ASK FATHER: Returning to the Church from schism

penance_confession_stepsFrom a reader…

I’ve heard a lot recently about ordinary priests being given the power to lift excommunications for abortion, what with the Year of Mercy.

What about other sins that carry an automatic excommunication, like schism?

I left the Catholic Church years ago for another denomination, and want to come back, but I don’t know how to have my excommunication lifted.

Your first step should be into a confessional.

Pretty much everyone – yes, you too – your first step should be into a confessional.

There are some sins which carry with them an automatic penalty (and here’s where Dr. Ed Peters chimes in with his Catonian comment about latae sententiae penalties). Among those sins that incur automatic penalties are, during most years, a few that are reserved to the Holy See to lift.  They are, happily, rare.  Among them are desecrating, throwing away or keeping for bad purposes the Blessed Sacrament, using force against the Roman Pontiff, absolving an accomplice in a sin against 6th commandment (only a priest or bishop can incur that), consecrating a bishop without a pontifical mandate (only a bishop can incur that), violating the Seal of the confessional.   Pretty rare.

Other automatic penalties are, ordinarily, reserved to the local ordinary or diocesan penitentiary to lift. In some dioceses, bishops widely grant to their priests the faculty to absolve from those sins reserved to the diocesan bishop. During this Holy Year, the Holy Father has granted to all priests the faculty to absolve from those sins.

One who commits the delict of schism may incur the penalty of automatic excommunication. However, since this sin does not incur a censure reserved to the Holy See, the penalty can be lifted by the local ordinary (the diocesan bishop, vicar general, episcopal vicar), or any bishop in confession, or by the diocesan penitentiary (if the diocese has one). In many dioceses, this faculty is also granted broadly to priests.  You can call the local chancery to ask for someone who can answer the question: Has the bishop given the faculty to lift the censure for schism to all the priests of the diocese?

Get into the confessional with a wise and trusted priest. Explain your situation and your sorrow for your sins. Take his direction. If he does not have the faculty to remit the penalty, he will let you know and advise you how to have the penalty lifted (he may be able to ask his bishop for the faculty, or he can refer the matter to the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome under strict anonymity, or he may simply refer you to the bishop or penitentiary).

In any event, you are not up against a very tough obstacle here.  You should be able to resolve this swiftly, with some good will and a few questions.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Jim Dorchak says:

    Fr. z Would this schism / confession apply to attending the Liberation Theology Mass as I must do every Sunday? Because I sure do feel like I am going to a protestant church. As a side note: I would go to confession but it is not offered other than by appointment. [You are being sarcastic. Go to another parish. Move to another place. Or is this not so important to you?]

  2. Jim Dorchak says:

    No I am not being entirely sarcastic. Although I do have that tendency.
    Confession is for the most part unheard of in my area. I will say that my Priest is a wonderful good man who was just poorly catechized, and therefore does not recognize how far away from the foundation of the Church that he is leading us. Liberation Theology is KING here not Christ.
    That was the basic problem here with our new Osorno Bishop (I am told) as he was on not on the Liberation theology / communism team, and the priests were poorly lead by a MSGR here who was.
    In either case there is only one traditional Mass here in the EF and that is 12 hours north in Santiago. The rest of the country is headed down the drain.
    We are lucky enough that once a year we can go to confession and MASS with the SSPX when they visit our area of Chile.
    The SSPX also has the only regularly scheduled Latin Mass in the Country. We tried and found the Mass cancelled or some such dribble after driving 12 hours.
    The thing is that there are wonderful people here in Chile who want and need this Mass and it is not offered. Only dancing in leotards at Easter and holding hands 2 or 3 times at Mass.
    We have thought about moving, but we feel God has sent us here for a reason. To help bring the Latin Mass here. You asked me if it was not so important to me? Yes it is. But I have a question; is it important to the Catholic Church?

  3. Jim Dorchak says:

    I had meant to say here: “We tried and found another diocesan Mass cancelled or some such dribble after driving 12 hours.”

  4. Knittingfoole says:

    Some years back, when I returned home after having been in the Episcopal Church, I did not even think to call and ask if all priests in our diocese could lift this censure. I made an appointment to talk to the parochial vicar. I explained the situation, we talked for a few moments to so that he could advise me on the matter, and then he said something like, “You want to come back. Let’s make it official” and then he heard my confession.

  5. Nan says:

    Jim Dorchak, is there an Eastern Catholic parish near you? If so, that’s an option you have.

  6. Jarrod says:

    I would add on this subject that this – and perhaps other matters related to Canon Law – is a subject on which not to consult the “Catholic Encyclopedia.” Despite the counsel of my confessor, I spent months after I returned from apostasy worried that I had to apply to Rome for reinstatement because I was going off an article written in 1917.

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