Catholic Excommunication

What would have to happen for a person to get excommunicated from the Catholic church? I’ve been looking through much information, and there hasn’t been much specific detail. Also, how often does it happen, and what are the proceedings?

The Master speaks. (But look up the original – the cartoon of the bishop and priests consigning a soul to Hell – via trapdoor – ranks with the best of Slug’s art!)

I think it will answer your questions.

Not surprisingly; It can be quite difficult.

The newsgroup (the main site of which I contributed some stuff to in years past) offers an article on how to be excommunicated. It’s essentially written with the leftist atheist perspective, but it offers some interesting information.

For manual browsing -

Generally, it is pretty difficult to get the Church to go through a formal excommunication, these days. The church used to heave kings and theologians out with a certain regularity, but they pretty much have given up on those efforts. (Napoleon was excommunicated for threatening the pope and a couple of mid-19th century Italians were thrown out for attacking the Papal States, but there have been no national leaders that I remember since then.)

For one thing, the purpose of excommunication is to notify a person that they have put themselves outside the community of the church and that they may no longer participate in the sacraments. The intent is to make the person realize how far their action(s) have taken them from the message of the church, hoping that the person will realize their folly, repent, and return. When a person storms out and declares that they no longer accept church authority or that they no longer believe in the church’s teachings, it looks a bit like sour grapes for the church to say “we’re throwing you out” to the back of the retreating figure.

Now days, generally, the church simply notes that their behavior has put them outside the church and that they have chosen to excommunicate themselves. This is (I believe) how Fr. Feeney and his associates were treated around 1950 and it is definitely the way that the heresiarch Lefebvre and his group were treated in the 1980s.

A few years ago, Bishop Bruskewitz of Lincoln Nebraska declared that any Catholic who maintained a membership in various groups that he deemed inappropriate would excommunicate themselves. However, his claims were immediately disputed by most of the other American bishops and canon lawyers.

What about this scenario:
An individual renounces the Catholic faith, tells people that he/she is not a Catholic, but still chooses to, or is forced to attend mass and take communion even though they do not hold with the beliefs of the church anymore.

If this was brought to the attention of the authorities within the church, would it be grounds for excommunication?

(Thanks for the sites!)

Ummm, it seems to me that attending Mass and (in particular) taking Communion defines one as a Catholic. I know that a true believer will live a Christian lifestyle in addition to these practices, but these two things are two of the cornerstones of the faith. They are also one of the most recognizable and public ways to participate in the Catholic faith.

I understand the idea of being “forced” to go to Mass (parentally, peer pressure, whatever), but I can’t really see where someone would be “forced” to take Communion. Short of a cattle prod or other torture device used during mass to get one up to the altar (which would be a bit conspicuous, don’t you think??), it’s hard to see how someone could be forced to do it. After all, it’s certainly not uncommon to see people remain in thier seats during the distribution of Communion.

If, on the other hand, one chooses to say that he or she is not Catholic, but still participate in Catholic rituals (Mass and Communion, especially), then it seems that he or she would be talking out of both sides of his or her mouth, as it were. “Oh, no I’m not catholic anymore, I just do all of the Catholic stuff.” :dubious:

As far as grounds for excommunication, I’m no theological scholar, so I don’t know what old John Paul would say.

On a related note, I had friend who used to say she was a pagan, but still went to Church “just in case.” Seemed a bit off to me.

Just my 2 cents.

Well, the site that ExecutiveJesus provided has some odd views on it.

I’m afraid this is just silly. The RCC gets no “power” by “claiming” members who are not active. Who would grant the power? Governments go by votes (or by the number of people who write nasty letters to legislators–or send them money) not by random census figures from religious denominations. Beyond that, the RCC does not keep census figures on current or former members (a point that Cecil noted in his column). Generally, if one wants to participate in some ecclesiastic function, it is up to the individual to establish that they are Catholic, rather than being up to the Church to identify them.

If one wishes to stop participating in the church, one need only stop participating. (This may be difficult for teens who still live at home, of course, but that is an issue of parental-child relationships, not church law.)

As I noted earlier, excommunication merely separates one from the sacraments, not the church. Executive’s site is correct that the RCC never recognizes that anyone has left. However, that is ancient theology that Baptism confers a permanent “character” upon a person and has nothing to do with counting noses.

If one wishes to leave (and they are old enough that their parents can’t compel them to atttend mass), one merely stops going.

From the linked site:

Again, this is silly on two levels.

  1. The only records that the church keeps are of events. If one has been baptized, it is an event that they record and your later apostasy does not change the fact that the recorded event occurred. So the parish (which is the only level at which such records are kept) is not going to destroy the entry in their records that the baptism occurred.
    Wanna leave? Leave. There is no great “Catholic census” at the diocesan or Vatican level with one’s name enrolled. And they are certainly not going to go to the time and effort and expense to perform a rite to throw you out when you are simply one of thousands who do the same thing each year.

  2. Excommunication does not make one stop being Catholic, it merely indicates that the church considers this Catholic to has separated himself or herself from the sacraments. On the few occasions when the Church goes through a rite to declare it, it is (ostensibly) with the purpose of publicly calling attention to the fact that the person excommunicated is outside the communion so that other Catholics will not be misled into following that person on matters of Faith and Morals. The excommunicated person is still Catholic (just separated) in the eyes of the church.


I respectfully disagree.

Power lies in what is considered average, or normal.

For the Church to have a statistical backing of this, usually unsupportable idea, is, I’m sure, very preferable to the establishment.

Such normalcy is why the public does not say, “What the hell?” when they hear that George Bush is a Christian.

Obviously, numbers alone cannot support such power over “average” - but it is, indeed, an asset.


Those who say, “This is normal” - aka: everyone.


Correct. That is what learns of Catholic excommunication when reading what the phrase implies.

I think the term “leave” was left vulnerable to such misinterpretation.

You are but a very good editor.

Galileo - excommunicated (I’m pretty sure - a lot of revisionist theory going on since the RCC’s “Sorry 'bout that” a few years ago)

Hitler - not excommunicated (rather than hurl “Well, you’re Excommunicated!” at him, the Church hurled “Well, you just Excommunicated yourself!” - but not until after the war)

go figure.

(nowadays I don’t think they even say that the Excommunicated even necessarily go to Hell - the punishment is being diluted a bit)

I suspect however, that standing up during Mass and yelling “I had an abortion, and I’m not sorry!” would get the ball rolling.

According to this site ( ), given that I read correctly, there are also quite a few more consequences involved in getting excommunicated. The reason I ask is because the above scenario happens to be my own (as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious). Because I am a minor, I must still attend this church, and if I do not go to Communion, I get trouble for it later from my parents. It has become known recently to a few of the Catholic youth that I do not consider myself a Catholic, and they’ve gotten considerably upset over it. If they went to a higher authority in the church with what they know, could I get excommunicated for it?


If you insist.

The years between the incidences.

Were years of lost power.

And that loss has not stopped.

Hense… the second part of your post…

**(nowadays I don’t think they even say that the Excommunicated even necessarily go to Hell - the punishment is being diluted a bit)

I suspect however, that standing up during Mass and yelling “I had an abortion, and I’m not sorry!” would get the ball rolling. **

Couldn’t you just put your fingers in your ears and go “nananananana” whenever a Catholic tries to talk to you?

The church does not have “statistical backing for this.” That is the point. The church keeps records of events: Baptisms, Marriages, Confirmations, First Communions, etc. However, those records are only carried as registers at the parish level. The church has no record of “who is Catholic.” When you see claims that there are X Catholics in a city or a state or a country, the X is determined by going to the census bureau of the political region and finding out who has reported themselves as Catholic to the secular authorities. Having oneself excommunicated will not reduce a single number that the RCC tracks, because the RCC does not track any numbers.

That is why the whole notion of getting oneself formally excommunicated is silly. The Church does not keep track of the number of members it has. If it makes you feel good to say “I quit!”, knock yourself out. Trying to make some poor underpaid office clerk in a parish make an imaginary mark in a non-existent ledger of the departed, however, is just foolish.

literatelady, your issues are between you and your parents. I suspect that if you attempted some shocking event to call attention to your departing the church, your local parish would simply consider you a troubled or rebellious child and take no action against you. Once you get out of your parents’ home, you need only walk away from the church (and deal with the inevitable hassles at family gatherings at Christmas and Easter). Your parish priest has a full schedule, already. He is not about to go out and take on the inevitable paperwork, time, and effort to try to have the church take formal action against you–especially since he knows that you can achieve the same thing by simply not showing up at mass.

On further reflection, doesn’t wanting to be excommunicated betray a certain immaturity? If it’s not enough to simply not participate in any Catholic rituals or attend Catholic churches, how much more “out” do you need to be? Deliberately seeking excommunication is like breaking up with a girlfriend, and wanting her to know that breaking up was your decision, and wanting to know that she knows, and wanting her to know that you know that she knows, ad infinitum.

If you don’t want to be a Catholic, just declare yourself to not be a Catholic. Why should recognition of that decision from a bunch of people you no longer care about matter to you?

He wasn’t…he was banned from publishing and placed under “house arrest”.

Yes, I know. If it was my choice, I would not cause trouble about it, seeing as it’s really not too much of a problem for me, and I’ll be leaving the church when I turn 18 anyway. My question is, if these others who are upset about it would cause a stir, could it result in excommunication?

According to PBS’s NOVA, Galileo was “never tortured or excommunicated.”

There was a GD thread on Galileo and the church a little while back.

literatelady, I am sorry that you have suffered a break with the church and hope someday you may make your peace. However, I feel you are missing a point that has been brought up multiple times. As I understand it, this is not an issue between you and the Church, but between you and your parents. What would you think you would acheive by getting exommunicated? The preist would not lock the door whenever you tried to come in, or call the police if you sit down for mass. I would recomend simply trying to talk to them, if necisary you could even try to talk with your preist, (This depends on your preist of course) and having him talk with your parents.
I wish you the best of luck.

Here’s an idea: why don’t ypu ask them to create a stir, and see what happens?

I don’t mean to make light of your situation, of course, or of any inner turmoil it may be causing you (having been faced with a similar decision myself, I imagine that the thought of confronting your parents with the fact of your apostasy is somewhat daunting). Still, if you think you’re okay with waiting it out until you’re eighteen and free to walk away, you might try practicing refusing to discuss matters of religion and spirituality with people you don’t find supportive.

I can understand - although not support - your parents forcing you to attend Mass. But forcing you to take communion borders on the sin of sacrilege, in my view, since only you are in a position to know if you are properly disposed to take the sacrament.

If you wish to avoid communion, you should be able to explain to your parents that you are not properly disposed to receive it. If they are serious about their Catholicism, that should suffice. (Asking you why is very rude, but you can handle that with “That’s between me and my confessor.”)

  • Rick