• Latin: censura, censorship or office of censor, judgment, criticism


Ecclesiastical censure is a penalty by which a baptized person, delinquent and contumacious (obstinate), is deprived of certain spiritual goods, or goods connected with the spiritual, until he has given up such contumacy. The term and idea originated in Roman law. Up to the time of Innocent III (13th century) practically every ecclesiastical penalty was called a censure. The right to inflict censure follows from the nature of the Church as a perfect society; while the chief purpose of censure is corrective or medicinal as indicated by its main divisions:

  • particular, excommunication, interdict, suspension;
  • general, censure ab homine (by man) when penalty is inflicted by way of special precept or particular judgment, and a jure (by law) when a specified penalty is fixed by the common or particular law of the Church;
  • latre sententire (of sentence passed) if penalty is incurred by the very commission of an act; ferendae sententiae (of sentence to be passed) if penalty is to be inflicted after admonition and judgment of a superior.

The conditions for censure on the part of the subject are: his baptism; obstinacy or persistent disobedience; knowledge of the censure and its import. Generally speaking, ignorance excuses. On the part of the delictum (crime) there must be a grave, external moral fault. The requisites are essential and simultaneous. Censure deprives of the use of spiritual goods (as the sacraments in the case of laymen) or goods thereunto connected (as financial support attached to an office for a cleric). Censure may be multiplied by repetition of same offense or because more than one censure attaches to an act. To bring about salutary fear, some are reserved to the pope or bishop. Once contracted, a censure can be removed only by lawful absolution given by the authority inflicting censure, his superior, delegate, or successor. Again, one may be absolved from sin and not from censure, as these are distinct acts. Canon law lays down very definite procedure for absolution within and outside the Sacrament of Penance. In danger of death any priest may absolve from any censure, while in urgent cases, a duly approved confessor may do the same. The Church warns authorities to use censure with care because it is so grave a punishment.

MLA Citation

  • “censures”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 7 April 2013. Web. 20 June 2021. <>