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Gerard O’ConnellJuly 05, 2024
Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò is pictured at his residence at the Vatican in this Oct. 20, 2011, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has been declared excommunicated for schism by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Vatican dicastery, however, opted not to remove him from the clerical state, though canon law does not exclude that penalty.

The decision had been widely expected after the former nuncio to the United States refused to participate in the trial against him, saying that he “did not recognize the authority” of the dicastery or its prefect, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, or Pope Francis.

The archbishop has stated that he does not recognize the legitimacy of Pope Francis and said, “I reject and condemn the scandals, errors and heresies of Jorge Mario Bergoglio,” adding, “with this ‘Bergoglian church,’ no Catholic worthy of the name can be in communion.”

The dicastery had summoned Archbishop Viganò to present himself or submit a defense on June 20 and said he had the right to appoint an advocate to defend or represent him. It made clear that he would be judged in his absence if he failed to take these steps by June 28.

The Vatican broke the news of his excommunication in a press release to the media around 1:30 p.m. in Rome on July 5. The statement said the dicastery concluded the extrajudicial process against Archbishop Viganò on July 4 in accordance with Canon 1720. That canon states that “if the delict is certainly established and a criminal action is not extinguished” the ordinary “is to issue a decree according to the norm of cann. 1342-1350, setting forth the reasons in law and in fact at least briefly.”

The press release said Archbishop Viganò was “accused of the reserved delict of schism.” It briefly presented the reasons, stating, “his public statements manifesting his refusal to recognize and submit to the Supreme Pontiff, his rejection of communion with the members of the Church subject to him, and of the legitimacy and magisterial authority of the Second Vatican Council are well known.”

The Code of Canon Law states, “[S]chism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him” (No. 751).

The archbishop himself first broke the news of the extrajudicial penal trial against him on June 20. He soon after reaffirmed the charges against him in a response to the dicastery’s decree that same day and in a statement first published in LifeSite News and later on X, formerly known as Twitter, on June 21.

Today’s press release stated that “at the conclusion of the penal process, the Most Reverend Carlo Maria Viganò was found guilty of the reserved delict of schism” and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith “declared the latae sententiae excommunication in accordance with canon 1364 § 1 CIC.” (“Latae sententiae” means “automatic.”)

According to the Code of Canon Law, an excommunicated person is prohibited from “celebrating the Sacrifice of the Eucharist and the other sacraments; from receiving the sacraments; from administering sacramentals and from celebrating the other ceremonies of liturgical worship; from taking an active part in the celebrations listed above; from exercising any ecclesiastical offices, duties, ministries or functions; from performing acts of governance” (No. 1331).

Canon 1364 states that “[a]n apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication, without prejudice to the provision of can. 194 § 1 n. 2; he or she may also be punished with the penalties mentioned in can. 1336 §§ 2-4.” It adds, “If a long-standing contempt or the gravity of scandal calls for it, other penalties may be added, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state.”

The Code of Canon Law considers excommunication as a “medicinal” penalty whose aim is to invite the offender to repentance. As such, there is always the hope that the subject of excommunication will return to communion.

The Vatican press release said that “the lifting of the censure in these cases is reserved to the Apostolic See.” The lifting of the excommunication can only happen if the archbishop repents and makes that clear to the Apostolic See.

The Vatican concluded its statement by saying the decision was communicated to Archbishop Viganò on July 5, 2024.

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