Excommunication in the Roman Catholic Church

Excommunication was a method used by the Roman Catholic Church to exclude one of its members from participating in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society. The Roman Catholic Church operates as a society and therefore has the right to excommunicate any of its members, either temporarily or permanently. The Roman Catholic Church has the right to excommunicate any of its members if they go against the church’s constitution and teachings or do not operate within the given authority. According to the Roman Catholic Church, excommunication is the most serious ecclesiastical penalty. Excommunication is a rarely used punishment to discipline those who seriously violate the church’s rules especially those who (as per the Vatican Council I) are accused of “spreading division and confusion among the faithful”.

Any Catholic who has been excommunicated still remains a Catholic and is bound by obligations such as attending Masses but they are baned from receiving the Eucharist. Excommunicated members cannot take an active part in the liturgy in a ministerial position. Excommunication can happen in two ways. First, it can be incurred at the very instant when the member commits the offense, or second it can be imposed by a legitimate superior afterwards.

Resolving excommunication can be by a declaration of repentance, profession of the Creed or renewal of obedience by the excommunicated person and the lifting of the denunciation by a priest or bishop empowered to do so. It actually depends on the offence committed by the excommunicated individual.

It is crucial to note that excommunication is an act of ecclesiastical jurisdiction and therefore any person who is a member of the Catholic society and has the jurisdiction can excommunicate. Thus whether the excommunications are by the law or by the form of sentence, they may come from the pope alone or a general council for the entire Church; from the provincial council for an ecclesiastical province; from the bishop from his diocese; or from the prelate.

Many people have been excommunicated since the time that this jurisdiction was included in the Roman Catholic Church's law; starting from the 1st century until the 21st century. On the other hand, cases of excommunication in the Roman Catholic Church have greatly reduced as the Church currently advocates for reconciliation and negotiation to solve these issues. Today, cases of excommunication in the Roman Catholic Church are extremely rare and that is why it is not common to hear of a person being excommunicated. The church has opted to use other methods to discipline those who violate the church rules. Some argue that excommunication makes the affected person feel segregated and view himself as a failure. Remember that even priests and bishops can be excommunicated if they happen to violate serious vows related to their calling.