Interdict (Lat. interdictum, from inter and dicere), originally in Roman law, an interlocutory edict of the praetor, especially in matter affecting the right of possession; it still preserves this meaning in both Roman and canon law. In present ecclesiastical use the word denotes, in general, a prohibition. In addition to the definite meaning it has when referring to the object of this article, the term is often loosely employed in a wider and rather un-technical sense. We speak of a priest, a church, or a practice of devotion being interdicted, to denote a suspended priest, one who either by canon law or by the stricture of his ordinary is forbidden to exercise his sacerdotal functions; a church building that has been secularized, or one in which Divine service is temporarily suspended, because the edifice has incurred “pollution” or lost its consecration; finally, extraordinary practices of devotion are said to be interdicted. But, strictly speaking, interdict is applied only to persons and churches affected by the penal measure or censure called “interdict”, and it is exclusively in this sense of the word that the subject is treated here. After explaining its nature and effects we shall mention the interdicts in force by common canonical law.
I. An interdict is a censure, or prohibition, excluding the faithful from participation in certain holy things (D’Annibale, “Summula”, I, n. 369). These holy things are all those pertaining to Christian worship, and are divided into three classes: (I) the Divine offices, in other words the Liturgy, and in general all acts performed by clerics as such, and having reference to worship; (2) the sacraments, excepting private administrations of those that are of necessity; (3) ecclesiastical burial, including all funeral services. This prohibition varies in degree, according to the different kinds of interdicts to be enumerated:-
First, interdicts are either local or personal; former affect territories or sacred buildings directly, and persons indirectly; the latter directly affect persons. Canonical authors add a third kind, the mixed interdict, which affects directly and immediately both persons and places; if, for instance, the interdict is issued against a town and its inhabitants, the latter are subject to it, even when they are outside of the town (arg. cap. xvi, “De sent. excomm.” in VI°). Local interdicts, like personal interdicts, may be general or particular. A general local interdict is one affecting a whole territory, district, town, etc., and this was the ordinary interdict of the Middle Ages; a particular local interdict is one affecting, for example, a particular church. A general personal interdict is one falling on a given body or group of people as a class, e.g. on a chapter, the clergy or people of a town, of a community; a particular personal interdict is one affecting certain individuals as such, for instance, a given bishop, a given cleric. Finally, the interdict is total if the prohibition extends to all the sacred things mentioned above; otherwise it is called partial. A special kind of partial interdict is that which forbids one to enter a church, interdictum ab ingressu ecclesice, mentioned by certain texts. Omitting the mixed interdict, which does not form a distinct class, we have therefore: (I) the general local interdicts; (2) particular local interdicts; (3) general personal interdicts; (4) particular personal interdicts; (5) prohibitions against entering a church. We may add (6) the prohibition obliging the clergy to abstain from celebrating the Divine offices, cessatio a divinis, a measure somewhat akin to a particular local interdict, only that it is not imposed on account of any crime on the part of those whom it affects. This short account shows us that under the same name are grouped penal measures rather different in nature, but having in common a prohibition of certain sacred things.
Interdict differs from excommunication, in that it does not cut one off from the communion of the faithful or from Christian society, though the acts of religion forbidden in both cases are almost identical. It differs from suspension also in this respect: the latter affects the powers of clerics, inasmuch as they are clerics, while the interdict affects the rights of the faithful as such, and does not directly affect clerics as such but only as members of the Church. Of course, it follows that the clergy cannot exercise their functions towards those under interdict, or in interdicted places or buildings, but their powers are not directly affected, as happens in case of suspension; their jurisdiction remains unimpaired, which allows of a guilty individual being punished, without imperiling the validity of his acts of jurisdiction. This shows that an interdict is more akin to excommunication than to suspension.
Whereas excommunication is exclusively a censure, intended to lead a guilty person back to repentance, an interdict, like suspension, may be imposed either as a censure or as a vindictive punishment. In both cases there must have been a grave crime; if the penalty has been inflicted for an indefinite period and with a view to making the guilty one amend his evil ways, it is imposed as a censure; if, however, it is imposed for a definite time, and no reparation is demanded of the individuals at fault, it is inflicted as a punishment. Consequently the interdicts still in vogue in virtue of the Constitution “Apostolicae Sedis” and the Council of Trent are censures; whilst the interdict recently (1909) placed by Pius X on the town of Adria for fifteen days was a punishment. Strictly speaking, only the particular personal interdict is in all cases a perfect censure, because it alone affects definite persons, while the other interdicts do not affect the individuals except indirectly and inasmuch as they form part of a body or belong to the interdicted territory or place. That is also the reason why only particular personal interdicts, including the prohibition to enter a church, suppose a personal fault. In all other cases, on the contrary, although a fault has been committed, and it is intended to punish the guilty persons or make them amend, the interdict may affect and does affect some who are innocent, because it is not aimed directly at the individual but at a moral body, e.g. a chapter, a monastery, or all the inhabitants of a district or a town. If a chapter incur an interdict (Const. “Apost. Sedis”, interd., n. 1) for appealing to a future general council, the canons who did not vote for the forbidden resolution are, notwithstanding, obliged to observe the interdict. And the general local interdict suppressing all the Divine offices in a town will evidently fall on the innocent as well as the guilty. Such interdicts are therefore inflicted for the faults of moral bodies, of public authorities as such, of a whole population, and not for the faults of private individuals.
Who have the power of imposing an interdict, and how does it cease? In general, the reader may be referred to Ecclesiastical Censures; and Excommunication. We shall add a few brief remarks. Any prelate having jurisdiction in foro extern can impose an interdict on his subjects or his territory. It may be provided for in the law and then, like other censures (q.v.), can be ferendae or latae sententiae. A particular personal interdict is removed by absolution; other interdicts are said to be “raised”, but this does not imply any act relative to the individuals under interdict; when imposed as a punishment these interdicts may cease on the expiration of a definite time.
(I) A general local interdict is, therefore, for a whole population, town, province, or region, the almost complete suspension of the liturgical and sacramental Christian life. Examples of it exist as early as the ninth century, under the name of excommunication (see in particular the Council of Limoges of 1031). Innocent III gave this measure the name of interdict and made vigorous use of it. It will suffice to recall the interdict imposed in 1200 on the Kingdom of France, when Philip II Augustus repudiated Inggeburga to marry Agnes of Meran; and that on the Kingdom of England in 1208, to support the election of Stephen Langton to the See of Canterbury against John Lackland, which lasted till the submission of that king in 1213. It was a dangerous weapon, but its severity was mitigated little by little, and at the same time it was less frequently employed. The last example of a general interdict launched by the pope against a whole region seems, to have been that imposed by Paul V in 1606 on the territory of Venice; it was raised in the following year. A quite recent example of a general, local, and personal interdict, but of a purely penal nature, is the interdict placed by Pius X on the town and suburbs of Adria in Northern Italy, by decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Consistory, on September 30, 1909, to punish the population of Adria for a sacrilegious attack made on the bishop, Msgr. Boggiani, in order to prevent him from transferring his residence to Rovigo. The interdict was to last for fifteen days, and contained the following provisions: “Prohibited are: (a) the celebration of the Mass and all other liturgical ceremonies; (b) the ringing of bells; (c) the public administration of the sacraments; (d) solemn burial. The following alone are permitted: (a) the baptism of children, the administration of the other sacraments and of the Viaticum to the sick; (b) the private celebration of marriages; (c) one Mass each week for the renewal of the Holy Eucharist.” It was recalled that the violation of this interdict constitutes a mortal sin for all and imposed an irregularity on clerics (Acta Ap. Sedis, October 15, 1909, p. 765).
To return to the subject of a general local interdict, but non-personal in kind, the law authorizes the private celebration of Mass and the choir office, the doors of the church being closed (c. lvii, “De sent. exc.”, and c. xxiv, eod. in VI°), and also the administration of confirmation; on the other hand canonical authors did not allow extreme unction for the sick, but Pius X permits it. To these relaxations must be added the exceptions made in time of interdict for the celebration of the great feasts of Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, the Assumption, Corpus Christi, and its octave.
The particular local interdict has the same effects, but they are limited to the interdicted place or church. The above mentioned mitigations, however, are not allowed. Whoever knowingly celebrates or causes to be celebrated the Divine offices in an interdicted place incurs ipso facto the prohibition against entering the church until he has made amends (Const. Ap. Sedis, interd., n. 2); and any cleric who knowingly celebrates any Divine office in a place interdicted by name becomes irregular (C. xviii, “De sent. ex-comm.” in VI°), but not if he administers a sacrament to an interdicted individual, as the law has not legislated for such a case.
The general personal interdict, which, we have seen, may be combined with the local interdict, has the same effects for all the persons who form or will form part of the group, community, or moral person under interdict: all the canons of a chapter, all the religious of a convent, all the inhabitants of a town, all those domiciled in the place, etc. They, however, escape from the interdict who are not members or who cease to be members of the body affected, e.g. a canon appointed to another benefice a stranger who leaves the town, etc. But the mere change of locality has no liberating effect, and the interdict follows the individual members of the body wherever they may go.
The particular personal interdict, which is a real censure, affects individuals much in the same way as excommunication. They may not assist at the Divine offices or at Mass, and if they are interdicted by name they should be put out; however, if they refuse to withdraw it is not necessary to suspend the service, since, after all, the interdict does not deprive them of the communion of the faithful. They may not demand to receive the sacraments, except Penance and the Viaticum, and it is not lawful to administer them. They are to be deprived of ecclesiastical burial, but Mass and the ordinary prayers may be said for them. A cleric violating the interdict becomes irregular.
The interdict against entering the church is a real censure, intended to bring about the amendment of the erring one; it prohibits him from taking part in Divine service in the church and from being accorded a burial service in it. But outside the church he is as if he had not incurred any censure; he can attend Divine service and receive the sacraments in a private oratory and pray in the church when service is not being held in it. The individual is absolved after due satisfaction for his fault.
The cessation from Divine service, cessatio a divinis, follows the rules of the local interdict, from which it differs, not in its effects, but only because the fault for which it is imposed is not the fault of the clerics who are prohibited from celebrating the Divine service. It forbids the holding of Divine service and the administration of the sacraments in a given sacred place. It is a manifestation of sorrow and a kind of reparation for a grievous wrong done to a holy place. This cessatio a divinis is not imposed ipso facto by the law; it is imposed by the ordinary when and under the conditions that he judges suitable.
II. There are at present five interdicts latae sententiae, two of which are mentioned in the Constitution “Apostolicae Sedis”, two decreed by the Council of Trent, and one added by the Constitution “Romanus Pontifex” of August 23, 1873:
(I) “Universities, colleges, and chapters, whatsoever be their name, that appeal from the ordinances or mandates of the reigning Roman pontiff to a future general council, incur an interdict specially reserved to the Roman pontiff. “This interdict is imposed for the same crime as the specially reserved excommunication no. 4 [see Excommunication. VII, A, (a) l, but the excommunication falls on the individuals, and the interdict on the group, or moral persons, by whatever name they be called, and who cannot be excommunicated as such.
“Those who knowingly celebrate or cause to be celebrated the Divine offices in places interdicted by the ordinary or his delegate, or by the law; those who admit persons excommunicated by name to the Divine offices, the sacraments of the Church, or to ecclesiastical burial, incur pleno jure the interdict against entering the church, until they have made amends sufficient in the opinion of him whose order they have contemned.” This interdict, which is borrowed, except for a few minor modifications, from c. viii, “De privilegiis”, in VI° of Boniface VIII, is therefore reserved to the competent prelate. Its object is to ensure the observance, on the one hand, of the local interdict, and, on the other, of excommunication by name (see Excommunication. vol. V, p. 680, subtitle Vitandi and Tolerati).
The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, cap. i, “De Ref.”) imposes on bishops the duty of residence; it prescribes that those who absent themselves without a sufficient reason for six continuous months are to be deprived of a quarter of their annual revenue; then of another quarter for a second six months’ absence; after which, the council continues, “as their contumacy increases the metropolitan will be bound to denounce to the Roman pontiff, by letter or by messenger, within three months, his absent suffragan bishops, and the senior resident suffragan bishop will be obliged to denounce his absent metropolitan, under penalty of interdict against entering the church, incurred eo ipso.” The obligation of denouncing begins, therefore, only after an entire year’s absence, and the interdict is incurred only if the denunciation has not been made within the next three months.
The Council of Trent (Sess. VII, cap. x, “De Ref.”) forbids chapters, during the vacancy of a see, to grant dimissory letters within a year dating from the vacancy, unless to clerics who are arctati, i.e. obliged to obtain ordination on account of a benefice; this prohibition carries with it the penalty of interdict. The Council of Trent having later (Sess. XXIV, cap. xvi, “De Ref.”) obliged the chapter to name a vicar capitular within eight days, the interdict can be incurred by the chapter only for dimissory letters granted during these eight days. It is disputed whether or not the vicar capitular would incur the interdict for this fault (Pennacchi in Const. “Ap. Sedis”, 469).
The Constitution “Romanus Pontifex” aims at preventing those who are elected by the chapters or named by the civil authorities from undertaking the administration of their church under the name or title of vicar capitular. Besides the excommunication incurred by the chapters and the person elected (see Excommunication. subtitle Excommunications Pronounced or Renewed Since the Constitution “Apostolicae Sedis”), Pius IX imposes on “those among them who have received the episcopal order a suspension from the exercise of their pontifical powers and the interdict against entering the church, pleno jure and with-out any declaration.”