I was posting about Kirstie Alley passing away and noticed that she was a member of the Church of Scientology. I then saw that even their “church” had rules for excommunicating their members and thought I would look into the subject. Excommunication is an institutional act of religious censure used to end or at least regulate the communion of a member of a congregation with other members of the religious institution who are in normal communion with each other.
The purpose of the institutional act is to deprive, suspend, or limit membership in a religious community or to restrict certain rights within it, particularly those of being in communion with other members of the congregation, and of receiving the sacraments.
It is practiced by all ancient churches including the Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodox churches, Eastern Orthodox churches), other Christian denominations, Amish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other religious groups. The word excommunication means putting a specific individual or group out of communion. In some denominations, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group.
Excommunication may involve banishment, shunning, and shaming, depending on the group, the offense that caused excommunication, or the rules or norms of the religious community. The grave act is often revoked in response to manifest repentance. It is possible to be excommunicated in a specific, official pronouncement, but this is rarely done. More relevant is latae sententiae excommunication, or automatic excommunication.
John Wesley (June 28, 1703 – March 2, 1791), the founder of the Methodist Churches, excommunicated sixty-four members from the Newcastle Methodist society alone for the following reasons:
- Two for cursing and swearing.
- Two for habitual Sabbath-breaking.
- Seventeen for drunkenness.
- Two for retailing spiritous liquors.
- Three for quarreling and brawling.
- One for beating his wife.
- Three for habitual, wilful lying.
- Four for railing and evil-speaking.
- One for idleness and laziness. And,
- Nine-and-twenty for lightness and carelessness
Some regional conferences (the Mennonite counterpart to dioceses of other denominations) of the Mennonite Church have acted to expel member congregations that have openly welcomed non-celibate homosexuals as members. This internal conflict regarding homosexuality has also been an issue for other moderate denominations, such as the American Baptists and Methodists.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) practices excommunication as a penalty for those who commit serious sins, i.e., actions that significantly impair the name or moral influence of the church or pose a threat to other people.
Jehovah’s Witnesses practice a form of excommunication, using the term “disfellowshipping”, in cases where a member is believed to have unrepentantly committed one or more of several documented “serious sins”. The practice is based on their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 (“quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man….remove the wicked man from your midst”)
and 2 John 10 (“never receive him in your home or say a greeting to him”). They interpret these verses to mean that any baptized believer who engages in “gross sins” is to be expelled from the congregation and shunned.
Excommunications in History
- After the 16th century Protestant Reformation, Elizabeth I followed her father Henry VIII’s lead and continued to rule the Church of England as its head, effectively usurping the Pope. In a desperate bid to return errant England to the papal fold, in 1570 Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I. This tactic proved unsuccessful, and nearly 500 years later England’s current monarch, Elizabeth II, is still head of the Church of England.
- Joan of Arc famously dressed as a man to lead the French army to victory over the English during the Hundred Years War. Later caught and handed over to the enemy, she was excommunicated and burned at the stake by a pro-English Bishop in 1431 for heresy and cross-dressing. In 1456 (and a bit late for poor Joan), Pope Callixtus III held a re-trial and cleared her of all charges. She was declared a martyr, canonized, and became Saint Joan of Arc.
- Martin Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1521 after he refused to recant his heretical teachings, which fomented the Protestant Reformation. It didn’t help that he publicly burned a huge pile of Catholic books and called Pope Leo X “the Antichrist.”
- Napoleon was excommunicated in the 1809 bull Quum memoranda by Pope Pius VII for ordering the annexation of Rome and a long period of anti-Papal orders. Before Napoleon’s death, his excommunication was lifted and he received the last rites.
- Henry VIII spent the first part of his reign very close to the Catholic Church, but things came to a head when he demanded an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he might marry Anne Boleyn. The final straw came when Henry dissolved the monasteries, plundered their holy relics, and promptly named himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. Not surprisingly, Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry in 1538.
- Scientist Dr. Gregorio Chil y Naranjo was excommunicated in 1878 for his work on evolution in the Canary Islands entitled “Estudios historicos, climatologicos y patológicos de las Islas Canarias.” The Bishop of Barcelona, José María de Urquinaona y Vidot, declared the work “false, impious, scandalous, and heretical” and excommunicated the doctor.
- Fidel Castro was excommunicated in 1962 by Pope John XXIII, some say on the basis of a 1949 decree which forbade Catholics from becoming Communists.
- All Catholics who participated in the creation of a Philippine Independent Church in the Philippines, in 1902
- Margaret McBride, a nun, for allowing abortion. McBride later reconciled with the Church and is no longer living in a state of excommunication.
- Greg Reynolds of Melbourne, Australia was excommunicated in 2013 for continuing to celebrate Mass when not permitted, advocating the attempted ordination of women, and promoting same-sex marriage.
- On Christmas Eve, 2019, three hermits named Father Stephen de Kerdrel, Sister Colette Roberts and Brother Damon Kelly living in Scotland were excommunicated after accusing Pope Francis of heresy in an online statement.
- In August 2020, Fr. Jeremy Leatherby, a priest of the Diocese of Sacramento, incurred an automatic excommunication for schism after refusing to recognize the legitimacy of Pope Francis, most notably substituting his name with that of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI and omitting the name of Bishop Jaime Soto during the Eucharistic Prayer while offering Mass. Bishop Soto announced the excommunication on August 7.
Robert Berrington, of South Africa, learned that at the end of last year (2011) he was “declared a suppressive person” by the Church of Scientology — in other words, he’d been kicked out, and all church members who want to remain in good standing will be forced to now “disconnect” from him or risk being declared themselves. Usually, you would never see the official declaration itself but Berrington got hold of his and it reads:
Church of Scientology in South Africa
Joburg Day Ethics Order #1476
Dec 30, 2011
SUPPRESSIVE PERSON DECLARE
Robert Berrington of Johannesburg, South Africa, is hereby declared a suppressive person and is expelled from the Church of Scientology pursuant to HCO PL 7 March 1965RB I, SUPPRESSIVE ACTS, SUPPRESSION OF SCIENTOLOGY AND SCIENTOLOGISTS.
Robert has remained affiliated with persons who have been declared suppressive by HCO due to their squirrel and suppressive acts.
Robert has been attempting to covertly divert Scientologists in good standing to join this band of squirrels. He has refused any attempts by Church members to resolve matters with regards the Church and the applied philosophy of Scientology as founded by L. Ron Hubbard.
Robert has attempted to sell squirrel “services” to other public, in violation of the laws of the land, including trademark laws.
Robert is guilty of the following Suppressive Acts:
1. USING THE TRADEMARKS AND SERVICE MARKS OF DIANETICS AND SCIENTOLOGY WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION OR LICENSE FROM THE OWNER OF THE MARKS OR ITS AUTHORIZED LICENSEE.
2. ORGANIZING SPLINTER GROUPS TO DIVERGE FROM SCIENTOLOGY PRACTICES, STILL CALLING IT SCIENTOLOGY OR CALLING IT SOMETHING ELSE.
3. PUBLIC DISAVOWAL OF SCIENTOLOGY OR SCIENTOLOGISTS IN GOOD STANDING WITH SCIENTOLOGY ORGANIZATIONS.
4. PUBLIC STATEMENTS AGAINST SCIENTOLOGY OR SCIENTOLOGISTS BUT NOT TO COMMITTEES OF EVIDENCE DULY CONVENED.
5. CONTINUED ADHERENCE TO A PERSON OR GROUP PRONOUNCED A SUPPRESSIVE PERSON OR GROUP BY HCO.
6. SEEKING TO SPLINTER OFF AN AREA OF SCIENTOLOGY AND DENY IT TO PROPERLY CONSTITUTED AUTHORITY FOR PERSONAL PROFIT, PERSONAL POWER OR “TO SAVE THE ORGANIZATION FROM THE HIGHER OFFICERS OF SCIENTOLOGY”
Any certificates that Berrington has are hereby canceled per HCO PL 7 March 1965II, CERTIFICATE CANCELLATION. Any licensing agreements he may have signed to use the marks of Dianetics and Scientology are cancelled as well. He may not use the marks in any manner whatsoever.
Should Robert come to his senses an recant, he is to do steps A to E as laid out in HCO PL 7 March 1965RB I, SUPPRESSIVE ACTS, SUPPRESSION OF SCIENTOLOGY AND SCIENTOLOGISTS.
His only terminal is the International Justice Chief via the Continental Justice Chief.
ETHICS OFFICER HCO JBGD
LRH COMM JBG
CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
in SOUTH AFRICA
D/INT JUSTICE CHIEF
A couple of notes, if you’re not familiar with Scientology lingo… Although Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, the millions of words he left behind in books, lectures, and “policy letters” are still considered sacrosanct to his followers. So you’ll notice several references to Hubbard’s policies in the declaration, identified as “HCO PL” — Hubbard Communication Office Policy Letters. As for “squirrels,” the church officials here are not actually referring to the small furry mammals.
In Scientology-speak, a squirrel is someone who makes use of Hubbard’s “technology” outside of the official church. A big part of Scientology is making sure that Hubbard’s processes are used in a completely standard way — the way Ron intended it — and so altering those methods or using them outside official channels is forbidden. People who violate that rule are considered heretics and have to be punished.
Berrington’s response to the charges…
Charge 1: USING THE TRADEMARKS AND SERVICE MARKS OF DIANETICS AND SCIENTOLOGY WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION OR LICENSE FROM THE OWNER OF THE MARKS OR ITS AUTHORISED LICENSEE.
Completely false, I want nothing to do with Scientology, or Hubbard. Where is their evidence that I did this? Why did they never call me to a “Committee of Evidence”?
What I did say to three Scientologists is that if they wanted to do Scientology outside of the confines of what is commonly called “corporate Scientology,” they could get all the Scientology policy and technical information off the Internet, and I told them that I had seen it all available there. I never tried to sell Scientology to them, or tried to set up my own Scientology group.
Charge 2: ORGANIZING SPLINTER GROUPS TO DIVERGE FROM SCIENTOLOGY PRACTICES, STILL CALLING IT SCIENTOLOGY OR CALLING IT SOMETHING ELSE.
Same as above.
Charge 3: PUBLIC DISAVOWAL OF SCIENTOLOGY OR SCIENTOLOGISTS IN GOOD STANDING WITH SCIENTOLOGY ORGANIZATIONS
Correct, I did publically disavow Scientology, and I’m proud of it! I do find this clause a bit vague though, as it could apply to Scientology itself, or to a particular Scientologist.
Charge 4: PUBLIC STATEMENTS AGAINST SCIENTOLOGY OR SCIENTOLOGISTS BUT NOT TO DULY CONVENED COMMITTEES OF EVIDENCE
Charge 5: CONTINUED ADHERANCE TO A PERSON OR GROUP PRONOUNCED A SUPPRESSIVE PERSON OR GROUP BY HCO
True, although I do not know how they would know this. I think it was more of a guess on their part.
Besides which, if Scientology is about creating “total Freedom,” one should be free to communicate to whomever one wants to.
Charge 6: SEEKING TO SPLINTER OFF AN AREA OF SCIENTOLOGY AND DENY IT TO PROPERLY CONSTITUTED AUTHORITY FOR PERSONAL PROFIT, PERSONAL POWER, OR “TO SAVE THE ORGANIZATIONS FROM THE HIGHER AUTHORITIES OF SCIENTOLOGY”
That last part “To save the organizations from the higher authorities of Scientology” sounds like something David Miscaviage added to a Hubbard quote in order to protect himself.
I have no desire to create a splinter group of Scientology. Like I said, I want nothing to do with Scientology, or Hubbard.
I did, however, have a desire for people to leave the cult at that time, and I actively tried to get them to leave.
- John Wesley was an English cleric, theologian, and evangelist who was a leader of a revival movement within the Church of England known as Methodism. The societies he founded became the dominant form of the independent Methodist movement that continues to this day. [Back]