Suspension, in canon law, is usually defined as a censure by which a cleric is deprived, entirely or partially, of the use of the power of orders, office, or benefice. Although ordinarily called a censure because it is generally a medicinal punishment inflicted after admonitions and intended to amend the delinquent, yet it is not necessarily so for it is occasionally employed as a chastisement for past offenses. As early as the time of St. Cyprian (d. 258), we read of clerics deprived of the income of their charges and also of suspension from the determined functions for which one had been ordained. We know also that clerics were sometimes temporarily deprived of Communion (Can. Apost., 45; Conc. Illib., c. 21). The Council of Neocaesarea (Can. 1) in 315 decrees perpetual suspension from all functions for certain misdemeanors, while the Fourth Council of Carthage (can. 68), by forbidding a delinquent bishop to ordain, gives an example of partial suspension. Again, the Third Council of Orleans (can. 19) in 538 decrees suspension from orders but not from stipend, and the Council of Narbonne (can. 11) suspends certain clerics from receiving the fruits of their benefices.
When a suspension is total, a cleric is deprived of the exercise of every function and of every ecclesiastical right. When it is partial, it may be only from the exercise of one’s sacred orders, or from his office which includes deprivation of the use of orders and jurisdiction, or from his benefice which deprives him of both administration and income. When a suspension is decreed absolutely and without limitation, it is understood to be a total suspension. A partial suspension deprives a cleric of the use of that power only which is expressed in the sentence. A cleric does not incur an irregularity when he violates a suspension imposed for a former transgression, because then there is no violation of a censure. The same holds good if he has been suspended for some defect of mind or body not blameworthy. Irregularity is contracted when a cleric performs a solemn act of sacred orders, from the use of which he had been suspended. Thus, if a bishop forbidden to celebrate Mass pontifically were to perform such a function, he would not incur irregularity because he does not thereby exercise any substantial act of episcopal orders. As the Church can not deprive a suspended cleric of the power of sacred orders, but only forbids their use, it follows that acts of sacred orders remain valid after suspension. On the other hand, acts of jurisdiction become null and void after a suspended cleric has been denounced by name, because the Church has power to deprive one totally of jurisdiction. Suspension ex informata conscientia has the same effect as a formal suspension, but it is not inflicted by judicial sentence, but as an extraordinary remedy, without the canonical monitions being necessary, and it is imposed for occult but grave crimes.
When a cleric has been suspended from the income of his benefice, it is not the Church‘s desire that he be reduced to actual want. Consequently sufficient support is to be given to him, provided he have no means of his own and be willing to amend. Even when he does not turn from his evil ways, the clerical dignity requires that he be not suffered to fall into extreme want or danger of starvation. The principal grounds on which suspension is incurred ipso facto in the present discipline of the Church are found in the Decrees of the Council of Trent and in the Constitution “Apostolicae Sedis Moderationi“, though a few others have been added. A cleric is relieved of suspension, if it was a censure, by the absolution of him to whom it was reserved in case of reservation. When it was inflicted for a definite time or under a certain condition, it ceases of itself when the limitation is fulfilled. If the suspension was perpetual and decreed on account of a former crime, it may be removed by mere dispensation of the proper authority.
WILLIAM H. W. FANNING