Answer: Not so. The declaratory sentence which follows an automatic excommunication is merely a legal recognition of something which already exists. If this were not true, the automatic excommunication would be meaningless.
Canon 2314, 1917 Code of Canon Law: “All apostates from the Christian faith and each and every heretic or schismatic: 1) Incur ipso facto [by that very fact] excommunication…”
The excommunicated person is already severed from the Church. Most heretics are known to be heretics without a trial or declaratory sentence, and must be denounced as such.
Pope Pius VI, Auctorem fidei, Aug. 28, 1794:
“47. Likewise, the proposition which teaches that it is necessary, according to the natural and divine laws, for either excommunication or for suspension, that a personal examination should precede, and that, therefore, sentences called ‘ipso facto’ have no other force than that of a serious threat without any actual effect” – false, rash, pernicious, injurious to the power of the Church, erroneous.
As we see here, the Catholic Church teaches that formal processes and judgments are not necessary for ipso facto (by that very fact) excommunications to take effect. They are very often, as in the case of the heretic Martin Luther, formal recognitions of the ipso facto excommunication that has already occurred. This should be obvious to a Catholic; but to illustrate this point, here is what Martin Luther said before he was formally condemned as a heretic by the pope.
Martin Luther, speaking before the Bull of Pope Leo X giving him the final sixty days to retract before a declaration of excommunication was published: “As for me, the die is cast: I despise alike the favor and fury of Rome; I do not wish to be reconciled with her, or ever to hold any communion with her. Let her condemn and burn my books; I, in turn, unless I can find no fire, will condemn and publicly burn the whole pontifical law, that swamp of heresies.’”
Are we to believe that the man who uttered this quotation (well before he was formally condemned as a heretic by a declaratory sentence) was a Catholic or could have been considered one? If such an idea isn’t patently absurd, then nothing is. Obviously, Martin Luther was a manifest heretic prior to the formal declaration, and any Catholic aware of his beliefs could have and should have denounced him as a manifest heretic once that Catholic encountered his outrageously heretical views.
That’s why, prior to the trial of Luther, Cardinal Cajetan “contacted Elector Frederick, Luther’s sovereign and protector, urging him not to ‘disgrace the good name of his ancestors’ by supporting a heretic.”
The same principle applies to a heretic such as John Kerry, the notorious supporter of abortion. Almost all conservative-minded professing Catholics would immediately agree that John Kerry is a heretic and not a Catholic, since he obstinately rejects Catholic teaching against abortion. But they are making this “judgment” on their own, since no declaratory sentence has ever been issued against him. They are thus proving the point that a declaration is not necessary to condemn a heretic. Most heretics in Church history, and almost all heretics in the world today, have been and must be considered heretics without any declaration by virtue of their heresy being manifest.
When the heresy is manifest and clearly obstinate, as in the case of Luther or Benedict XVI (who says we shouldn’t convert non-Catholics and takes active part in Synagogue worship), Catholics not only can denounce him as a non-Catholic without a trial, but must do so. That is precisely why St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, in addressing this precise question, states unequivocally that the manifest heretic is deposed and must be avoided as a non-Catholic with no authority before any “excommunication or judicial sentence.” In this context, St. Robert uses the word “excommunication” to refer to the ferendae sententiae penalty (the formal declaration by the pope or judge).
St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, II, 30, speaking of a claimant to the Papal Office: "For, in the first place, it is proven with arguments from authority and from reason that the manifest heretic is 'ipso facto' deposed. The argument from authority is based on St. Paul (Titus 3:10), who orders that the heretic be avoided after two warnings, that is, after showing himself to be manifestly obstinate - which means before any excommunication or judicial sentence. And this is what St. Jerome writes, adding that the other sinners are excluded from the Church by sentence of excommunication, but the heretics exile themselves and separate themselves by their own act from the body of Christ."
Let us repeat that: WHICH MEANS BEFORE ANY EXCOMMUNICATION OR JUDICIAL SENTENCE! So, we can see that non-sedevacantists, in arguing that Catholics cannot denounce manifest heretics such as Benedict XVI since there hasn’t been a formal trial, have gotten it all wrong. Their conclusion makes a complete mockery out of the unity of Faith in the Church. In case we have forgotten, there is a unity of Faith in the Catholic Church (as in one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.)
Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi (# 22):
“As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith. And therefore if a man refuse to hear the Church let him be considered – so the Lord commands – as a heathen and a publican. It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.”
According to the non-sedevacantists’ conclusion, Catholics would have to affirm communion with a man who publicly avowed that he wanted no communion with the Catholic Church, and held that the whole Pontifical law is a swamp of heresies; or a man who is obstinately pro-abortion, just because no formal declaration was made against him. To state that Catholics should hold communion with such a manifest heretic because no process against him had been completed, is contrary to Catholic teaching, Catholic Tradition and Catholic sense.
St. Robert Bellarmine, De Romano Pontifice, II, 30:
“… for men are not bound, or able to read hearts; BUT WHEN THEY SEE THAT SOMEONE IS A HERETIC BY HIS EXTERNAL WORKS, THEY JUDGE HIM TO BE A HERETIC PURE AND SIMPLE, AND CONDEMN HIM AS A HERETIC.”
 The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law, translated by Dr. Edward Von Peters, San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2001, canon 2314, p. 735.
 Denzinger 1547.
 The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Luther,” Robert Appleton Company, 1910, pp. 445-446.
 Warren H. Carroll, A History of Christendom, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, Vol. 4 (The Cleaving of Christendom), p. 10.
 The Papal Encyclicals, Vol. 4 (1939-1958), p. 41.
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