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For other uses, see Interdict (disambiguation).

In Roman Catholic canon law, an interdict /ˈɪntərdɪkt/ is an ecclesiastical censure that excludes from certain rites of the Church individuals or groups, who nonetheless do not cease to be members of the Church.[1]

Distinctions in canon law[edit]

Before 1983, interdicts were either personal, if applied directly to people, wherever they were, 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]

Effects under pre-1983 canon law[edit]

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] Besides, in the case of a general local interdict, it remained permissible to celebrate in the cathedral or the only church in a town, but without any solemnity such as the ringing of bells and the playing of music, Mass, baptism, confession, and marriage.

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 ("passive assistance," with "assistance" being an obsolete translation of Latin adsistere/assistere ["be present"; cf. the modern Italian equivalent and its Spanish cognate asistir]) 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[edit]

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]

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[edit]


  • Pope Innocent III placed the Kingdom of Norway under interdict in October 1198. Although King Sverre forged letters to show that the interdict had been lifted, he and his subjects remained under interdict until Sverre's death in 1202.


  • Pope Innocent III also placed the kingdom of England under an interdict for five years between 1208 and 1213, after King John refused to accept the pope's appointee Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury.




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.[22]

Once again, between 1961 and 1969, the National Executive of the Malta Labour Party was interdicted and voting Labour became a mortal sin.[23][24] Among other sanctions, Labour voters were refused absolution, last rites and burial in sacred grounds. During this period, most Labour rallies were disturbed by members of Catholic organisations (that formed the "Diocesan Junta") and the ringing of church bells. A large number of labourites left the Maltese Islands during this period, partly due to the fact that at the time a reference letter from the local parish priest was commonly requested by employers. The 1969 Peace Agreement between the Labour Party and the local Catholic authorities stipulates that the interdiction should not be imposed in the future.


United States[edit]

  • In 1955, after white parishioners had refused to let a black priest enter a chapel situated about 20 miles from New Orleans, Archbishop Joseph Rummel placed the chapel under interdict.[25]

Notable personal canonical interdicts[edit]

In Malta between 8 April 1961 and 4 April 1969 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.[26] Previously, between 1930 and 1933 interdiction was imposed on the Constitutional Party and Labour. In both cases, the Nationalist Party won elections while its opponents were interdicted.[27]

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.[28]

Writing in the Wisconsin State Journal, Doug Erickson interpreted as a threat to use interdict a letter from Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison to the Catholics of Platteville.[29] The letter itself did not use the word "interdict" and stated that the bishop hoped not even to have to issue canonical warnings, but it had attached to it a series of "texts for prayerful reflection" comprising two extracts from the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, five passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and seven canons from the Code of Canon Law, two of which mention circumstances in which a personal interdict may be imposed on individuals.[30]

Anglican canon law[edit]

In Anglican canon law, bishops in the Anglican Communion may still in theory possess the power of interdict, but seem not to have exercised it since the English Reformation.

Scottish civil law[edit]

In Scottish law, "an interdict is a civil court order that tells a person not to do something or to stay away from you, your children or a specific place, such as your house. If a person doesn't stick to an interdict, the police might be able to arrest them if the interdict gives them the power to do so"[31] similar to an injunction.

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 1332
  7. ^ Edward McNamara, "Denying Communion to Someone"
  8. ^ "Code of Canon Law, canon 1314". Vatican.va. 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 Encyclopaedia Britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences, and ..., Volume 5 By Thomas Spencer Baynes
  18. ^ Scotland in the Hundred Years' War
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ Seattle Catholic - The Venetian Interdict of 1606-1607
  21. ^ CNS STORY: Holding public figures accountable to church: centuries of precedent
  22. ^ Sciberras, S. (2010). "Maltese History : Church - State Relations". stbenedictcollege.org. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  23. ^ Grech, Herman; Sansone, Kurt (10 April 2011). "Bricked by interdiction". Times of Malta. Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  24. ^ "Interdict for Church Critics". Catholic Herald. 1961. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 
  25. ^ R. Bentley Anderson, Black, White, and Catholic (Vanderbilt University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-8265-1483-7), p. 146
  26. ^ "The Unholy War" (PDF). Malta Today,. Archived from the original on January 7, 2006. Retrieved March 13, 2005. 
  27. ^ Church and State in Malta, Jon P. Mitchell
  28. ^ Catholic World News : US bishop imposed interdict on pro-abortion politician
  29. ^ Bishop Morlino warns dissenters to stop -- or else
  30. ^ Letter of Bishop Morlino to the Catholic people of Platteville, 25 April 2012. The two canons in question are canons 1373 and 1374 of the Code of Vanon Law
  31. ^ Interdicts for antisocial behaviour

External links[edit]

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