On Tuesday, I wrote about the hot water Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus cannonballed into when he said he supported abortion rights and stem cell research. Saint Louis is a Catholic school, and Archbishop Raymond Burke of the St. Louis archdiocese took umbrage.

Here's an update: Given Burke's history, the archbishop would probably deny giving Communion to Majerus, a Catholic. He could ask for reconcilliation and be brought back into the Catholic communion. This could also lead to his being excommunicated or separated from the church. This is rarely used in today's church and then under extreme circumstances. Excommunication is never a merely "vindictive penalty" (designed solely to punish), but is always a "medicinal penalty" intended to pressure the person into changing their behavior or statements, repent and return to full communion.

Excommunicated persons are barred from participating in the liturgy in a ministerial capacity (for instance, as a reader if a lay person, or as a deacon or priest if a clergyman) and from receiving the eucharist or the other sacraments, but is normally not barred from attending these (for instance, an excommunicated person may not receive Communion, but would not be barred from attending Mass). Certain other rights and privileges are revoked, such as holding ecclesiastical office.

Excommunication can be incurred either ferendae sententiae (imposed or declared as the sentence of an ecclesiastical court) or latae sententiae (automatic, incurred at the moment the offensive act takes place).

The excommunicant is still considered Christian and a Catholic as the character imparted by baptism is held to be indelible. [1]

In the Roman Catholic Church excommunication is usually terminated by a statement of repentance, profession of the Creed (if the offense involved heresy), or a renewal of obedience (if that was a relevant part of the offending act) by the person who has been excommunicated; the lifting of the excommunication itself, by a priest or bishop empowered to do this; and then the reception of the sacrament of penance. In many cases, this whole process takes place within the privacy of the confessional and during the same act of confession.

Offenses that incur excommunication must be absolved by a priest or bishop empowered to lift the penalty. This is usually the local ordinary ( bishop or vicar general) or priests whom the local ordinary designates (in many dioceses, most priests are empowered to lift most excommunications otherwise reserved to the bishop, notably that involved with abortion).

The topic has created a dialogue on Saint Louis' campus.

"If SLU wants to have a policy of, 'you have to be Catholic and believe the Catholic way,' SLU wouldn't exist," research assistant in SLU's School of Medicine Laura Willingham told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Should (Majerus) have said it publicly? There's freedom of speech."

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell wrote, "Thankfully, SLU officials — including the Rev. Lawrence Biondi — took a more open-minded view. The school announced that Majerus was entitled to speak his mind, particularly when he's acting as a private citizen, not a representative of the school." If he had said this in private, then no harm, no foul. If he makes the comment with the caveat that "I'm speaking as a private citizen, not an employee of St. Louis University, then it should have stayed as that. That's fine and good. But when you work for a Catholic college, such as SLU, DePaul or even Notre Dame, you not only have the world looking at you, you have Rome and the Vatican peeking too. Loose lips sink ships.

If this were the Spanish Inquisition, Majerus would be summoned before Torequdemada and have the question put to him. At best, he would be flogged. At worst, he would more than likely be burned at the stake. There are three other penalties that he could get.

  1. He could be penanced. Considered guilty, he had to abjure publicly his crimes ( de levi if it was a misdemeanor, and de vehementi if the crime were serious), and was condemned to punishment. Among these were the sambenito, exile, fines or even sentence to the galleys.
  2. He could be reconciled. In addition to the public ceremony in which the condemned was reconciled with the Catholic Church, more severe punishments existed, among them long sentences to jail or the galleys, and the confiscation of all property. Also physical punishments existed, such as whipping. 
  3. The most serious punishment was relaxation to the secular arm, that implied burning at the stake. This penalty was frequently applied to impenitent heretics and those who had relapsed. Execution was public. If Majerus repented, he was garroted before his body was given to the flames. If not, he was burned alive.

An online poll at the Post-Dispatch had 83% of votes on Majerus' side.

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