01/03/1962: Pope John XXIII excommunicated Fidel Castro

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On this day in 1962, Blessed John XXIII excommunicated Cuba’s “maximum leader,” supposedly on the basis of a 1949 decree by Pope Pius XII forbidding Catholics from supporting communist governments.

A couple of years back, Andrea Torinella of Vatican Insider wrote about the genesis of the excommunication, finding it to be somewhat of a “mystery” that may not be related to the 1949 decree.

Archbishop Dino Staffa, who at the time was a member of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and wrote the decree, alleged the reasons were not related to supporting Castro’s support of communism, but to having committed or collaborated in acts of violence against the Catholic hierarchy.

Indeed, months prior to the excommunication, Bishop Eduardo Roza Masvidal and 135 priests had been expelled from Cuba. In his declaration, Archbishop Staffa made reference to this and to various other problems existing at the time with regard to the Catholic Church in Cuba.

Torinella wonders whether the declaration, which coincided with a broader message John XXIII send to Castro, was an attempt to balance the effect of the Pope’s words could have–which some considered too expansive–while also reminding other Catholic political leaders what canon law had in store for those who would conspire against or bring harm to the Catholic hierarchy.

As a result, Castro never received an ad personam excommunication and neither did Blessed John XXIII make any decisions in this regard.



To read Andrea Torinelli’s article in Vatican Insider, click on the following link:

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  1. just read insider article. why do people say things like “Pope Roncalli”? What their point exactly?

  2. The Canon Law governing excommunication is intricate and there is disagreement amongst the Canonists themselves on some of the finer points.

    Thus, in certain cases, one may incur automatic excommunication, “latae sententiae” as they say, but the Constitution of Martin V, “Ad evitanda scandala,” provides that “To avoid scandal and numerous dangers and to relieve timorous consciences, we hereby mercifully grant to all the faithful that henceforth no one need refrain from communicating with another in the reception or administration of the sacraments, or in other matters Divine or profane, under pretext of sentence or censure, whether promulgated in general form by law or by a judge, nor avoid anyone whomsoever, nor observe an ecclesiastical interdict, except when this sentence or censure shall have been published or made known by the judge in special and express form, against some certain specified person, college, university, church, community, or place.”

    Most canonists hold that a sentence declaring “the government of Nusquamia” has incurred excommunication does not bring its individual members within “Ad evitanda scandala,” unless they are named in the sentence, for the faithful cannot be expected to judge of this question of fact; otherwise it is considered a mere monition or warning.

    In the past, excommunication was very frequently used. In Scotland, before the Reformation, one often finds in bonds and other deeds a provision that the parties consent to its registration in the Bishop’s books, “for preservation and execution and that if needful, Letters of Cursing on six days charge and all other legal executions necessary may pass herein in common form.” “Letters of Cursing” were an order to his parish priest to declare the defaulter excommunicated, using a rather lurid formula. People obviously found it an effective remedy, for the fees involved were rather steep.

  3. Anzlyne,

    When I first came in contact with the practice of naming the pope with his last name,, for example, Pope Wojtyla, or Pope Ratzinger, I found it off putting and even offensive. However, I found that it is a cultural phenomenon, something practiced in Italy, that is not intended or considered to be offensive.

    BTW. I still don’ t like it lol

  4. The Church is bigger than the US suburbs. In Europe they say Pope Roncalli or Pope Wojtyla. We are too quick to take offense.

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