Canon 1398

The Canon 1398 is a norm of canon law of the Catholic Church stating that “who procures an abortion if it incurs excommunication latae sententiae ” (automatically, without ecclesiastical trial). 1


The censorship against those who facilitate abortion finds its roots in the beginnings of Christianity , as shown in the Didaché : “You will not kill the embryo through abortion, you will not kill the newborn.” 2 He was punished with ten years of exclusion from the sacraments. 3 4

In the 2272 Catechism of the Catholic Church it is stated: “The formal cooperation to an abortion constitutes a serious offense.” The Church sanctions with canonical penalty of excommunication this crime against human life. “Whoever seeks abortion, if it occurs, Incurs excommunication latae sententiae “(CIC can. 1398), that is to say,” so that it incurs ipso facto in her who commits the crime “(CIC can.1134), under the conditions provided for by law (cf CIC can. The Church does not intend to restrict the scope of mercy, what it does is manifest the seriousness of the crime committed, the irreparable damage caused to the innocent to whom death is given, to their parents and to all society. ” 5

Nature of abortion

The Catholic Church opposes any type of abortion that directly seeks to destroy the embryo, blastocyst, zygote or fetus, since it maintains that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. At the moment of its existence, the human being must see his rights as a person recognized, among which is the inviolable right of all innocent beings to life. ” 6

Nevertheless, it considers morally legitimate certain acts that could have indirect result the death of the fetus, as when the direct purpose is the removal of a cancerous uterus. According to the principle of double effect , in the rare cases of indirect abortion , as in ectopic pregnancy , fallopian tube is removed, or in cases of ovarian cancer. In these cases the procedures are exclusively aimed at preserving the life of the mother, and the death of the fetus, although predictable, is not intended as an end or as a means to obtain the desired effect.

Monsignor Elio Sgreccia of the Pontifical Academy for Life , said that the canonical abortion laws also apply to those who take abortive medications . 7

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo , head of the Pontifical Council for Families , has argued that canon 1398 should also be interpreted to cover stem cell research with embryos, because termination of embryo reproduction has also been included as a Form of abortion in the official documents of the Church, such as Donum Vitae , Evangelium Vitae and Dignitas Personae . Referring to Fig.

Nature of excommunication

The excommunication is an ecclesiastical censure 9 imposed mainly to end the rebellion and to reintegrate the offender into the community, not as a punishment for the work done. 10

An excommunicated person is not separated from the Church but is prohibited from receiving the Eucharist and other sacraments , and from taking part in the liturgy ministry, maintaining its obligations, such as attending Mass. eleven

In 2001 the Pastoral Office of Lima published the Circular on the crime of abortion legal and moral dimension of this illegal action , in which it says: “The Church punishes abortion directly caused with canonical penalty of excommunication not only to the mother and the doctor , But to any person who, without his help, would not have committed this crime against human life. ” 12

On June 12, 2010 Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, Bishop of San Cristóbal de Las Casas wrote in an article: “This penalty applies to who causes abortion, asks for it, advises it, executes it, and collaborates with it, not when it is Spontaneous and involuntary.Excommunication consists in the fact that sacraments and other religious services, especially confession and Eucharistic communion, can not be received unless they are first absolved from sin and released from punishment, which can only be done by the bishop And a few priests whom he gives explicit abortion is a sin, always condemned in the fifth commandment of the Law of God.The Church, by a secular pedagogy, has imposed the penalty of excommunication, To make us understand the gravity of sin.Canon 1323 contains a series of attenuators, which exonerate not from sin, but from the penalty imposed by ecclesiastical legislation.There is the core of biased interpretation. 13

Canon 1323 states that: “No one shall be punished unless the violation of a law or precept he has committed is grossly imputable to him by intent or guilt.” 14 Canon 1323 establishes seven exemptions “No penalty is imposed on anyone who, when he broke a law or precept: No. 2 was unaware that he was violating a law or precept, and ignorance equated inadvertence and error” 15

Monsignor Arizmendi Esquivel also referred to this canon: “Is this canon exempt from the sin of abortion? No. When it is freely and consciously provoked, abortion is an intrinsically evil act; it is bad in itself, for it is to deprive life of A human being, innocent and defenseless, who is not an unjust aggressor. There may be exemption from the penalty of excommunication, but not of sin. ” 16

Excommunication can not be performed under such circumstances, but automatic excommunication ( latae sententiae ) is not applicable in other cases, establishing the Code of Canon Law ten situations in which “The offender is not exempt from punishment, but the Penalty established in the law or in the precept, or employ a penance in his place. ” 17

A declaration of repentance, followed by the acquittal 18 granted by a priest, would allow the censorship to be lifted, to end the excommunication as indicated in canon 1398.

The Canon 915 , which some applies to Catholic lawmakers who legally approve the abortion, does not impose excommunication, instead it imposes the administrator of the Holy Eucharist the obligation not to administer it to those who “obstinately persist in manifest sin serious.” 19


  1. Back to top↑ Code of Canon Law Title VI. Of the crimes against the life and freedom of man (Cann. 1397 – 1399)
  2. Back to top↑ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2271 , (Didache 2, 2; cf. Epistula Pseudo Barnabae, 19, 5; Epistula ad Diognetum 5, 5; Tertullian, Apol, 9, 8).
  3. Back to top↑ Philip Schaff and Henry Wallace (editors), Basil: Letters and Select Works , p. 225 – Letter 188, to Amphilochius
  4. Back to top↑ Matthew Schwartz, Roman Letters: History from a Personal Point of View (Wayne State University Press 1991 ISBN 0-8143-2023-6), p. 151
  5. Back to top↑ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2272 , Third Part. Life in Christ. Second Section. The ten Commandments. Chapter Two “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The abortion.
  6. Back to top↑ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2270
  7. Back to top↑ Catholic Church issues excommunication warning after Italy approves abortion pill
  8. Back to top↑ Is Sought for Stem Cell Researchers
  9. Back to top↑ Code of Canon Law, Canon 1312
  10. Back to top↑ John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green (editors), New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press 2002 ISBN 978-0-8091-4066-4), p. 1534
  11. Back to top↑ “Even those who have joined other religions, or have become atheists or agnostics or who have been excommunicated remain Catholic. The excommunicated he loses rights, like the sacraments, but they are still bound by Law, their rights are restored when they are reconciled through the remission of punishment. ” New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law , ed. By John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green, Paulist Press, 2000, p. 63 (commentary on canon 11).
  12. Back to top↑ Circular on the crime of abortion Legal and moral dimension of this illegal action Lima, September 2001. Fr. Víctor Solís Alfageme, Executive Secretary – Pastoral Office
  13. Back to top↑ Canon Law and abortion By Monsignor Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel. June 12, 2010.
  14. Back to top↑ Code of Canon Law, Canon 1321
  15. Back to top↑ Code of Canon Law, Canon 1323
  16. Back to top↑ Canon Law and abortion By Monsignor Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel. June 12, 2010.
  17. Back to top↑ Code of Canon Law, Canon 1324
  18. Back to top↑ John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary
  19. Back to top↑ Code of Canon Law, Canon 915