Can the Pope be excommunicated?

In 1054, Pope Leo IX was getting on the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius’ nerves and Patriarch Cerularius was getting on Pope Leo’s nerves (or maybe they were just doctrinal disputes). So they excommunicated each other! I know the Pope can excommunicate another bishop (Marcel Lefebvre) but can a bishop excommunicate the Pope? I would think you’d need a majority of the bishops to excommunicate the Pope.

The Pope can override any disciplinary action. So, I don’t think this would work.

What if the Pope were to commit an act that incurs excommunication “Latae Sententiae”? For example, if the Pope were to intentionally break the confessional seal or assist materially in an abortion, would he be excommunicated, or does the fact that he is the Pope shield himself from this, or allow him to remove his own excommunication?

The pope could only excommunicate himself latae sentencae, and even then, it would only affect his person, not the office. An excommunicated individual can still hold office - removal from office is a separate disciplinary action. I don’t believe anyone has the authority to declare an excommunication against the Pope, or to remove the Pope from office, at least without excommunicating himself latae sentencae in the process!

In the event of a Pope giving himself a latae sentencae excommunication, the solution would be for the man holding the Papacy to receive reconciliation, which most Popes past and present have received quite frequently. If serious enough, he may even resign to avoid further scandal.

I doubt the Patriarch of Constantinople would have agreed with you on that. :smiley:

What is latae sentencae?

Pope Leo did not excommunicate the Patriach, Cardinal Humbert took that duty upon himself after been sent as an envoy by Leo. In fact the Cardinal’s excommunication can be viewed as invalid as Pope Leo had died several months before it.

 Certain sins carry an automatic excommunication (apostasy, heresy, etc.).

“Latae sententiae” is Latin for “given sentence.”

Thanks! :thumbsup:

sentenced by the law itself. Automatic.

The Patriarch of Constantinople never actually attempted to excommunicate the Pope, just the Pope’s delegates personally. This subtly, though, didn’t exactly ease the existing tensions between Rome and Constantinople.

Indeed and at points neither side behaved with the greatest of grace or diplomacy. It would be hard to know looking at the situation who behaved the most boorishly at times.

The Pope is above Canon Law. So he cannot be excommunicated latae sentencae. He is the final interpreter of Canon Law, therefore all he has to do is interpret the situation in a way that conforms to the law, or make the law not applicable to him or the situation at all. I’m not suggesting that the Pope will be dishonest in doing so. I’m just saying that his authority is such.

Christ is Ascended!

It all depends on what time period you are talking about because excommunication has meant different things at different times for different peoples. For example, the Meletian Schism, the Acacian Schism, the Photian Schism all had struck the pope of Rome from the diptychs, effectively not commemorating him at the proper place in the Liturgy. Moving through history, one could argue that the Church of England excommunicated the pope. Even in our modern era all the various groups that split off after Vatican 1 and 2 effectively excommunicated the pope in the most basic sense and understanding of the term.

In Christ,

This may sound like a dumb question, and may not be completely apropos for the thread, but I don’t understand this. Doesn’t every mortal sin in effect excommunicate one? I mean, you are forbidden to receive when in a state of mortal sin. Or is there something even more than that for excommunication?

Mortal sin separates you from the Church and you cannot receive Communion,not because someone forbids you to but because you are not properly disposed to receive it. It is a spiritual punishment and it occurs internally.

Excommunication is a disciplinary punishment. It is applied externally. An excommunication is not just indisposed to receive Communion, he/she is forbidden. He/she would not be able to receive the other Sacraments either such as Matrimony or Confirmation. An excommunicated person can go to Confession but the excommunication is lifted by the Bishop in most cases.

Yes, committing a mortal sin does excommunicate you. It cut’s you off from God, his grace, and the Church. This is why we must go to Confession to be reconciled to the Church, God, and his grace in the sacraments.

Actually, I don’t know why bishops excommunicate people for committing mortal sins if they are already excommunicated when they commit it.

To be honest, I don’t really know. :blush:

Anyone can excommunicate the Pope. Anyone who does, however, is no longer Catholic.

So they’re not really excommunicating just the Pope, but everyone in communion with him.

I don’t think that this is how it always was thought. I think it is probably the case that later bishops of Rome (perhaps he likes of Boniface VII and Eugene IV) introduced this concept along with their variety of EENS.

The problem, I think, is that what excommunication means to people has in some way changed over time.

I think most Roman Catholics assume that this means “throw the person out of the church”. So the original question might be rephrased to ask “can the Pope be thrown out of the church?”. Would that be a correct way of describing the question, or did you have something else in mind?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit