5 December 2018


Some people have been wondering about the existence of Excommunication as a remedy available under Canon Law.

I can see why these anxieties have arisen. During a period of ecclesial tyranny like the present, such a penalty has the potential to be very dangerous. Perhaps it is less likely that PF would impose such a penalty ... after all, it might damage his carefully crafted PR image ... than that the theologically illiterate sycophants and careerists who are cheerfully riding along with this regime might do so in order to demonstrate the degree of their pathetic submission (I am employing, from "theologically" down to "submission", Cardinal Mueller's admirably frank and useful recent terminology).

But I do not agree with suggestions that excommunication should therefore be abolished. It is an essential (and biblical) concept. And, with regard to a particular priest who, according to media reports, has been excommunicated in the archdiocese of Palermo, I would rather not express opinions. That is because I know nothing about the case. I would remind traddies that it is dangerous to lionise anybody ... and that there are nutters in Traddidom just as there are (in such generous abundance!!) in Trendidom.

And, even in such unusual times as these when the evidence of Diabolic involvement grows daily more obvious, I think our fall-back position should be to trust the pastors in the Church until and unless we have good and clear evidence to justify doing otherwise.


But there is one reform which I do regard as highly and most urgently necessary, both in issuing a sentence of excommunication and in asserting that a particular person has incurred such a penalty latae sententiae.

A very precise explanation should be publicly issued, both in canonical and theological terms, of why such a penalty is being imposed or discerned. Such an explanation should be prepared to run the risk of being too lengthy and too detailed and, if necessary, too technical. It should be utterly clear and should avoid woffly managerial episcobabble and convenient ambivalence, as well as the condescendingly 'clericalist' manner which seems to come so often with the Grace of Episcopacy.

As far as I am aware, Palermo has not done this.

Both the person concerned, and the Holy People of God, have a right to such facts. And if penalties also have the purpose of deterrence, it is proper that other people should know clearly what they should avoid in order not to suffer the same penalty. And academic communities, theological and canonical, should have the materials upon which to base an informed judgement about the validity and prudence of the proceedings. (There is no space for the fuehrerprinzip in a Christian community.)

This is what we of the Anglo-Saxon cultural tradition sometimes call ACCOUNTABILITY.

I hope it is not 'cultural imperialism' to commend it to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies!

1 comment:

Calvin Engime said...

Has not true excommunication been abolished in practice already by the progressive mitigation of the duty to shun the excommunicant in both civil and religious matters? Pope Martin V, in the 1418 constitution Ad evitanda, relieved the faithful of the duty to shun excommunicants unless the excommunication of the individual in question had been imposed or declared publicly and by name, or he had notoriously laid hands on a cleric. This created a distinction between excommunicati vitandi and a new category of excommunicati tolerati.

By the 20th Century, notable theologians like Lehmkuhl and Noldin held that with respect to civil affairs, not only the law against the tolerati associating with the faithful (for Ad Evitanda was for the benefit of the faithful, not the excommunicated), but even the law against the faithful associating with vitandi had fallen into desuetude. With the codification of canon law, the conditions for becoming a true excommunicant, a vitandus, were then narrowed further: the individual must be excommunicated by the Holy See, and it must be explicitly specified that he must be shunned, unless he has laid violent hands on the person of the Roman Pontiff. (Can 2258 §1. Excommunicati alii sunt vitandi, alii tolerati. §2. Nemo est vitandus, nisi fuerit nominatim a Sede Apostolica excommunicatus, excommunicatio fuerit publice denuntiata et in decreto vel sententia expresse dicatur ipsum vitari debere, salvo praescripto can. 2343, §1, n. 1. Can 2343 §1. Qui violentas manus in personam Romani Pontificis iniecerit: 1º Excommunicationem contrahit latae sententiae Sedi Apostolicae specialissimo modo reservatam; et est ipso facto vitandus; 2º Est ipso iure infamis; 3º Clericus est degradandus.)

Of course, the 1917 codification of canon law paved the way for the 1983 revision of canon law, and now making someone a vitandus is not envisioned at all. There are now only excommunicati tolerati, whom the faithful are not bound to shun in divinis, though it may be praiseworthy under the circumstances to shun them voluntarily, and the excommunicants are obliged not to associate with the faithful in divinis of their own accord.

Scholastic theologians agree that baptism incorporates one into the Church, and division in the profession of faith or corporate unity separates one from the Church. Corporate unity is broken by schism or excommunication. This doctrine is confirmed by Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis Christi 22. Yet theologians explain that it is only that it is excommunicatio perfecta that cuts one off from the Church, not a watered-down halfway excommunication such as is imposed on tolerati. For instance, Billot says, "pro adultis requisita in eo est, ut non impediatur vel non solvatur vinculum communionis ... per sententiam ecclesiasticae auctoritatis, id est per excommunicationem quae plenam et perfectam habeat excommunicationis rationem. Quia vero nulla videtur esse talis, nisi ea qua quis vitandus efficitur, sequitur quod ad Ecclesiae corpus adhuc pertinere possunt excommunicati tolerati, sive occulti sint sive etiam notorii."