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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.

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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

or

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][4]" 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
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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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    Can. 6 §1. When this Code takes force, the following are abrogated:1/ the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917;2 other universal or particular laws contrary to the prescripts of this Code unless other provision is expressly made for particular laws; 3 any universal or particular penal laws whatsoever issued by the Apostolic See unless they are contained in this Code; 4/ other universal disciplinary laws regarding matter which this Code completely reorders. – Ken Graham Nov 16 at 5:14
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When and for what reasons does the Pope have the right to legitimately excommunicate members of the Church?

First of all the pope can exorcise his absolute authority within the Catholic Church in an unhindered manner according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."

The pope has to follow the the rules for excommunicating any Catholic faithful from communion of the Catholic Church as any other prelate of the Church!

Excommunicable offences

In the Latin Church, Canon Law describes two forms of excommunication. The first is sententiae ferendae. This is where the person excommunicated is subject to a canonical process or trial, and if found guilty of misdemeanours meriting excommunication is duly sentenced. Once the sentence is published, that person is barred from active participation as a member of the Catholic Church. But this is a rare event.

The more common excommunication is that termed latae sentential, or what sometimes called often "automatic excommunication", where someone, in committing a certain act, incurs the penalty without any canonical process having to take place.[20] If the law or precept expressly establishes it, however, a penalty is latae sententiae, so that it is incurred ipso facto when the delict is committed.(Ca. 1314)

Sententiae ferendae

A person may be ferendae sententiae (i.e., upon judicial review) excommunicated if he

  1. tries to celebrate the Mass without being a priest (incurs, for Latin Catholics, also a latae sententiae interdict for laymen and suspension for clerics, can. 1378 § 2 no. 1 CIC, can. 1443 CCEO),

  2. hears a Confession or tries to absolve without being able to absolve (for Latin Catholics; this does not, of course, include hindrances on the penitent's side for the mere hearing of the Confessions, and hidden hindrances on the penitent's side for absolutions; can. 1378 § 2 no. 1; incurs also a latae sententiae interdict for laymen and suspension for clerics)

  3. breaks the Seal of the Confessional indirectly (?) or as someone not the Confessor, e. g. an interpreter or one who overheard something that was said (for Latin Catholics, can. 1388 § 2 CIC),

  4. who breaks a penal law allowing excommunication that was enacted on local level, which the local authority, however, may only do with great caution and for grave offences (for Latin Catholics, can. 1318 CIC).

  5. omits stubbornly, as an Eastern Catholic priest, the commemoration of the hierarch in the Divine Liturgy and Divine Praises (not mandatorily, can. 1438 CCEO)

  6. commits physical violence against a patriarch or a metropolitan, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1445 § 1 CCEO),

  7. incites sedition against any hierarch, especially a patriarch or the Pope, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1447 § 1, not mandatorily),

  8. commits murder, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1450 § 1 CCEO),

  9. kidnaps, wounds seriously, mutilates or tortures (physically or mentally) a person, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1451 CCEO, not mandatorily),

  10. falsely accuses someone of a [canonical] offence, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1454 CCEO, not mandatorily),

  11. tries to use the influence of secular authority to gain admission to Holy Orders or any function in the Church, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1460, not mandatorily),

  12. administers or receives a Sacrament, excluding Holy Orders, or any function in the Church through simony, as an Eastern Catholic (can. 1461f. CCEO, not mandatorily).

Latae sententiae

The 1983 Code of Canon Law attaches the penalty of (automatic excommunication) to the following actions:

  1. Apostates, heretics, and schismatics (can. 1364)

  2. Desecration of the Eucharist (can. 1367)

  3. A person who physically attacks the pope (can. 1370)

  4. A priest who in confession absolves a partner with whom they have violated the sixth commandment (can. 977, can. 1378)

  5. A bishop who consecrates another bishop without papal mandate (can. 1382)

  6. A priest who violates the seal of the confessional (can. 1388)

  7. A person who procures an abortion (can. 1398)

  8. Accomplices who were needed to commit an action that has an automatic excommunication penalty (can. 1329)

Generally speaking, automatic excommunications are not known to the public. Unless the individual committed the action in a public manner that would cause the local ordinary to issue a statement about the automatic excommunication, the burden is on the offender to confess the sin and seek the removal of the penalty.

Pope’s must follow the very rules that the pope’s have written down in the Code of Canon Law!

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  • Can. 6 §1. When this Code takes force, the following are abrogated:1/ the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917;2/ other universal or particular laws contrary to the prescripts of this Code unless other provision is expressly made for particular laws; 3/ any universal or particular penal laws whatsoever issued by the Apostolic See unless they are contained in this Code; 4/ other universal disciplinary laws regarding matter which this Code completely reorders. – Ken Graham Nov 16 at 5:09

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