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Is a Catholic who belongs to a political party that supports sins in its party platform excommunicated?

Before Vatican II, a Catholic belonging to the Communist Party (or any other association machinating against the Church) was ipso facto excommunicated.

1917 Code of Canon Law:

Can. 2335— Those giving their name to masonic sects or other associations of this sort that machinate against the Church or legitimate civil powers contract by that fact excommunication simply reserved to the Apostolic See.

1983 Code of Canon Law:

Can. 1374— A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict.

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    associated reading
    – depperm
    Feb 8 at 19:25
  • Canon 1374 doesn't say anything about "supports sins in its platform"
    – eques
    Feb 8 at 23:24
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    @eques Not explicitly, but supporting sin (e.g., heresy) does indeed "machinate against the Church or legitimate civil powers".
    – Geremia
    Feb 9 at 4:38
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    Is there a political party which does not support sins in it's party platform? Feb 9 at 13:38
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    @Geremia because it's more specific than just "supporting sins"; Communism and socialism attacks private property as an institution. Nihilism counters authority/hierarchy both civic and ecclesial. What you continue to fail to appreciate is that equating "supporting sin" with "machinate against the civil powers" would amount to making the law a tyrant by making nearly all sin a canonical crime -- which has never been the case.
    – eques
    Feb 12 at 0:53

2 Answers 2

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No. A Catholic belonging to a party that supports sin in a broad sense in its party platform is not excommunicated. A Catholic who belongs to a Socialist, Communist, Nihilist or Freemasonic group (or similar type groups) would be. The key distinction is that these groups by their very nature and intention are contrary to the Catholic church or to civic society. Sin broadly speaking does affect civic society and the Church because all mortal sin is contrary to justice and charity and thus contrary to the peace and concord of society, but canon law doesn't penalize all moral faults but only the most severe harms to Truth and the Church; Note for example, that abortion is a canonical crime punished by excommunication but murder, rape or robbery are not generally punished so.

Can 1374 in the 1983 Code (quoted in the question) is specifically about associations which plot against the Church or civic powers. Canon 2335 of the 1917 Code includes the Masons explicitly but otherwise has the same qualifications.

We cannot claim these canons mean any group which "supports sin" falls under the same penalty due to the requirement in Canon Law that canons pertaining to punishments must be interpreted strictly.

Can. 18 Laws which establish a penalty, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception from the law are subject to strict interpretation.

Correspondingly, canons which describe rights or privileges are interpreted broadly for the same reasons.

Furthermore, the claim of "supports sin" is vague and problematic. As asked by Mike Borden in the comments "Is there a political party which does not support sins in its party platform?", we would be inclined to answer "no" because in so far as we are fallen, we fall short of the ideal of morality. The fault may be slight. If the canon applied to "supporting sin" generically, that would include venial, which would be excessive penalty and result in a huge swathe of people being excommunicated.

Canonists do not conclude that politicians formally cooperate with abortion by legalizing it and thus would not automatically be excommunicated (which is not the same as saying their votes for abortion are not sinful):

"formal cooperation" involves the doctor who performs the abortion, the nurse who assists, the woman having the abortion, the man who agrees to take his wife or girlfriend, the person who drives the woman to the clinic--and even that last one is questionable. With legislators, what you have is probably best termed "material cooperation." - Phil Gray (quoted in "Just Punishment", by Brian O'Neel)

Canonists are also clear that not all support for abortion falls under the excommunication of Canon 1329, hence, if not all support for that sin falls under the excommunication, neither can support for any sin as a political platform fall under the penalty of Canon 1374.

People who make that argument [voting for taxpayer funding of abortion is a specific act] are possibly using Canon 1329 [which prescribes excommunication for accomplices in such offenses as abortion](square brackets in original), and are trying to characterize these people as accomplices. The problem is that in order to be an accomplice to an action, you have to be able to show that, but for this vote that freed up X number of dollars, this abortion would not have taken place. What if the bill passes by two votes? Whose vote do you blame? - Ed Peters (quoted in "Just Punishment", by Brian O'Neel)

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  • +1 ... this addresses the question better than my own answer does. Feb 14 at 16:21
  • Nice distinction, along the lines of I-II q. 96 a. 2
    – Geremia
    Feb 17 at 4:30
  • True "Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained"
    – eques
    Feb 17 at 18:16
  • @eques There are political parties today that do promote "the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain" (e.g., abortion), though they don't call themselves "Socialist, Communist, Nihilist or Freemasonic".
    – Geremia
    Feb 17 at 23:36
  • @Geremia Indeed, but while Aquinas would say that abortion should be against the law, he doesn't necessarily mean that people who belong to parties who support it not being against the law should be canonically punished -- this aligns with the argument in my answer with the quotes from Dr. Peter's
    – eques
    Feb 17 at 23:43
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Currently, no. However in the not-too-distant past, Catholics were excommunicated for actively supporting various Communist parties. Pius XI stopped just short of ordering the excommunication of Communists in the encyclical Divini Redemptoris

  1. See to it, Venerable Brethren, that the Faithful do not allow themselves to be deceived! Communism is intrinsically wrong, and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever. Those who permit themselves to be deceived into lending their aid towards the triumph of Communism in their own country, will be the first to fall victims of their error.

In 1949 a decree issued by Pope Pius XII stipulated that avowed Communists should indeed be excommunicated:

  • (1 Is it illicit to join or show favor to Communist parties.
  • (2 Is it illicit to publish, distribute, or read publications that support Communist doctrine or activity, or to write for them.
  • (3 Catholic who knowingly and freely commit these acts are not to be given the sacraments.
  • (4 Those who profess, defend, or promote Communist doctrine incur the penalty of excommunication as apostates, and the penalty may only be lifted by the Holy See.

This decree was amended in 1966 when Pope Paul VI abrogated Canon 1399 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The Church today does not require that members of any particular political party be excommunicated simply for belonging to it. However local bishops have sometimes refused the sacraments to particular politicians whose political policies do not accord with with church doctrine.

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  • How does this answer the question? The post does correctly quote the 1917 code of canon law which includes most of what your answer mentions. The OP's question is not about Communism, etc but about "supporting sin as part of its platform"
    – eques
    Feb 12 at 18:37
  • @eques ... The OP did not ask for an enumeration of the sins supported by a political party that supports sins. It asks whether a Catholic can be excommunicated for being a member of such a party. The answer is no, not presently, but in the past it was yes. Since you ask, Divini Redemptoris specified that Communism was "fatal plague which insinuates itself into the very marrow of human society only to bring about its ruin." Taking just the core sin of Communism (militant atheism) it is a sin to deny God. Feb 14 at 0:05
  • I agree that OP didn't ask for an enumeration, nor did claim so. The OP however did not ask whether communism etc was a sin (OP's comments indicate an agreement with that claim). OP asked whether the canon which applied to groups like Communists and Freemasons applied to "political parties which support sin".
    – eques
    Feb 14 at 2:11
  • "The answer is no, not presently, but in the past it was yes." No, the answer hasn't changed. All that has changed is which groups are enumerated in Canon law as falling under the penalty explicitly. "Since you ask, Divini Redemptoris specified" I didn't ask. Please review my comments.
    – eques
    Feb 14 at 2:12
  • @eques... I apologize for misunderstanding then. Feb 14 at 16:18

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