Valid but Illicit Confessions while Excommunicated?

Long story short: I came back to the faith after falling away for 20 years. I didn’t realize until a couple months ago that I likely fell under the automatic excommunication for apostasy. Before getting that excommunication absolved, I had been going to Confession regularly for 1.5 years, and I also got Confirmed.

Do these sacraments fall into the “valid but illicit” category? Or should I figure out how to “redo” them?

There is an older thread here that contains some answers, but the posters there tend to assume that “you can’t be excommunicated without knowledge of the relevant law”. Regarding apostasy, such a requirement appears to be ambiguous because, in the past, I had renounced the faith and intended to separate myself from the Body of Christ, so excommunication in essence would be a just sentence, even if I didn’t know the entire formal details of the punishment.

Title of older post: [Does excommunication render sacraments invalid or just illicit?]

What makes you think you were excommunicated for apostasy?



If you were not even aware of the possibility that you might be excommunicated you, by the nature of Canon Law, were NOT EXCOMMUNICATED.


I came back to the faith after many years away, during which I called myself an atheist and rejected the Church. When I returned and confessed, I confessed this sin and my confessor provided absolution.


Then you were not excommunicated. Canon Law requires knowing that the penalty of excommunication automatically attaches. The intention of Canon Law is never to hinder returning to the faith and receiving the sacraments.

There is no ambiguity. Be at peace.

At most confess that you renounced the faith if you had not already done so (However, remember prior confessions have already absolved you of any unconfessed sins!).

If you have further concerns, speak with your pastor. You will only get well meaning but conflicting information online.


The good news is that one cannot be excommunicated and not realize it. Knowledge is required.


Hmm… is the requirement a knowledge of automatic (i.e., latae sententiae) excommunication? That doesn’t sound right…

As others have said, a person cannot incur excommunication—or any other canonical penalty, for that matter—without knowing that he has violated a law or precept (c. 1323). That aside, while you recognize that by falling away from the faith, you committed the sin of apostasy, nothing in your post indicates that you committed the delict (canonical lingo for “crime”) of apostasy. Any Catholic who repudiates the Christian faith can commit the sin of apostasy (including some of those who “fall away”), but the conditions for committing the delict are much higher.

The delict of apostasy is a public and pertinacious repudiation of the Christian faith and breaking of communion with the Church. The requirement that the crime be public excludes the vast majority of Catholics who simply fall away and stop practicing the faith from the realm of the excommunicated. Pertinacity can only be established through a process involving intervention by the competent authority followed by a period of sufficient reflection. (As a side note, the need for due process here indicates that latae sententiae censures are not quite “automatic.”)

If you did not publicly reject the Christian faith and separate from the Church, and then go through a process of negotiations with an ecclesiastical authority, then rest assured that you did not commit the delict of apostasy, and are not subject to the latae sententiae excommunication prescribed by c. 1364. Thus, there is no need to worry about the liceity of the other sacraments you received upon resuming practice of the faith.


refer to the 1983 Code of Canon Law

Can. 1321 §1. No one is punished unless the external violation of a law or precept, committed by the person, is gravely imputable by reason of malice or negligence.

Can. 1323 The following are not subject to a penalty when they have violated a law or precept:

1/ a person who has not yet completed the sixteenth year of age;

2/ a person who without negligence was ignorant that he or she violated a law or precept; inadvertence and error are equivalent to ignorance;

3/ a person who acted due to physical force or a chance occurrence which the person could not foresee or, if foreseen, avoid;

4/ a person who acted coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave, or due to necessity or grave inconvenience unless the act is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls;

5/ a person who acted with due moderation against an unjust aggressor for the sake of legitimate self defense or defense of another;

6/ a person who lacked the use of reason, without prejudice to the prescripts of cann. 1324, §1, n. 2 and 1325;

7/ a person who without negligence thought that one of the circumstances mentioned in nn. 4 or 5 was present.

Yes, you have to be aware that an action has a penalty in canon law:

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A person who was unaware of having violated a law or precept is not subject to a penalty (c. 1323), while a person who was aware of the violation, but was unaware that there was a penalty attached, must have his penalty mitigated or replaced by a penance (c. 1324).

The Wikipedia article, by the way, contains several errors. Canon 1324 does not apply to those who are not yet sixteen; canon 1323 covers that by exempting such persons from censures completely. Canon 1324 applies to those who have reached sixteen, but who are still minors (the age of majority in canon law is eighteen).

Further, the first paragraph is incorrect; regardless of whether the penalty is latae sententiae or ferendae sententiae, it is never removed completely by canon 1324. The article itself goes on to cite a case involving a latae sententiae excommunication (c. 1398), and explains the applicability of canon 1324, making this discrepancy rather odd.

You need to be aware that an action is a crime, thus potentially subject to a penalty. This is getting far removed from the original poster’s situation, hence the mere referral to various other sources.

Nothing in my post indicated otherwise, so I’m puzzled as to why you felt the need to respond to me. I’m just drawing a distinction between canons 1323 and 1324.

I agree. Nothing he writes indicated he even committed the formal, canonical delict of apostasy to begin with.

Read the parable of the Prodigal Son…we are all Prodigal Sons and Daughters but there is only one true loving Father…in the parable, the son returns contrite, but notices the Father runs to greet him and to welcome him home, and to reinstate his inheritance…so it is with our relationship with our Heavenly Father…your return has been matched and exceeded by His welcoming love…Be at peace, and REJOICE!

As others have stated, Canon Law requires knowledge that the penalty of excommunication attaches.

I think if you have any other questions, please discuss them with your pastor.

As excommunication is the most serious of issues, I would respectfully ask @camoderator to close this thread before it incorrect information is shared with the OP.


Doesn’t excommunication have to be a public anathema?

Not latæ sententiæ ones.

I like the post of that “dans0622” guy in the old thread. He seems to know what he is talking about…



If the priest accepted your confession and gave you absolution then you are no longer excommunicated.

It doesn’t work that way, unless the priest specifically “absolved” the censure (which he can do in at least some circumstances), which is distinct from absolving sin.


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