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Catholic canon law
Canon 1324 is a canon of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, according to which penalties prescribed in canon law must be diminished or replaced by a penance. The canon does not automatically remove the penalty completely except in cases of latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication.
Cases to which the canon applies
The diminution or replacement of the penalty must be applied if the offence was committed by:
- Someone with imperfect use of reason
- Someone temporarily lacking the use of reason because of drunkenness or some similar mental disturbance
- Someone who, while not altogether losing the use of reason, acts in the heat of passion, without having deliberately provoked that passion
- Someone not yet sixteen years old
- Someone who acts out of grave fear, necessity or serious inconvenience when the act is intrinsically evil or tends to harm souls (if the act committed in these circumstances is not intrinsically evil or harmful to souls, then there is no penalty)
- Someone who acts in lawful self-defence but without due moderation (if due moderation was used, then there is no penalty)
- Someone who reacts against grave and unjust provocation by another
- Someone who erroneously but culpably thought the circumstances mentioned in parenthesis above under numbers 5 and 6 existed, circumstances that according to canon 1323 exempt from all penalty
- Someone who was inculpably unaware that a penalty was attached to the law or precept against which he offended
- Someone who acted with grave but not full imputability
In the circumstances listed above latae sententiae (automatic) excommunications do not apply.
A judge may diminish or replace a prescribed penalty also in view of other circumstances that reduce the gravity of the offence.
Excommunication of Marcel Lefebvre
Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre argued that his ordination of four bishops on 30 June 1988 (the Ecône consecrations) in contravention of a direct order from Pope John Paul II was "by reason of necessity or grave inconvenience" and was not an intrinsically evil act or one that tended to the harm of souls, and that therefore he was not subject to the penalty of excommunication. He claimed that his action was necessary because the traditional form of the Catholic faith and sacraments would become extinct without traditionalist clergy to pass them on to the next generation. He called the ordinations "opération survie" - "Operation Survival", citing in his defense canons 1323 and 1324 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
Abortion on a minor in Brazil
In March 2009, after an abortion on a nine-year-old girl raped by her stepfather and pregnant with twins had been performed to save her life, Archbishop José Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife stated that latae sententiae excommunication had been incurred by the girl's mother and the medical team. The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil disowned his statement, saying that, in accordance with canon law, the mother was certainly not excommunicated, since she had acted "out of grave fear" (cf. no. 5 of this canon) and there was insufficient evidence to show that any member of the medical team was acting with the full awareness and contumacy envisaged in this canon (cf. nos. 8 and 9). Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco of Gap, France also denied the applicability to the girl's mother of canon 1398 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which imposes automatic excommunication for procuring a completed abortion, pointing out that canon 1324 states that automatic censures, such as that which applies for such abortions, do not affect those who act out of grave fear.
- Canon 1324 of the Code of Canon Law Archived December 24, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Canon 1323 Archived December 24, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Nunes Leal, Luciana (13 March 2009). "CNBB desautoriza iniciativa de bispo". O Estadão de S.Paulo. Archived from the original on 2014-02-23.
- O Globo of 12 March 2009 (downloaded 7 July 2011)
- Mgr di FALCO, évêque de Gap, sur l'excommunication au Brésil Archived March 16, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.