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What Are the Cases that Incur Automatic Excommunication?

Dear TIA,

In your response to the question if Müller is a heretic, you write:

"We do not believe that he is automatically excommunicated. The excommunication latae sentenciae, or automatic, is reserved for a few cases regarding secret crimes which do not include public heresy."

What are these "secret crimes"? So it’s better to be an open heretic? An open heretic needs to be excommunicated and a secret heretic not? But is someone losing ipso facto his office for public heresy?

     In Jesus and Mary


TIA responds:

Dear S.M.,

1. We must rectify our opinion expressed in the mentioned answer. We were mistaken and we apologize for the inconvenience. Our revised answer follows.

According to canon 1364 of the Code of Canon Law of 1983, the heretic as well as the apostate from the Faith and the schismatic incur automatic excommunication, a.k.a. latae sentenciae excommunication or ipso facto excommunication.

Indeed, canon 1364 reads: “An apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sentenciae excommunication …”

Canon 751 defines these three crimes: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after Baptism of a truth which must be believed by divine and Catholic faith. Apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith. Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Therefore, the case in question about whether Archbishop Müller’s heresies - denial of the perpetual virginity of Our Lady and of the transubstantiation - would incur automatic excommunication seems to be decided in a positive way. That is to say, save a better judgment, Müller incurs the excommunication latae sentenciae.

If this is true, this excommunication does not require any further sentence from the due authority, which would be the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

2. The presupposition of your questions is to know, before any other consideration, what are the cases of automatic excommunications. We pass to list these excommunications in both Codes of Canon Law of 1983 and 1917.

Other cases of latae sentenciae excommunications in the 1983 Code include:
  • The person who throws away the consecrated species (can 1367);
  • The person who takes or retains the consecrated species for sacrilegious purposes (ibid.);
  • A person who uses physical violence against the Roman Pontiff (can 1370 § 1);
  • The priest who absolves an accomplice in sin, except in danger of death (can. 1378 § 1);
  • The Bishop who confers episcopal consecration without a pontifical mandate, and the person who receives the consecration from him (can. 1382);
  • The confessor who violates the sacramental seal of confession (can. 1388);
  • A person who falsely denounces before an ecclesiastic superior a priest for solicitation to sin in confession (can. 1390);
  • A person who procures a completed abortion (can. 1398).
Besides these cases, which are also punished with automatic excommunication in the Code of Canon Law of 1917, there were still others incurring latae sentenciae excommunications. They included:
  • The editors of heretical or schismatic books that promote apostasy, heresy or schism (can. 2318 § 1);
  • Those who read books forbidden by the Holy See without due license (ibid.);
  • Authors who publish books on religious matters without due permission (can.2318 § 2);
  • Those who contract marriage before a non-Catholic minister without permission (2319 § 1 n. 1);
  • Those who contract marriage with an implicit or explicit agreement of educating the offspring outside of the Catholic Church (ibid. n. 2);
  • Those who knowingly bring children to be baptized by non-Catholic ministers (ibid. n. 3);
  • Parents or godparents who allow their children be educated in a non-Catholic religion (ibid. n. 4);
  • Those who are not priests and celebrate masses and hear confessions (can. 2322 n. 1);
  • Those who sell false relics,  distribute them or expose them for the veneration of the faithful (can. 2326);
  • A person who profits from indulgences granted (can. 2327);
  • A person who appeals a law, decree or mandate of a Sovereign Pontiff to an Ecumenical Council (can. 2332);
  • Those invested with temporal power who directly or indirectly prevent the execution of the orders of the Apostolic See or its Legates from being executed (can. 2333);
  • Those who make laws, decrees or mandates against the liberty and rights of the Church (can. 2334 n.1);
  • Those who directly or indirectly impede the jurisdiction of the Church in the external or internal forum (ibid. n.2);
  • Those who enroll their names in Masonic sects or other such associations that plot against the Church and the legitimate civil authorities (can. 2335).
  • Priests who absolve without due faculties (can 2338 § 1);
  • Priests who give sacraments to excommunicated persons or those suspended a divinis (ibid. n. 2);
  • Those who give Church burial to infidels, apostates, heretics or schismatics (can. 2339);
  • Those who take to a secular court Cardinals, Papal Legates, Major Officials of the Roman Curia, their proper Ordinaries, other Bishops or Religious Superiors (can. 2341);
  • A person who enters a monastery or convent without due permission in violation of monastic cloister  (can. 2342 n.1);
  • A woman of any age who enters a monastery of men in violation of cloister (ibid. n.2);
  • Nuns who leave the monastic cloister without due permission (ibid. n. 3);
  • A person who  physically attacks a Cardinal or a Papal Legate (can. 2343 § 2);
  • A person who does the same to a Patriarch, an Archbishop or a Bishop (ibid., n. 3);
  • A person who does the same to a priest or a religious (ibid. n. 4);
  • Those who usurp or keep goods that by right belong to the Catholic Church (can. 2345);
  • Those who provoke or accept a duel (can. 2351);
  • Those who forge false documents of the Apostolic See (can. 2360 § 1);
  • The priest or the religious who contracts marriage after taking the solemn vow of chastity (can 2388 §1);
  • Those who contract marriage after taking the non-solemn but perpetual vow of chastity(ibid., § 2);
  • Those who sell offices, benefices or honors of the Church (can. 2392 § 1);
  • Those who steal, destroy or substantially harm documents belonging to the Episcopal Curia (can. 2405).
This list of secret or public crimes that incur latae sententiae excommunication is for your perusal.

3. To give you these answers it took us two full days of research in the Codes of 1983 and 1917. At the moment we do not have further spare time. Therefore, we will keep your last question to answer in another time - if and when someone loses his office due to his public heresy.


     TIA correspondence desk


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted June 27, 2013


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