One thing that I think many of us forget (myself included) when we see references to the Church’s right to use “coercion” in regards to Canon Law, is that these canons do not just apply to the laity (the ordinary members sitting in the pews), but they also apply to members of the clergy and religious orders (nuns, monks, etc.). This is a situation that calls for a much more complex application of those laws.
In many non-Catholic Christian churches, at least in those which are independent and self-governing, much of their membership is only comprised of a minister and the regular members of their independent congregation. I don’t think they have a lot of rules about how they might handle the issue of fidelity among their members. It seems to me that they probably just come and go on a regular basis, because many people tend to go wherever they find a church that they like. I do realize that there are others that have some more formal structure (Lutherans, etc.), so I would think they might be more understanding of the need for certain regulations, common to all churches under their organization.
But, even those who have a common structure of law among their many member churches, when they look at the Canon Laws of the Catholic Church, they still tend to only look at them being applied to the general congregation. They don’t have the same kind of hierarchical structure, and don’t understand the concept of Priests and Religious who take life-long vows (such as obedience, poverty, chastity, etc.), which may make a huge difference in how any Canon Law would apply to them.
Some penalties that the Church might apply are specifically targeted at different members, according to their personal position in the Church. Whether they are clergy, extraordinary ministers, members of a religious order, or just a regular member of the laity, their position or office will determine which penalties are appropriate for the offense, and how those penalties are applied. Some members might only be required to perform simple acts of penance, while others might be subject to a formal excommunication. In the case of a Priest, not only might it include their loss of participation in the sacraments, but also their ability to perform the sacraments, as well as a loss of residence and of pay. It’s a much more complicated issue than most people might think it would be.
So, many of the concerns voiced (and accusations made) by people on the outside, about what kinds of “coercion” the Catholic Church might try to use against anyone wanting to leave the Church, are mostly due to a misunderstanding of Canon Law, or possibly the result of over active imaginations. Especially among those who keep looking at what took place over 500 years ago, when there was an entirely different kind of political structure in place, that blurred the lines between civil law and Canon Law. Those kinds of situations no longer exist in the modern world.
I certainly understand that it’s a good thing to always remember what happened, so it can never happen again. But, I also think it’s time to set those sad memories aside and try to look forward to a brighter future, instead of living in the dark shadows of an unfortunate past.