A question readers keep asking is whether Maciel was excommunicated for allegedly absolving in the confessional accomplices in sins against the Sixth Commandment. As most of us are aware, the expression “sins against the Sixth Commandment” covers serious sins of sexual nature. The question comes from canon 977 which prohibits a priest from absolving his accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment, except in danger of death, combined with canon 1378, paragraph 1 which automatically excommunicates a priest who violates canon 977. I don’t have access to the 1917 code right now, but I believe it too excommunicated a priest for absolving in the confessional an accomplice in sins against the Sixth Commandment.
Regardless, we don’t know the answer to this question. Here is what we do know:
- The case against Maciel was introduced before the CDF during the 90’s, alleging Maciel had violated canon 1378 or its equivalent found in the 1917 code.
- During the investigation the CDF invited Maciel to retire to life of prayer and penance in exchange for not pursuing the case.
From this we can conclude that the evidence was serious enough for the CDF to act upon. In which case, I believe it probable the Holy See, either through the CDF or the Apostolic Penitentiary, would have removed any potential censures incurred by Fr. Maciel. So in all probability Maciel did not die under censure.