“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and

whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 18:18)

Excommunication or proclaiming someone "anathema" is the Church's legal means by which a person is excluded from  unity with the Church.  Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to excommunicate members of the Church who,  for whatever reason, rebel  against legitimate authority, deny  any  dogma(s) of  the faith  or  who give scandal by immoral  conduct (Matt 16:18; 18:18 and John 20:23). One can be excommunicated automatically or formally. St. Paul was the first Apostle to use excommunication in order to correct an errant member of the Corinthian Catholic community who gave scandal (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). This same man was re-communicated to the Church after he repented of his sin.


There are two ways that the faithful are required to react to a "excommunicate." The Church can ask the faithful to "avoid" an excommunicated person altogether, sometimes called "Shunning". The Latin term is "vitandi" i.e. to be avoided. Or the faithful  can continue to communicate with  the excommunicated person, the Latin term for this is "tolerati" i.e. tolerated.   


During the greatest part of the last 2000  years  excommunication  has been  used by ecclesiastical  authority, from   local bishops to the Pope, to reign in those clerics  and Catholic laymen who rebell against legitimate Church authority,  the dogmas of the faith or who gave public scandal.  During the Age of Faith from approximately A.D.800-1400 excommunication was an effective and often used tool having influence over everyone including Kings.


Many of you  may have read about the excommunication of  Lord Gilbert during the reign of Henry II of England. This excommunication  ultimately lead to the assassination of St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Lord Gilbert had  killed a priest  usurping the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts and taking the law into his own hand.  To physically harm or to kill any cleric has always  been an "excommunicatable" offense. He, therefore, was  formally (i.e., publicly)  excommunicated  by  Becket.  This  judgment  by  St. Thomas  upon  Lord Gilbert  separated him from all communion with the faithful  not only on earth but in purgatory and heaven as well (Matt. 18:18). Becket did what he had  to do and he gave his  life for  it.


What are the immediate effects of excommunication.  The following Latin phrase contains those effects:

"Res sacrae, ritus,  communio, crypta, potestas,  praedia  sacra,  forum, civilia jura vetantur,..."

i.e. loss of the sacraments, denial of attending Holy Mass and public prayers  of  the  Church, no ecclesiastical  burial,  loss of canonical jurisdiction, benefices, canonical rights and prohibition of social intercourse  with  the  faithful.


When men had faith and the entire society was immersed in the Faith to be excommunicated was considered the absolute worst thing that could  ever happen to someone.  It was better to be put to death while still in the graces of the Church than to be excommunicated.  It also had terrible social and political effects.  The subjects of a King,  for  instance, were  released from their  obedience  and loyalty to him if he were excommunicated.  Laymen living in ordinary life are  effected by excommunication as well.  To live in such a state is to be separated from the very source of comfort in an otherwise hard and  difficult life.  The excommunicate cannot receive the sacraments (Res Sacrae), nor participate in the Holy Mass (Ritus) or public prayers of the Church (communio). The excommunicate is even deprived of a Catholic funeral  or  burial in consecrated ground.  For  the  excommunicated cleric the se verity  of excommunication is even worse.  They loose the ability to celebrate the sacraments legitimately except in  certain circumstances  when the needs of the many outweigh the crime of  the  one.  An  excommunicated priest  can validly   administer the sacraments  in times  of necessity for the sake of  the faithful  and they  can receive the sacraments licitly from such clerics  if  this  is the only  means  by which the sacraments can  be received. This  administration of the sacraments is only licit if the excommunicated  cleric is "tolerati" and  not "vitandi". However, no excommunicated cleric can licitly or validly hear confessions and give absolution nor  can  they  validly  witness  marriage vows  even  if the couple are Catholics  in  good  standing. A  bishop's powers  of jurisdiction are nullified and revoked. They are without  jurisdiction in their diocese and must relinquish their seat of power to another bishop assigned  by  the Pope (Potestas).


Formal and 




There are two types of excommunication Formal (ab homine), i.e. imposed  publicly  upon a person by legitimate authority; and Informal (a  jure),  i.e. imposed  by  the laws  of  the Church  automatically  once the law has been violated.  A good example of  formal  excommunication can be found in the above case of Lord Gilbert  by St. Thomas Becket.  But there are many violations of ecclesiastical law which impose excommunication as  an  automatic consequence (latae sententiae).  The list is as follows found in the Code of Canon Law 1983:

1.    Apostasy from the faith.

2. Heresy

3. Schism

4. The deliberate desecration of the Blessed Sacrament, throwing away the Host or Precious Blood,  or the stealing of the Blessed Sacrament to be used in a sacrilegious manner.

5. One who uses physical force against the Roman Pontiff or Bishop.

6. A priest who attempts to absolve his  accomplice in a sin against the 6th Commandment.

7. Anyone who is not validly ordained attempting to celebrate Mass.

8. Any priest or layman who hears a sacramental confession but has not been given the faculty to give valid absolution by the local ordinary.

9. A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop and the person who receives the consecration from a bishop without a direct mandate from the Pope.

10. A validly ordained priest who violates the seal of sacramental confession.

11.  One who falsely accuses a confessor before an ecclesiastical superior.

12. A cleric who attempts to get married.

13. A person who has taken perpetual vows and attempts marriage.

14. A person who procures a successful abortion.

Canons 1364-1398


It is important to note that when you  apply any of these above offenses to the present clergy in the American Church it's reasonable to assume that 70%of them are latae sententiae ecommunicated.


It is also important to note that any ecclesiastical  judge may impose excommunication or interdict if they deem necessary on any crime or scandal that warrants a more severe response. Canon 1326.


It is important to note that the only cases where formal  excommunication  has been used in recent history are by those bishops who have had the courage to stand up and do something to stop the confusion in the Church at least within their own diocese.


I believe that it is time for a wider and more generous  application  of this tool. We, as faithful Roman Catholics have the right to really know the enemies of our souls especially when those enemies are within our  midst.  Thank  God for  a  bishop like his Excellency Fabian Bruskewitz.  We need  more  bishops  like  him.   Pray that  God  may  send such men to aid His People.