Papal Use of Interdicts, etc

I’m on a board with Protestants. One of them talks about the abuses of the Papacy in history.

He says the Popes abused their authority of excommunication and put whole countries under interdict, so that its people couldn’t receive the Eucharist or the Sacraments. (Or something like that.

What is the truth about this and how should i respond?

Yeah, it’s happened.

So what? What do they think that proves (if anything)?

BTW, it can still happen today. As recently as 1955 a Bishop placed an interdict over a parish in Louisiana (they were refusing to let a black priest enter).

The Catholic Encyclopedia discusses interdicts:

From that article, you should be able to discern that interdicts are not an abuse and they do not make salvation more difficult. Individuals in an interdicted country, who cannot receive the Sacraments, can still receive the grace of the Sacraments by desire for them. As a result, they can continue to live a life of holiness and grace.

Hi Dmar,

Good to see you around.

Why would Popes put whole area or countries under an interdict? I would be very upset if, for example, Pope Francis put the U.S. or my state or diocese under interdict. That doesn’t mean it would be wrong. But I’m just trying to understand the reasons why it was done in the past, and whether there were cases where it is just, or unjust.

Then-archbishop Burke placed members of St Stanislaus in St Louis under interdict about 10 years ago, and eventually under excommunication. It is certainly not a thing of the past.

It’s not just Popes - Bishops can impose interdicts within their jurisdiction.

There are various reasons why this might be done. The Pope put England under interdict when King John refused to recognize the new Archbishop of Canterbury (back when the King and the AoC were Catholic). King John doesn’t get to dictate how the Catholic Church will operate in England.

An interdict is a way for the Church to impose non-violent political pressure upon a Catholic ruler, and is usually done only when the ruler is acting very badly. For example, Scotland was placed under interdict because of violent raids on England. This led to the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, ending the raids.

An interdict is only as effective as the pressure it puts on a leader. In a country like the United States, where Catholic leaders are uncommon, and where Catholic citizens are a minority (and often indifferent), it would not be very effective. So it is unlikely that a Pope would impose an interdict on the United States. The effect on the people must be weighed against the effect on the leadership.

Interdicts are not always effective, but I am not aware of any (especially at the Papal level) that I think were not imposed with good reason and intent.

What was the reason behind Burke’s decision to do this? Was the parish teaching heresy or something?

Thanks DavidFilmer. That helps.

From Wiki:

St. Stanislaus Kostka Church is an independent Catholic church located in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. It was established as a Catholic parish in 1880 to serve the Polish community in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It is considered to be the best example of the opulent Polish Cathedral style of architecture west of the Mississippi River.

The church is notable for a highly publicized dispute over control of the parish and its assets between the church’s lay board of directors and the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In December 2005, the Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke declared the parish’s board members and its priest, Marek Bozek, excommunicated and announced his intention to suppress the parish, that is, disband it, with the likelihood that the premises would be sold. The church responded by holding a Christmas Eve Mass attended by 1,500-2,000 people.[1] The church and the Archdiocese settled their legal dispute in 2013.

The church continues to be maintained and managed by its parishioners as a not-for-profit corporation, calling itself “Catholic”, but which is unaffiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

Then, under Conflict with Archdiocese

The controversy, involving both the control of the physical and financial assets of the parish and the administrative authority of the archbishop, focused on whether those assets would be controlled by a pastor appointed by the archbishop, which is the canonical norm, or by a lay board of directors who renounced the archbishop’s authority over the board.[2] The controversy began under Cardinal John J. Glennon and continued under the late Cardinal Joseph Ritter and his successors, Archbishop John May, Cardinal Justin Rigali, and Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke. The present Archbishop of St. Louis, Robert James Carlson, is endeavoring to find an adequate compromise that satisfies canon law and all concerned parties, but the breakaway members rejected his latest proposal, though efforts are ongoing.

Thanks MJJean,

That is interesting. It sounds like a parish that went rogue. I never want there to be any lack of mercy toward anyone, since I’m a sinner. But I can’t help but wonder–without disrespecting the Bishops, who represent Christ–why interdict or excommunication are not used with heretical or lax parishes.

I"m thinking for example of parishes which never address contraception, for example, because “half the parish would leave” (as I was told at one parish).

Of course there are many parishes where hardly anyone goes to confession, and we hardly ever get sound catechesis from the pulput, and there is little outreach to those in need.

But maybe I’m being judgmental or harsh in a way that is not Christlike.

I am a sinner and very sensitive to criticism myself, and don’t ever want people to feel overwhelmed or rejected, but it seems sometimes like we are trying to be “kinder than Christ”–which is not real kindness at all–and that we are very negligent about moral and theological issues which are devastating the flock.

It seems like reception of Communion without ever going to confession, and without agreeing with Catholic teaching, has become the norm.

Remember that we lay evangelists are in sales, not management.

It is the bishop’s responsibility to discipline his flock. I am encouraged when I see strong bishops take a stand and do something disciplinary, so long as it seems reasonable, but I try not to take scandal from bishops who Seem not to “use the rod,” so to speak. I imagine there is more to the story than I know.

Canon Law allows us to make our thoughts on such subjects known to our bishops. With the growth of Catholic radio, many bishops now make themselves available to diocesan listeners for questions and comments on regular Catholic radio programs across the nation. My diocese has been very blessed to have our bishop on the radio every week to take questions and comments and to let people know the direction he is heading. You can use resources like these to make your thoughts known to your bishop in a charitable and optimistic way.

Being “lax” is in the eye of the beholder, and not a canonical offense.

Heterodox teachings certainly are serious, and an individual priest, theologian, or other person publicly teaching heresy would be something that a bishop would indeed censure.

You have not provided examples of heterodox teaching, merely your opinions on how a parish “should” do things.


“The parish” does not address or not address contraception. The pastor does. The pastor is responsible for what he preaches or doesn’t preach. But not preaching a homily on contraception does not equal heresy.

Unfortunate. But not an example of someone teaching heresy.

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