Exactly what are the consequences for someone that dies excommunicated?

****Here is a question that has no proper answer for me; exactly what are the consequences for someone that dies excommunicated? The reason I ask is because it is not impossible for a lifting of the punishment after death. So, if one goes to hell when one dies in a state of excommunicvation, how can one get out of hell when it is lifted? Could this bring back Limbo?

Any ideas to this important question?

Excommunication, AFAIK, is only relevant to the Church Militant. It is not a sentence to hell, but is always meant to be remedial or medicinal. If a person dies excommunicated, the Church does not and cannot declare that such a person is in Hell. The Church has no authority to do that.

This is validated by the fact that the Church Militant can pray for an excommunicated person.

The most severe penality in the early Church was known as an “Anathema, Maranatha!” Basically, it consigned a person to the judgment of God in the Final Judgment. That the worst penalty the Church has ever pronounced explicitly does not consign to Hell, that should tell you that an excommunication does not do so.

Hope that helps.


You’re quite right, Murduk, excommunication does not equal a sentence to Perdition. However, the pronouncement of excommunication is usually reserved for serious offenses, most of them quite sinful. For example, these offenders automatically incur excommunication:

* an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic;
* a person who throws away the consecrated Eucharistic species or takes and retains them for a sacrilegious purpose;
* a person who uses physical force against the Pope;
* a priest who absolves an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment (the ban on adultery) except in danger of death;
* a bishop who ordains someone a bishop without a pontifical mandate, and the person who receives the ordination from him;
* a confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal of confession;
* a person who procures a completed abortion;
* accomplices who are not named in a law prescribing latae sententiae excommunication but without whose assistance the violation of the law would not have been committed.
* a person who violates the secrecy of a papal election, or who interferes with it by means such as simony;
* a woman who simulates ordination as a priest or a bishop who simulates the ordination of a woman as a priest.
* using physical force against a bishop;
* attempting to preside at Eucharist, or giving sacramental absolution, when not a priest;
* falsely denouncing a confessor for soliciting a penitent to sin against the sixth commandment;
* a perpetually professed religious who attempts marriage.

With these sorts of offenses, it is safe to say that excommunicated persons are in mortal danger.

Thanks for that Marduk and Rici, answered in one. Is this a record?

That is not my understanding? :confused:
But I am open to being corrected.


The answer is if the person remains in mortal sin at death, they go to hell. If they repent and reorient toward God, they go to heaven.

Dear brother MarcoPolo,

Exactly. Good point. We don’t know the mind and heart of an excommunicated person at the point of death. Even if he/she never publicly repented, the repentance could have occurred at that point. Only God really knows. As stated, excommunications are only relevant to and for the Church Militant (i.e., the Church on earth, for readers who may not be familiar with that term).


Excommunication was the punishment for being a Freemason.

Archbishop Lefebvre was either self-excommunicated or excommunicated by Pope John Paul II without canonical trial.

So, if 'excommunicated means ‘in mortal sin’ then it is hell at death if still excommunicated. So are we to believe that man is in hell thanks to Pope John Paul II and his interpretation of Canon law? And if in hell you do not get out of there., no?

A lifting of this excommunication, legal or illegal, is on the cards. This rather contradicts the idea that excommunication is a state of mortal sin. If it means ‘outside the legal Church’ but no mortal sin then excommunication does not mean mortal sin and that determines out destiny. So the Archbishop could be excommunicated in heaven? I could go on.

This is why I asked the question.

I am inclined to go with Marduk’s answer.

Allow me to be more explicit in my understanding: Why do you believe an excommunication can be lifted after the death of the individual?

My understanding is that the penalty of excommunication *ceases *with the death of the individual, simply because the effects of excommunication become moot at that point.

Can. 1331 §1. An excommunicated person is forbidden:

1/ to have any ministerial participation in celebrating the sacrifice of the Eucharist or any other ceremonies of worship whatsoever;

2/ to celebrate the sacraments or sacramentals and to receive the sacraments;

3/ to exercise any ecclesiastical offices, ministries, or functions whatsoever or to place acts of governance.

§2. If the excommunication has been imposed or declared, the offender:

1/ who wishes to act against the prescript of §1, n. 1 must be prevented from doing so, or the liturgical action must be stopped unless a grave cause precludes this;

2/ invalidly places acts of governance which are illicit according to the norm of §1, n. 3;

3/ is forbidden to benefit from privileges previously granted;

4/ cannot acquire validly a dignity, office, or other function in the Church;

5/ does not appropriate the benefits of a dignity, office, any function, or pension, which the offender has in the Church.

Which of these privileges do you believe could be enjoyed by a dead person?

I repeat as well: I could be completely mistaken in my understanding, and welcome correction if so.

So, if 'excommunicated means ‘in mortal sin’ then it is hell at death if still excommunicated.

First there is a difference between excommunicating oneself through actions and being excommunicated by authority. The latter is not generally done out of the blue, there is usually clear warning and other measures taken prior to declaring someone excommunicated.

Excommunicated does not equal mortal sin necessarily. Excommunication could be lifted and a person might still be in mortal sin. What determines the eternal punishment of hell is being in the state of mortal sin at death, which has little to do with excommunication. I think you’re mixing up the two and that’s causing you confusion in trying to reach a conclusion based on that.

That is correct. A person excommunicated might not even be in mortal sin depending on the culpability of their understanding in committing an excommunicative action. I would imagine most are aware of their error and choose to affront the Church hierarchy, but some may earnestly be confused on a matter. As mardukm said, the purpose is to prompt the individual to recognize his error and to teach the faithful the severity and danger of the error.

See Jimmy Akin’s treatment of “Anethema”.

In my humble opinion, an excommunication officially declared on a very specific individual person (i.e. ferendae sententiae excommunication) is not always infallible, such would be the case if declared by an individual bishop or the Pope individually when exercising his ordinary magisterium. Such excommunications can be lifted if found to be in error and therefore invalid or if the individual recants a formal heresy. There have been cases where certain Saints and Blesseds have been erroneously excommunicated and later have been exonerated. This can happen when the bishop or inquisitor is influenced by politics, or when for example a brilliant theologian proposes a new legitimate way to express an old doctrine or proposes a legitimate development of an existing doctrine which can be in conformity with the Church yet simultaneously seem to be heretical by those who are a bit theologically ignorant. Now, in my humble opinion, in the case when the excommunication is solemnly declared in an exercise of the extraordinary magisterium (e.g. Ecumenical Council or accompanied by an Ex Cathedra statement) or when agreed to unanimously by the bishops in union with the Pope, then it is infallible. It would be lifted if the person recants. It is rare that the Extraordinary Magisterium would excommunicate someone by name, they usually make use of automatic excommunication (i.e. latae sententiae) as is the case with all the series of “anathemas” you see in old councils. Though it does happen at times that an Ecumenical Council excommunicate someone specifically by name or that the bishops in union with the Pope though scattered throughout the world unanimously excommunicate a heretical leader which is how heresies got their names from their very founders.

Well tee eff em, before I posted this thread I was the one confused. But the answers I got from you and others make perfect sense. I simply had thought excommunication was putting one ‘outside the Church’ which is as we know the only way to heaven. All posts so far have been excellent, thanks all.

This leaves one revelant question. Can one appeal an excommunication of a dead person under canon law? After all who would like this stigma on one’s reputation after death. One could hardly expect to be made a saint, could one. Are there any examples of such an appeal?

Not any more than one would appeal a jail sentence for a dead person. The jail term only has meaning if the convicted is alive to suffer the punishment. The same is true of excommunication. It is only meaningful while the person is alive.

After all who would like this stigma on one’s reputation after death. One could hardly expect to be made a saint, could one. Are there any examples of such an appeal?

Moot point. See above.

[FONT=Arial]A convict may have died in jail, but there could still be a posthumous reversal of the courts decision.

Are you sure the same is not true of an excommunication?


ISTM that the distintion is that the sentence is usualy a separate decision from the guilt decision. The reversal of the court decision about is about the guilt decision, correct?

The only possible “posthumous reversal of the court’s decision” is if the excommunication wasn’t valid in the first place. Saint Joan of Arc comes to mind. But such a declaration can only be made if there was some irregularity with the excommunication like there was in her case. If there wasn’t, the excommunication can’t be erased from the history books because it validly existed at the time.

Good post Alindawy. Archbishop Lefevre followed canon law that allows a bishop to consecrate other bishops if he feels in conscience that the faith is threatened. Given he is often refered to as ‘the excommunicated Lefebvre’, surely in justice he is given a trial that I believe would be a walk over. And why? Because nobody can say another’s conscience differs to what they say it believes.

Dear cassini,

I would agree in principle with your rationale (Canon law states a bishop can dispense even from a universal law for the good of his flock), but the case with Archbishop Lefevre is different because, IIRC, his superior (whether in his role as Patriarch or Pope) explicitly forbade the consecrations.


It is my understanding that the Canon Law that permits the bishop to consecrate other bishops without prior Papal approval is intended for circumstances in which adequate means of communication is severely lacking to facilitate the Pope’s approval. An example would be in case of a totalitarian communist dictatorship that persecutes Christians and blocks all communication with the outside world by its people. Another case would perhaps be when the Papal See is vacant for a long duration of perhaps several years as can indeed happen. So, in such a case, it is a grave circumstance that would necessitate that the bishop consecrate other bishops for the task without papal approval. It is not intended as a way to create a counter-church in direct opposition of the Pope, his Roman Curia, and the other bishops in union with him.

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