine. I’ll leave it to any of them to respond. They say that the first 1000 yrs. are the worst.
            My apology, but I just lost interest, man.

        • Pax

          I am lacking information on this issue so perhaps you can inform me, because your history is not consistent even internally.

          the council of nicia declared ( and was ratified by the pope).

          Jesus Christ is described as “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God”, proclaiming his divinity.

          Since it was a counsel is supposed to represent ‘most of the bishops’ ( some 400 out of 1800, if you believe Wikipedia which would be around 25% actually attended) How is it possible that ‘most of the bishops’ held an opposite opinion immediately after it?

          So , I’m asking for number, how do you measure what ‘most’ of the bishops are there letters from ‘most of those bishops’ that say anything at all about what they taught? I’ve heard this claim before and really what to know what type of historical evidence there is for it.

          When was the survey done? who wrote it down? How do you propose i can verify what you claim?

          Given the scarcity of documentation surviving from 325 I would love to know in what this assertions is based?

          • kalbertini

            Read Cardinal Newman^s Consulting the faithful On Matters of Doctrine 1859.When it was released Newman was silenced but Rome didn^t deny it.In the Catechism a reference is made in section 250 that the trinitarian faith was sustained by the people^s sense of Faiith. Most Bishops after Nicae peresecuted those that did not adhere to Arianism.Pope Liberius excommunicated one orthodox Bishop(Athanasius) for Holding Jesus was true God.The fact is that a overwhelming number so bishops supported Arianism throughout the Christian world.Its irrelevant to play a numbers game other than most bishops rejected Christ^s divinity that^s why many Christians suffered peresecution,jail,punishment from these church authorities thru all of christendom.A overwhelming majority is a overwhelming majority as attested to thru Christendom,as peresecutions began.In other words it was not a isolated case from a few bishops.

          • Pax

            Not to be a downer but in Minnesota where I grew up the courts ruled it illegal to recite because of that phrase. Do they recite it where you are

          • Pax

            you say it is a fact, but I’m looking for what kind of evidence might lead someone to such a conclusion. It seems like an extreme claim given that approx 25 percent of the bishops declared otherwise. Is there some reason to believe they were not a random sample? What evidence leads one to such a conclusion. I’ll try to find the book you are talking about.

          • kalbertini

            The aftermath of the council had most bishops denying Christ ^s divinity.This was throughout a fifty year period afterwards.Arianism was strong.For more info,read what I stated above.Its all in the history books

          • Pax

            I have only had time to skim what you are saying but so far what you are quoting seems to disagree with what you are saying: “in saying this, then, undoubtedly I am not denying that the great body of the Bishops were in their internal belief orthodox; nor that there were numbers of clergy who stood by the laity, and acted as their centres and guides; nor that the laity actually received their faith, in the first instance, from the Bishops and clergy; nor that some portions of the laity were ignorant, and other portions at length corrupted, by the Arian teachers, who got possession of the sees and ordained an heretical clergy;—but I mean still, that in that time of immense confusion the divine dogma of our Lord’s divinity was proclaimed, enforced, maintained, and (humanly speaking) preserved, far more by the “Ecclesia docta” than by the “Ecclesia docens;” that the body of the episcopate was unfaithful to its commission, while the body of the laity was faithful to its baptism; that at one time the Pope, at other times the patriarchal, metropolitan, and other great sees, at other times general councils, said what they should not have said, or did what obscured and compromised revealed truth; while, on the other hand, it was the Christian people who, under Providence, were the ecclesiastical strength of Athanasius, Hilary, Eusebius of Vercellæ, and other great solitary confessors, who would have failed without them.”

            He is very specific that while there were many who were wrong and confused that he does not mean the MAJORITY was wrong and confused.

          • kalbertini

            read more,the majority were arian.Pope liberius professed the arian creed,influenced by most bishops

          • kalbertini

            The Ecclesia docens ,Newman speaks of is the hierarchy,including the pope.If it wasnt a overwhelming majority,newman would of stressed that it was a mixed bag of bishops.However,the vast majority supported Arianism & so did the pope

          • Pax

            I am confused you and Newman seem to be at odds.

            Newman says “in saying this, then, undoubtedly I am NOT denying that the GREAT BODY of the Bishops were in their internal belief ORTHODOX; nor that there were numbers of clergy who stood by the laity, and acted as their centres and guides;”

            emphasis mine. He did in fact stressed it was a mixed bag of bishops , not only that but the great body of bishops remained true to what is now considered orthodox.

    • There are several things to point out with Liberius:

      1.) The document that details him excommunicating Athanasius has been proven a forgery, and no other contemporary sources mention it.

      2.) Even if it happened, everyone understands it was under duress, and hence would have been invalid.

      3.) Nobody seriously argues Liberius embraced Arianism. At most, he signed, under duress, a Semi-Arian Creed, which used ambiguity as opposed to outright heresy.

      If we’re going to talk about Church history, let us at least talk about actual Church history, not what you read in Boettner’s “Roman Catholicism.”

      • kalbertini

        Pope Honorius was condemned for heresy by the 3rd Council Of Constantinople,so don^t be shocked that liberius would do the same. It appears that Liberius did sign the Arian creed since most bishops,so-called successors of the apostles believed Jesus was a creation of God.The church is not the pope,but the whole people of God.Cardinal Newman showed the reality in his consulting laity in matters of doctrine.when it was released Newman was silenced but the Vatican never denied what he was claiming.Even in the catechesim it states that the Doctrine of the Trinity was preserved by the laity.I will reference the number if you wish.

        • Pax

          still looking for some kind of reference that supports the idea of ‘most’. Certainly we have bishops today, maybe even 1/4 of them who are pro-contraception , but they don’t constitute ‘most’. Now, I’d say I don’t mean to undermine your other premise. The reality is that the doctrines of infallibility are all intertwined. Papal infallibility is a specific case of ecclesiastical infallibility which only exists in reference to the general infallibility of the church. The question that you are indirectly pointing to is an interesting one and I’d say of a lot more value then how many bishops we for or against Arianism. What and how much of an obligation do we have to adhere to the ‘teachings’ of the local bishop? How do we identify the ‘true teachings’ of the church and how do we know what we are required to adhere too.

          if we trust only the consensus of the faithful , I’d say we need to be pro-abortion and pro-contraception. What do you think? On the other hand there is an obligation of the faithful to adhere to the teachings of those God has placed in there lives.

          Perhaps all of which goes to show, that salvation is much more a function of ‘who you know’ then ‘what you know’ 🙂

          • kalbertini

            issues of abortion or contaception are peripheral or minor issues compared to the divinity of christ,a central doctrine.As far as abortion goes many popes hailed a abortion ok if done before 60 days for a male fetus & 90 days for a female fetus,the reason was because of ensoulment.Many believed that before ensoulment it was not a child.Of course I dont support this but it points to a different history on that subject.A womans life seriously in danger may be a exception for abortion.As far as contraception goes,most catholics see it as fine if theres good reasons to plan a family.In history most popes hailed sex in marriage as unworthy if not sinful.The catholic church doesnt have much credibilty when it comes to certain issues of sexuality

          • Pax

            There you go with you speculative ‘many’ again. Not that i disagree it is possible many of them believed as you claim, as it does seem to have been a common enough belief, but there is certainly a place for development of teaching as our understanding of nature and natural law progress. This is not to say that any of them ever considered abortion to be ‘ok’. And likewise contraception, given it was generally touted as witchcraft by all Catholics and the Jews that proceeded them for at least 1000 years before Christs.

            I also, wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that determining weather or not the west in currently engaged in mass genocide or not is a ‘minor’ issues. It may be a more practical issues, but which is more important, right theology or right action? Which is more fully require to love fully as Christ has commanded us?

          • kalbertini

            The more accurate statement is “the overwhelming majority”, Enough for Newman in his investigation to hold the hierarchy guilty of the heresy of Arianism . Just like a overwhelming majority of Bishops voted for the documents of Vatican II to be passed.As far as contraception goes,it was not touted by all catholics as witchcraft no more than it was touted as a necessary evil tainted with sin as the early church fathers believed & many popes like Gregory the great,Innocent XIII & Sixtus held.Contraception is not mentioned in the first 7 councils or the creed.It is not mentioned in the scriptures.Do you think people like augustine or pope gregory the great holding sex in marriage as a necessary evil tainted with sin reflects the people^s view ? Noonan in his excellent book on Contraception reveals the french controlling a population explosion in France thru contraception,the French bishops asked the Vatican on what to do about this,the vatican response in secret was not to interefere with the consciences of couples. Those positions you hold are not infallible,most Christians & jews would of held slavery as moral,just like Pope Pius IX held it moral in the name of natural law. Conscience holds supreme