Excommunication Due To Previous Conversion

Hi All–

I was born and raised Roman Catholic and in 2001 I converted to the Orthodox Church. This year I returned to the Catholic Church via Confession.

Before doing so, I spoke to a friend who is a devout Catholic. He told me that he spoke to a canon lawyer about my return and he said all that was required was Confession.

However, after reading Canon 1364 section 1, it seems that I fell under automatic excommunication which can only be lifted by the bishop. Is this correct?

Without commenting on the jargonistic wording of the canon, I don’t think you have any worries. My wife was a cradle Catholic, left to become a Pentecostal/evangelical with me, and returned to the Catholic Church with only a confession. My experience is not universal, but I have not heard of anyone who took paths similar to those of you and my wife who was not received back into the Church with a simple confession.

How did you “convert”? In other words, what “formal act” did you undertake to become part of the Orthodox Church?


Even though the Code of Canon Law contains “automatic excommunications” for this or that action, it’s not the case that the penalty is applied each and every time that action takes place. The penalty is “automatic” in the sense that no judicial process is needed to impose it.

Anyway, the general rule is that a person cannot be automatically excommunicated and not know it or at least have that possibility in mind, such as “If I do this, I could be excommunicated.” In your case, it seems you first found out about the possibility of excommunication after you had already repented and returned to the Church.

If the priest you confessed to was aware of what you did and absolved you, you should be confident that he acted appropriately. Nothing more is needed on your part, to deal with this issue.


I was received into the Orthodox Church via Chrismation and I also assumed that this meant excommunication from the Catholic Church (this is pretty obvious to me and I would find it strange if it were not the case). I left the Catholic faith in full knowledge and consent.

However, my question was really aimed at understanding how to properly be received back into the Catholic fold. I did not think one had to have the blessing of the local bishop…just go to Confession with a sincere heart. But I certainly thought there would be some kind of penance (e.g. abstain from the Eucharist for a month, etc). When I confessed I was not given any type of substantial penance. The priest was fully aware of my situation.

You should probably visit with your Priest about whether you were supposed to be accepted back by the Bishop. Just by the wording of the law, it appears you did incur the excommunication. However, people who procur an abortion also do…and some Bishops have handed their Priests the ability to hear those confessions and absolve the sin, as opposed to that person having to go to the Bishop. This may be a similar case.

Can. 1364 §1. Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 194, §1, n. 2, an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication; in addition, a cleric can be punished with the penalties mentioned in can. 1336, §1, nn. 1, 2, and 3.

Excommunication can be reversed by sacramental confession 1463,

Check with your parish priest. It’s my understanding that local bishops have given their priests the power to forgive those sins. But check that out 1st with you priest on that.

Your situation would make a good case study in when/how this “automatic” penalty would apply. I don’t want to get into that here, though. Since the priest “was fully aware” of what was going on, I’d think you can trust his judgment.

Nevertheless, I can understand why you would want some sort of confirmation that you are reconciled (legally) to the Church. So, I would suggest that you look up a local canon lawyer priest, lay out all the facts, and see what he says.


My friend, while on retreat, spoke to a canon lawyer about my situation (with all the details) and he believed that I only required Confession to be readmitted to the Eucharist. So I think my opening post was just aimed at a “second opinion” if you will. These guys are Opus Dei so I believe that they would provide an honest and thorough assessment.

Is your testimony written somewhere? I’d love to read it.

If you are in doubt about the priest’s advice and it continues to worry you, you could write to the bishop of your diocese and ask him if your sacramental Confession was sufficient to reinstate you in the Catholic Church.

The* latae sententiae* excommunication must be lifted by the bishop when the penalty applies (which based on your later post, does, for the crime of heresy *). Each bishop can remit the penalty of excommunication but, he generally delegates this faculty to his priests or certain confessors. You can ask the priest that absolved you, if he has been delegated this faculty. However, a confessor without the faculties should have advised you to come back at a mutually convenient time, so the priest can contact the Bishop to get the necessary faculties, and then impart absolution.

Here I’m assuming the prior knowledge of ensuing* latae sententiae*, older than 15, and not coerced, and the full use of reason.

  • because the universal jurisdiction of the Pope is dogma.

You might want to be a bit more precise: do you mean that you assumed that you would not be able to receive communion in the Catholic Church? Or do you mean that you assumed that you would be under a canon law penalty?

But I certainly thought there would be some kind of penance (e.g. abstain from the Eucharist for a month, etc). When I confessed I was not given any type of substantial penance.

Being asked to abstain from the Eucharist for a period of time wouldn’t be a penance, it would be a punishment of sorts, and one that canon law would certainly not anticipate. Penances are meant to fix the damage done by the sins that are being absolved. In what way would abstaining from the graces received in the Eucharist help fix anything?!? :nope:

The priest was fully aware of my situation.

Then, we would presume that he assigned a suitable penance. :shrug:

In the confessional, the priest would tell you if the bishop had granted him the authority to forgive that particular sin.

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