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December 7, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A controversy launched by Vatican Archbishop Rino Fisichella over the possibility of automatic excommunication for those who, the archbishop claims, use words as “physical violence” against the pope, has been answered by well-known canonist Edward Peters.

In a blog post today, Peters says Fisichella “was speaking in the context of faculties to absolve from automatic excommunications, and as there is an automatic excommunication against those who employ physical force against the pope (1983 CIC 1370 § 1), I am guessing that Fisichella might be thinking that ‘harsh language’ against the pope is a canonical crime that makes one liable to excommunication. If so, he is mistaken.”

STORY: Papal critics threatened with excommunication as Year of Mercy begins

Archbishop Fisichella made his remarks at a Vatican press briefing while explaining how Pope Francis’s new “Missionaries of Mercy” will have the power to forgive penalties previously reserved to the Holy See.  In reference to Canon 1370, which imposes automatic excommunication for “physical violence” against the Roman Pontiff, Archbishop Fisichella said: “I would say that we need to understand well ‘physical violence,’ because sometimes words, too, are rocks and stones, and therefore I believe some of these sins, too, are far more widespread than we might think.”

Peters points out that Canon 18 “requires penal canons to be read strictly (i.e., as narrowly as reasonably possible).” He notes that  Canon 1370 criminalizes ‘vim physicam’ against the pope, not ‘verba aspera’ or variants thereon, and I know of no canonical commentary that includes ‘words’ as a species of ‘physical force’ in this context.” Rather, Peters points to four canon law commentaries which all “expressly exclude ‘verbal violence’ from the range of actions penalized under Canon 1370.”

See Dr. Ed Peters' full blog post here.