Usurpation, heresy, schism -- legal aspects


Three questions:

First, If one were to say one’s own mass in private, but did not reveal this to anyone, and did not allow anyone to attend, would one technically still be considered guilty of “usurpation of the liturgical function”? The relevant canonical law is 1378, par. 2, sub 2. And furthermore, would one still be excommunicated lata sententia? It seems that this would depend on whether the word “function” in “liturgical function” refers to saying mass for a congregation, or to saying mass per se.

(Note that I’m not asking whether or not the consecration would be valid; that is a different matter that I’m currently not inquiring into.)

Second, if one were to hold (persistently) to beliefs that would likely be considered as incompatible with RCC doctrine in certain details, but did not announce this to anyone, would one technically still be considered guilty of heresy? The relevant canonical law is 1364, par. 1.

Third, if one were to expound certain of such incompatible views to others, but recommend those others to remain obediently within the RCC nevertheless, would one technically still be considered a schismatic?

(Note that I have emphasized the word “technically” three times to indicate that I’m not looking for emotional responses to these questions. I’m inquiring as to what the Church’s legal view would be in these cases.)




This Canon Law website explains the conditions for excommunication and heresy (it is not nearly as simple as one might think) This article links to other posts from the author regarding excommunications.


I need a wall chart to diagram the multifarious hypothetical points and questions. Sometimes the academic is only sophomoric.


These would be my responses but I wouldn’t think to call them “the Church’s legal view.”

  1. Where did you see the phrase “usurpation of the liturgical function”? As for the crime/penalty given in c. 1378.2, there is no distinction made between public/private attempts to celebrate Mass. So, even a private attempt would be a criminal act. The penalty is an “automatic” interdict (for laity) or “automatic” suspension (for a cleric, which, in this case, is limited to deacons), not excommunication.

  2. No, heretical positions have to be manifested to someone in order for the heresy to be criminal (c. 1330).

  3. Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Pope or from communion with those subject to him (c. 751). It seems you are speaking of heretical views being expounded, along with anti-schismatic intent. If a person manifests heretical views to others, it doesn’t matter what he encourages other people to do: the views are still heretical. He would apparently not be schismatic.



Sorry, I mixed up two terms. The title of the section of canonical law that I linked, is actually “Usurpation of Ecclesiastical functions”. Then, 1378 par. 1 sub 1., speaks of attempted “liturgical action”.

I wonder how an interdict can be imposed automatically? By Wikipedia’s definition it’s “a ban that prohibits [a] person […] from participating in certain rites”. Wouldn’t it have to be specified which rites the interdict forbids the person from participating in? And wouldn’t that require the sentence to be passed explicitly instead of automatically?

Thanks for your answer.


To the OP: if a person were to obstinately hold heretic propositions, he would be considered an occult heretic, and it would still be a mortal sin, severing the spiritual bond he has with the Church. Unless the heresy was manifest and occurred in the external forum, however, he would only be guilty of sin and not of an ecclesiastical crime, and the legal bond he has with the Church would not be severed.

On an unrelated note, this distinction between heresy as a sin and a crime completely destroys the sedevacantist theory…


This is specified in the law. Canon 1331 defines the results of excommunication and c. 1332 those of interdict.



Thanks for your comment. This distinction is too often ignored, unknown, dismissed, etc., even in ecclesiastical documents.



This topic was automatically closed 14 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.

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