Is there such a thing as voluntary excommunication from the Catholic Church? Maybe a latae sententiae or ferendae sententiae? If there is, how could it be done? Is there some kind of formal process?

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  • By "voluntary excommunication" do you mean "excommunicating oneself from the Church" (i.e., apostatizing)?
    – Geremia
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 23:03

2 Answers 2


There is no such thing as voluntary excommunication, in the strict sense of excommunication. There's a good answer by AthanasiusOfAlex which explains the purpose of excommunication; I'll restrict this answer to method, as asked by the question. However, the other answer is valuable in demonstrating that "voluntary excommunication" is absurd.

Excommunication is either latae sententiae (imposed by the unlawful act itself) or ferendae sententiae (imposed by authority).

Neither of those methods of excommunication is voluntary. An act which incurs a latae sententiae excommunication may be voluntary, but the excommunication is not.

If what you are actually asking is about a formal secession from the Church, then yes, any act of formal secession will result in a latae sententiae excommunication: canon 1364 specifically mentions apostasy, heresy and schism.

Canon 1365 prescribes a "just penalty" for prohibited participation in religious rites. Canon 1369 prescribes a "just penalty" for public blasphemy, harming public morals or exciting hatred of, or contempt for, religion or the Church. A "just penalty" could include excommunication, but it will be ferendae sententiae.

All of these acts will be voluntary, but the resulting excommunication is not.

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    The first thing that came to mind was whether an ordinary could excommunicate himself. But I don't think that's possible. On the other hand, I'm not sure what prohibits it in canon law. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 11:57
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    whether an ordinary could excommunicate himself Given that his direct superior is the Pope, the Pope might have cause to offer a ruling if someone tried that. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 12:39
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    Even an ordinary would need just cause. Self-excommunication is absurd. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 12:42
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    Also, excommunication does not strip a person of church office. Perhaps it's sort of like how a SE mod can give themselves a suspension. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 13:20

St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the question of "Whether a man can excommunicate himself, his equal, or his superior?" in his Summa Theologica suppl. q. 22 a. 4 c.:

Since, by jurisdiction, a man is placed above those over whom he has jurisdiction, through being their judge, it follows that no man has jurisdiction over himself, his superior, or his equal, and that, consequently, no one can excommunicate either himself, or his superior, or his equal.

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