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In Catholic canon law, an interdict ( /ˈɪntərdɪkt/ ) is an ecclesiastical censure, or ban that prohibits persons, certain active Church individuals or groups from participating in certain rites, or that the rites and services of the church are banished from having validity in certain territories for a limited or extended time. [1]

Before 1917

1917 Code of Canon Law


Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law, interdicts were either personal, if applied directly to a person, wherever this person was, or local, if applied directly to a locality and only indirectly to the people in that place whether permanently or only on a visit. [2] Only the Holy See was empowered to impose a general interdict on a diocese or State or a personal interdict on the people of a diocese or country, but bishops too could impose a general interdict on a parish or on the people of a parish or a particular interdict on a place (such as a church or oratory, an altar or a cemetery) or a person. [3]


A local interdict forbade in general the public celebration of sacred rites. Exceptions were made for the dying, and local interdicts were almost entirely suspended on five feasts of the year: Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, Pentecost, Corpus Christi and the feast of the Assumption of Mary. [4]

Those who were under personal interdict were forbidden to be present at any religious rite except the preaching of the word of God; while mere attendance by them did not require that they be expelled, if they were well known to be under interdict they were to be prevented from taking an active part. [5]

1983 Code of Canon Law

An interdict today has the effect of forbidding the person concerned to celebrate or receive any of the sacraments, including the Eucharist, or to celebrate the sacramentals. One who is under interdict is also forbidden to take any ministerial part (e.g., as a reader if a layperson or as a deacon or priest if a clergyman) in the celebration of the Eucharist or of any other ceremony of public worship. [6]

These are the only effects for those who have incurred a latae sententiae interdict, namely, one incurred automatically at the moment of committing the offence for which canon law imposes that penalty. For instance, a priest may not refuse Communion publicly to those who are under merely automatic interdict, even if he knows that they have incurred this kind of interdict [7] - unless the cause for the interdict is known to the priest not only privately but publicly, and is persistent, in which case (though not technically by reason of the interdict) people are to be withheld Communion by force of can. 915.

However, in the case of a ferendae sententiae interdict, one incurred only when imposed by a legitimate superior or declared as the sentence of an ecclesiastical court, [8] those affected are not to be admitted to Holy Communion [9] (see canon 915), and if they violate the prohibition against taking a ministerial part in celebrating the Eucharist or some other ceremony of public worship, they are to be expelled or the sacred rite suspended, unless there is a grave reason to the contrary. [6] In the same circumstances, local ordinaries and parish priests lose their right to assist validly at marriages. [10]

Automatic (latae sententiae) interdict is incurred by anyone using physical violence against a bishop, [11] as also by a person who, not being an ordained priest, attempts to celebrate Mass, or who, though unable to give valid sacramental absolution, attempts to do so, or hears a sacramental confession. [12] Automatic interdict is also incurred by anyone falsely accusing a priest of soliciting sexual favours in connection with confession [13] or attempting to marry while having a perpetual vow of chastity. [14]

An interdict is also the censure that canon law says should be imposed on someone who, because of some act of ecclesiastical authority or ministry publicly incites to hatred against the Holy See or the Ordinary, or who promotes or takes up office in an association that plots against the Church, [15] or who commits the crime of simony. [16]

Notable local canonical interdicts







Interdiction featured in 20th-century Maltese politics.

Between 1930 and 1933, those who voted for the progressive Compact parties (Constitutional Party, Labour Party) were interdicted and refused burial in sacred grounds. [23] Once again, between 8 April 1961 and 4 April 1969, [24] the National Executive of the Malta Labour Party was interdicted and voting Labour became a mortal sin; [25] [26] the leadership of the Malta Labour Party, readers, advertisers and distributors of Party papers as well as its voters were interdicted by the local bishop. [24] In both cases, the Nationalist Party won elections while its opponents were interdicted. [27]


United States

Notable personal canonical interdicts

Bishop René Henry Gracida of Corpus Christi, Texas interdicted a Roman Catholic politician in the late 20th century for supporting legal abortion; the unnamed individual died while under interdict. [29]

Similarly, in October 2019, Father Robert Morey refused communion to former Vice President Joe Biden during a Mass held in South Carolina. [30]

In 2007, then-Charleston Bishop Robert J. Baker agreed to pay a settlement of $12 million to people who were sexually abused by priests who were serving in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston. [31] In March 2019, the Diocese unveiled the names of 42 clergy who were "credibly accused" of committing acts of sex abuse while serving in the Diocese of Charleston. [32] In August 2019, it was revealed that Charleston Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone was being sued in the state of New York for sex abuse he reportedly committed while serving in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. [33] In November 2020, North Myrtle Beach Catholic priest Jacob Ouellette was arrested on charges of criminal sexual conduct, two counts of criminal solicitation of a minor, and first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor on the Internet. [34] The priest who denied Communion to Biden is not known to have denied it to his Bishop or to any of the credibly-accused priests of his diocese.

See also

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  1. 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 2268 §1
  2. 1917 Code of Canon Law, canons 2268 §2 and 2269 §2
  3. 1917 Code of Canon Law, canons 2269 §1 and 2272
  4. 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 2270
  5. 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 2275
  6. 1 2 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1332
  7. Edward McNamara, "Denying Communion to Someone"
  8. "Code of Canon Law, canon 1314". Retrieved 2012-04-03.
  9. 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 915
  10. Code of Canon Law, canon 1109
  11. 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1370 §2
  12. 1083 Code of Canon Law. canon 1378 §2
  13. 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1390 §1
  14. 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1394 §2
  15. Code of Canon Law, canons 1373-1374
  16. 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1380
  17. The Encyclopædia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, and ..., Volume 5 By Thomas Spencer Baynes
  18. Scotland in the Hundred Years' War
  19. The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle (ch. 190.134), p. 143.
  20. David Chambers, Brian Pullan, Jennifer Fletcher (editors), Venice: A Documentary History, 1450-1630 (University of Toronto Press 2001 ISBN   978-0-8020-8424-8), pp. 219-220
  21. Rao, John C. Rao (21 September 2004). "The Venetian Interdict of 1606-1607". Seattle Catholic. Retrieved 2021-01-16.
  22. CNS STORY: Holding public figures accountable to church: centuries of precedent
  23. Sciberras, S. (2010). "Maltese History : Church - State Relations" (PDF). Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  24. 1 2 "The Unholy War" (PDF). Malta Today. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 7, 2006. Retrieved March 13, 2005.
  25. Grech, Herman; Sansone, Kurt (10 April 2011). "Bricked by interdiction". Times of Malta . Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  26. "Interdict for Church Critics". Catholic Herald. 1961. Retrieved 27 February 2014.
  27. Mitchell, Jon P. (2006), Behr, Hartmut (ed.), "Church and State in Malta", Politik und Religion in der Europäischen Union: Zwischen nationalen Traditionen und Europäisierung, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, pp. 341–358, doi:10.1007/978-3-531-90517-4_16, ISBN   978-3-531-90517-4 , retrieved 2021-01-16
  28. R. Bentley Anderson, Black, White, and Catholic (Vanderbilt University Press 2005 ISBN   978-0-8265-1483-7), p. 146
  29. Catholic World News: US bishop imposed interdict on pro-abortion politician
  30. "Joe Biden denied Communion at Mass during campaign stop in South Carolina". America Magazine. 2019-10-29. Retrieved 2021-01-16.