Please explain me the teaching of the Church on the subject of validity of papal excommunications.

I’ve met one priest who holds that popes can only excommunicate members of the Church for real and grave reasons, and any excommunications for absurd, political, not genuine, or otherwise non-substantiative reasons is null and invalid, even if officially declared by the Pope.

Is such a statement correct? Are there any official documents on the subject?

Or is it true that the Pope can legitimately and effectively excommunicate any member of the Church for whatever reason?

In such a case, is the following excommunication valid and is anyone who mentions in a word or thought Pope Alexander VI in danger of excommunication, or maybe even has already incurred excommunication latae sententiae?

Because, according to Wikipedia, Pope Julius II said:

I will not live in the same rooms as the Borgias lived. He [Alexander VI] desecrated the Holy Church as none before. He usurped the papal power by the devil's aid, and I forbid under the pain of excommunication anyone to speak or think of Borgia again. His name and memory must be forgotten. It must be crossed out of every document and memorial. His reign must be obliterated. All paintings made of the Borgias or for them must be covered over with black crepe. All the tombs of the Borgias must be opened and their bodies sent back to where they belong—to Spain.

  • Whether or not a pope has the power to excommunicate in this manner, don't think for a moment that Julius' criticism of Pope Alexander was politically motivated. Undoubtedly, Alexander was the epitome of evil. – Dick Harfield Nov 22 '16 at 1:11
  • @DickHarfield Was Julius much better, however…? – gaazkam Nov 22 '16 at 9:51

One must be tried and judged guilty to incur a ferendæ sententiæ excommunication.

In that quote you give, where it says "I forbid under the pain of excommunication…," this refers to the conditions of a ferendæ sententiæ excommunication. One "incurs it only when the judge has summoned him before his tribunal, declared him guilty, and punished him according to the terms of the law." (source).

Some Background on Excommunications

For those Catholics in his jurisdiction, a bishop can


See also: "Who can excommunicate?"

However, a superior can annul the excommunication of an inferior, as then-Card. Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, did for Bp. Joseph Ferrario's excommunications of the so-called "Hawaii Six" in 1991. Here is Cardinal Ratzinger's letter:

Cardinal Ratzinger's letter showing Bp. Ferrario's excommunication was unfounded

Now, a pope has no superior, save God alone. However, a subsequent pope can lift excommunications, as Benedict XVI did in 2009 for the Society of St. Pius X bishops whom John Paul II declared excommunicated in 1988.

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    To be precise, Benedict XVI removed the latae sententia excommunications on the Bishops of Society of Pius X; John Paul II only affirmed that the excommunications occurred. This is a bit different than a superior declaring an inferior's invalid. A superior or successor can declare the punishment over (depending on the circumstances leading to the excommunication) – eques Nov 22 '16 at 18:13
  • If Julius II had summoned a tribunal that had tried and judged someone guilty of mentioning Alexander VI, and the culprit had been excommunicated by that tribunal for that offense, would this excommunication have been valid? – gaazkam Nov 22 '16 at 20:49
  • Also, is it still unlawful for the members of the Church (historians for example) to mention Pope Alexander VI, as it is a breach of a papal prohibition? – gaazkam Nov 22 '16 at 20:50
  • @eques Yes, agreed. Perhaps gaazkam is only asking about ferendæ sententiæ excommunications. – Geremia Nov 22 '16 at 21:09
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    @gaazkam The excellent historian of the papacy, Ludwig Freiherr von Pastor, wrote about Pope Alexander VI in The History of the Popes: From the Close of the Middle Ages vol. 5 (of 36) pp. 375ff. – Geremia Nov 22 '16 at 21:19

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