A deposition is an ecclesiastical vindictive penalty by which a cleric is forever deprived of his office or benefice and of the right of exercising the functions of his orders. Of its own nature this punishment is perpetual and irremissible in the sense that those on whom it is inflicted, even after having done full penance, have no right to be released from it, though the superior may, if he wishes, reinstate them if truly amended. Deposition can be inflicted only on ecclesiastics, secular or regular; it may be either total or partial, according as it deprives them of all powers of orders and jurisdiction or of only a portion of them. It differs from simple privation because in addition to the deprivation of benefices and offices it disqualifies an ecclesiastic from obtaining them in future; from suspension because it is always a perpetual vindictive penalty, not a mere suspension of the use of the powers of orders and jurisdiction, but an entire and perpetual withdrawal of them; from actual degradation in as much as it never deprives of the privileges of the ecclesiastical state.
This punishment can be traced to the early centuries of the Church when ecclesiastics guilty of heinous crimes were expelled from their rank and removed to lay communion. Although preserving the character of their orders, they were then considered, for all purposes and in the eyes of the law, as ordinary laymen, and were bound to appear with the ordinary faithful when receiving Holy Communion . The word deposition , it is alleged, was first used in the Synod of Agde (506, can. xxxv) to indicate such a penalty. Down to the twelfth century the expressions deposition and degradation meant one and the same canonical punishment. We know, for instance, that Paul, Patriarch of Alexandria (541), and Ignatius, Patriarch of Constantinople (861), met with the same kind of punishment; yet in the first case it is styled deposition and in the second degradation. Moreover, deposition always deprived ecclesiastics of the office they held by the ordinary title of ordination, and it was nearly always coupled with the ceremony of divesting delinquents of the garments used in the functions of their sacred ministry. In process of time, when, first by custom and subsequently by decree of Alexander III (c. At si clericis, IV, De judiciis), bishops were allowed to dispense from that penalty in crimes of lesser gravity than adultery, the solemn stripping of the sacred vestments was discontinued, to save the trouble of restoring their use in case of reinstatement. The new practice created uncertainty and variety in the execution of deposition, hence Boniface VIII (c. ii. De pœnis, in VIº) at the request of the Bishop of Béziers decreed that the formal removal of vestments, which now means and effects total exclusion from the ecclesiastical state, was to take place only in cases of actual degradation.
As stated above, total deposition prohibits the exercise of powers conferred by ordination, and effects a complete and perpetual deprivation of ecclesiastical offices, benefices, and dignities. It also disqualifies from obtaining them in future, while public disgrace or infamy and irregularity are inflicted on those who disregard this punishment. The character impressed by ordination being indelible, deposition from orders can only deprive a person of the right of exercising them. Deposition from office always effects the loss of the benefice annexed to it, as benefices are given on account of the spiritual office. On the other hand, deposition from benefice never renders an ecclesiastic incapable of licitly exercising his ministry; it is maintained, however, that it deprives him even of the right to a share of the temporal emoluments for his decent support. According to the present discipline of the Church deposition is inflicted only for enormous crimes, such as cause public scandal and do great harm to religion or morals, e.g. murder, public concubinage, blasphemy, a sinful and incorrigible tenor of life, etc. It is largely left, however, to the prudent judgment of the superior to determine in each case the gravity of the crime which deserves this punishment. In fact, deposition is now rarely inflicted; simple dismissal, together with perpetual suspension, usually takes its place. (See LAY COMMUNION.)
The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.
Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.
No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.
Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912
Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online