By Mary Ann Collins
(A Former Catholic Nun)
Popes have used excommunication and interdicts in order to pressure secular rulers into submitting to them. Both excommunication and interdicts deprive people of the sacraments. In addition, excommunication kicks people out of the Catholic Church.
Because Catholics believe that the Catholic Church and the sacraments are necessary for salvation, this is, in effect, sentencing them to hell. As we will see later, official statements of excommunication can explicitly state that people are condemned to hell.
The anathema is the most severe form of excommunication. It means that the Pope has ritually placed someone under a solemn ecclesiastical curse which is intended to send them to hell. My paper “Ecumenism and the Council of Trent” discusses the use of the anathema, and describes the ritual. The anathemas of the Council of Trent have never been revoked.
This is not ancient history. The authority, and the procedure for exercising it, are in existence today. The present Pope (John Paul II) has issued a new edition of Roman Catholic Canon Law (the legal regulations of the Roman Catholic Church). Canons 1331 and 1332 deal with punishments for people who have been excommunicated or placed under interdict. Canons 1364 to 1399 deal with penalties for “delicts” (offenses against Canon Law). These penalties include excommunication and being placed under interdict. [Note 1]
“The Catholic Encyclopedia” gives some general guidelines for excommunicating people today. This article is available on-line. [Note 2]
In addition to excommunicating individuals, Popes have sentenced large groups of people to excommunication or interdict. For example, in 1014, Pope Leo IX excommunicated the entire Orthodox Church. This means that, according to Catholic theology, every single Orthodox priest, nun, layman, and laywoman is damned to hell unless they repent and submit to Rome. [Note 3]
In the twelfth century, Pope Innocent II placed the entire nation of France under interdict. [Note 4] In 1600, Pope Paul V placed the city of Venice under interdict. [Note 5]
Following is an example of a declaration of excommunication. In the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III declared, “We excommunicate, anathematize, curse and damn him…” He also declared that if any person helped the excommunicated man in any way, then they would come under the same sentence because of it. [Note 6]
One of the most famous incidents of excommunication occurred when Pope Gregory VII excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, and everybody who was associated with him. In order to receive forgiveness from the Pope, and to have the excommunication removed, King Henry had to spend three days repenting in front of the castle where the Pope was staying. It was bitter cold (January, 1077). Henry spent most of his time kneeling in the ice and snow. When Pope Gregory finally allowed King Henry to come into the castle, he publicly humiliated him. [Note 7]
Pope Gregory VII declared that the Pope has the right to depose kings and emperors, to make laws, and to have princes kiss his feet. And nobody has the right to judge the Pope. [Note 8]
Pope Innocent III declared that the Pope has the right to determine who reigns, and that the Pope is entitled to use spiritual “weapons,” including excommunication and interdict. In the papal bull “Deliberatio,” Pope Innocent III said,
“By me kings reign and princes decree justice.” [Note 9]
In the bull “Unam Sanctam (November 18, 1302), Pope Boniface VIII declared that the Pope has both spiritual and worldly power. He ended the bull by pronouncing and declaring,
“[I]t is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff [Pope].” [Note 10]
Pope Boniface’s declaration is an official papal pronouncement regarding a matter of faith. Therefore, according to the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility, it is still in effect, and it cannot be reversed.
1962 INTIMIDATION IN MALTA
A less severe but more modern example of spiritual intimidation is the 1962 election in Malta (a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, near Sicily).
Dr. Mark F. Montebello is a Catholic priest from the Island of Malta. He wrote a series of three articles entitled, “Civil Rights in Malta’s Post-Colonial Age.” The third article describes how the Archbishop of Malta required Malta’s Catholic priests to help him prevent Catholics from voting for the Labour Party candidate (Mintoff) in Malta’s 1962 election.
According to Fr. Montebello, the Archbishop instructed the priests to use the sacrament of confession to coerce the consciences of Catholic voters. He ordered the priests to threaten people with eternal damnation. He also endorsed literature which contained “medieval intimidations” (i.e., the kind of spiritual intimidation that was done during the Middle Ages). [Note 11 links to this article.]
The Catholic Church officially declared that it was a mortal sin to vote for the Labour Party candidate (Mintoff). Priests who failed to cooperate were silenced. Some of them were forced to leave Malta and become missionaries in foreign countries. [Note 12 links to this article.]
Maltese Catholics who voted for the Malta Labour Party were placed under interdict. It became a mortal sin to vote for Mintoff (the Labour Party candidate). Catholics who voted for Mintoff were banned from church life and the sacraments. They were denied a Christian burial. Instead, they were buried in an “unconsecrated” section of the cemetery which was called “the rubbish dump,” implying that the soul of the dead person was damned. A citizen of Malta recounts,
The Catholic Church used the pulpit, the confessional, the media and even public meetings in its vigorous campaign. I asked my father about his experience. When he went to confession, the priest asked him how he intended to vote in the general election and refused to give him absolution. [Note 13 links to this article.]
The Catholic Church categorizes sins as either mortal sins (the most serious kind) or venial sins (which are less serious). [Note 14] According to Catholic doctrine, if a person dies in a state of mortal sin, then he or she is damned to hell. [Note 15] In order for a mortal sin to be forgiven, a Catholic must go to confession (the “sacrament of reconciliation”) and receive absolution from the priest (the priest absolves the person of their sins). [Note 16] However, if a Catholic is under interdict, then he or she is not allowed to receive the sacraments, and therefore cannot receive absolution for their sins.
So if it is a mortal sin to vote for the Labour party, and if the priests refuse to grant absolution to Catholics who voted for the Labour party, then according to Catholic doctrine, those voters cannot have their sins absolved. And they will die in a state of mortal sin, which means that they will go to hell. The one exception would be if someone knows that they are dying and finds a priest who is willing to absolve them of their sin because they are in imminent danger of dying.
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1. “Code of Canon Law,” Latin-English Edition, New English Translation, pages 416, 427-435. Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998.
2. “Excommunication” in “The Catholic Encyclopedia” (1913), Volume 5. This is on-line. The information about modern excommunication begins on page 17 of my print-out.
3. Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” pages 133-134. (New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981.) Malachi Martin recently died. He was a Jesuit priest, a Vatican insider, and the personal confessor of Pope John XXIII.
4. “Pope Innocent II” in “The Catholic Encyclopedia” (1913), Volume 8. It is on-line.
5. “Pope Paul V” in “The Catholic Encyclopedia” (1913), Volume 11. This is on-line.
6. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 199. New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1976, first Touchstone edition 1995. Paul Johnson is a prominent historian and a Catholic.
7. Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” pages 137-145.
8. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” pages 196-197. Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” page 140.
9. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 199.
10. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 191. This papal bull is available on-line.
11. Dr. Mark F. Montebello, “Civil Rights in Malta’s Post-Colonial Age,” Part III, “Independence According to the British,” first subheading, “The Most Shameful Episode”. This article is available on-line. The information is on page 1 of my print-out.
12. E.C. Schembri, “The Making of a Statesman”. This is an article about Mintoff, the Labour Party candidate in Malta’s 1962 election. The information is on page 2 of my print-out.
13. Joe Mizzi, “Liberty of Conscience”. On-line article by a citizen of Malta.
14. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Paragraphs 1854-1856, 1863.
The “Catechism” summarizes the essential and basic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It was approved by Pope John Paul II in 1992 and the English translation was released in 1994. The latest English edition was printed in 2000. It is available on-line, with a search engine.
This second address didn’t always work for me. If you have a problem with it, then go to http://www.scborromeo.org and click under “Must Know” where it says “The Catechism of the Catholic Church”.”.
15. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Paragraphs 1033, 1874.
16. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Paragraphs 1395, 1424, 1449, 1484, 1497.
Copyright 2001 by Mary Ann Collins. All rights reserved.