The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of excommunicating people. These days it is mostly constrained to excommunicating bishops who break with doctrine.

The Pope regularly sends letters to political figures touching on political matters. (Russian President, Australian Prime-minister, UN Secretary General). How long has it been since the Church "threw its weight around" and actually excommunicated someone, because of what they wanted to happen, in terms of national policy?

I'm looking for the most recent case of the Roman Catholic Church excommunicating a politician or government (eg a head of state/government, a chief bureaucrat), as part of "Meddling in national politics".

I'm only interested in the excommunication of clergymen, if they were both government officials (outside of the Holy See), and the political reason was related to national politics (Eg declaring war on another country).

With the explicit exclusion of excommunicating someone who practiced outright warfare against the Church, or the Holy See. This should also implicitly exclude Automatic Excommunication.

Also excluding anyone that had the excommunication revoked/reversed, shortly after. If the excommunication wasn't revoked til over a decade later than that would be applicable (though I'ld expect an answer to mark as such).

Best I can find is King James IV of Scotland in 1513 (by Pope Leo X) for breaking the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. However, is not entirely clear to me as to if this was done for political reasons, or if it was done for religious reasons -- he violated a sworn oath before God.

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    Two issues with the question: a) differentiation between politics and religion. Excommunicating some radical clergymen that do not recognize Papal authority (v.g. sedevacantists) is due to religious reasons, but has a political motive too (reduce said clergymen influence).
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 1:14
  • b) it is not clear which level of importance is required to make it answerable (film makers and other artists have been often threatened with excommunication, even sometimes the public of the films themselves... does that count?)
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 1:33
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    Also the Church is not monolithic, a bishop can impose an excommunication only to have it reversed. For example, an anecdote (the historicity of which I am not sure) tells that cardinal Pedro Segura in Franco's Spain threatened excommunication to anyone showing or seeing an (already censored!) version of Gilda; when a member of the film company projected and saw the film he got both excommunications at once, which were later reversed by pope Pius XII as excessive. Should a case like that count?
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 1:38
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    This verges on the opinion based; how do you tell the difference between an excommunication on religious grounds and one that is on political grounds. I'm relatively certain that the Church would argue that all excommunications are for purely religious reasons. The two motivations are not empirically distinct.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 9:48
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    After the Italian royal forces overthrew what was left of the papal states in 1870 (or maybe even before?) the pope excommunicated the king. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 20:07

1 Answer 1


I don't know if this is exactly what you're looking for but I'll throw it out. There's a wikipedia article of Catholic excommunications. Most recent ones are over abortion like this one in 2012 where apparently Catholic lawmakers in Uruguay were excommunicated for giving a yes vote towards legalizing abortion. This is contested and Catholic officials clarified that there was this sort of blanket excommunication on people carrying out abortions and it wasn't applied to lawmakers for voting yes. So conflicting reports here on whether or not they were actually excommunicated and for what reason but I think it would qualify as a political one if it actually happened (it was reported on by a couple newspapers).

I might have to agree with Mark Wallace in the comments however because it's difficult to separate religion and politics in this case. Anything the pope does is inherently tinged with religion and any sort of documentation on the excommunication will couch it with explicitly religious reasons.

The other one that seemed to fit your criteria was the alleged excommunication of Fidel Castro for being part of the Communist Party. I attempted to follow some newspaper links and articles but I couldn't find one that really summed things up nicely, lots of dead links. But it is also contested that there was a personal excommunication of Fidel Castro.

It's definitely a tool that has fallen by the wayside and only seemed effective as a political tool when the Pope was at the height of his power. For example Napoleon was excommunicated but it doesn't seem to have stopped him from acting against Pope Pius VII. A far cry from when other emperors were laid low by the Pope exercising his power.

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    Membership in an organization devoted to atheism seems to be grounds for religious excommunication. It seems to be difficult to simultaneously profess the Catholic faith, the notion that religion is the opiate of the masses and mandatory atheism. So I'd classify that as a valid religious exception.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 20:30
  • Which is why I pretty much agree with what you said in the comments. We can guess at what is politically motivated but there's always going to be a religious side to it when justifying the excommunication. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 21:11

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