Mary Ann Collins
(A Former Catholic Nun)
January 2002

According to the 1913 edition of the "Catholic Encyclopedia," when the Catholic Church anathematizes someone, the Pope ritually puts curses on them and sentences them to hell. There is a solemn written ritual for doing this. The article describes the ritual in detail, including extensive quotations from it. The ritual demonstrates the belief that God has given the Pope the power and the authority to keep people out of Heaven, and to condemn them to hell. [This article is available on-line. Note 1 gives its address.]

In pronouncing the anathema, the Pope wears special vestments. He is assisted by twelve priests holding lighted candles. Calling on the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Pope pronounces a solemn ecclesiastical curse. He ends by declaring, "We judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate". The priests reply, "Fiat!" (Let it be done!) and throw down their candles.

As we will see, the Catholic Church considers heresy (disagreement with Catholic doctrine) to be a crime. The Council of Trent, and other Church councils, declare that any person who disagrees with even one of their doctrinal statements is thereby anathematized. When the Pope pronounces an anathema, he is said to be passing sentence on a criminal.

The "Catholic Encyclopedia" says that the anathema ritual is "well calculated to strike terror to the criminal and bring him to a state of repentance". (Emphasis added.)

For those whose crime is heresy, repentance means renouncing everything that they have said or done which conflicts with Catholic doctrine. In other words, they have to renounce their own conscience and discernment, and the conclusions which they reached in their best efforts to understand Biblical principles. And they have to submit their minds and wills unconditionally to every official doctrinal declaration of the Catholic Church. As we will see, Canon Law says that this unquestioning submission of the mind and will is required.


According to the 1913 edition of the "Catholic Encyclopedia," a person's religious belief is "outside the realm of free private judgment". This is consistent with the spirit behind anathematizing people. [This article is available on-line. Note 2 gives its address.]

The present Pope (John Paul II) has issued a new edition of Roman Catholic Canon Law. According to Canon 752, whenever the Pope or the college of bishops makes a declaration concerning faith or morals, Catholics are required to give "a religious submission of the intellect and will" to it. Furthermore, they must "take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it". [Note 3]


According to Canon 1311, The Catholic Church has the right "to coerce offending members". (Emphasis added.) Canon 1312 says that penal sanctions can include depriving people of "some spiritual or temporal good". Spiritual goods are things which are necessary to get to Heaven. The Catholic Church believes that it can deprive people of them through excommunication and anathemas. Temporal goods are things which relate to life in this world. [Note 4]

The Catholic Church has never renounced its past practice of killing people that it considers to be heretics. On the contrary, the Office of the Inquisition still exists. It is part of the Vatican Curia. In 1965, its name was changed to "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith". It is headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. [Note 5]

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. After defining the dogma, the Pope said that if any person dares to "think otherwise than as has been defined by us" they thereby shipwreck their faith, are cut off from the Church, and stand condemned because of it. The Pope went on to say that if any person says, or writes, or in any other way outwardly expresses "the errors he thinks in his heart," then they thereby "subject themselves to the penalties established by law". [This papal bull is available on-line. Note 6 gives the address.]

The Pope's reference to legal penalties is significant because a man had been executed for heresy 28 years before this papal bull was issued. In 1826, a Spanish schoolmaster was hanged because he substituted the phrase "Praise be to God" in place of "Ave Maria" ("Hail Mary") during school prayers. [Note 7]

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII issued a papal bull defining the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. He ended by saying, "It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it." The Pope further declared that any person who attempts to do so thereby incurs the wrath of God and the wrath of the Apostles Peter and Paul. [This article is available on-line. Note 8 gives the address.]

According to "Webster's Dictionary," "forbidden" means "prohibited; interdicted". "Interdict" as used by the Roman Catholic Church means: "A punitive censure restraining certain persons or peoples from the sacraments, Christian burial, etc." And the more general meaning of "interdict" is "a prohibitory decree". Although this papal bull doesn't openly threaten "penalties established by law," it still implies the possibility of some form of punishment.

The difference in tone between the bull of 1854 and the bull of 1950 reflects the decrease in power of the Catholic Church. In 1854, a man had recently been killed for heresy. In 1950, democracy was spreading to many countries, and the political power of the Roman Catholic Church was decreasing. By 1950, the kind of language which was used in the 1854 bull would not have created a good image for the Catholic Church.


The Roman Catholic Church believes that the Pope has the power and the authority to damn people to hell.

I have heard many Catholics deny this, saying that only God can condemn people to hell. But look at the ritual of the anathema, as described in the 1913 edition of the "Catholic Encyclopedia." And look at the following solemn declaration of excommunication which was pronounced by Pope Innocent III,

"We excommunicate, anathematize, curse and damn him..." [Note 9]

The anathema ritual and its wording are a demonstration that popes believed that they could consign people to hell. The fear that the anathema produced is a demonstration that other people also believed it. So is the power that anathemas gave the popes over civil rulers. (See the chapter, "Coercion".)

The anathema ritual is still on the books, which means that it could be invoked at any time that it was thought expedient to do so. But these days, it would probably not be considered "religiously correct" to use it.


I encourage you to link to this article and to put it on your own web site. You have my permission to copy this article, to quote from it, to translate it into other languages, and to incorporate it into publications of your own. You have my permission to distribute copies of this article, including selling it for profit. I do not want any royalties or financial remuneration of any kind. Please give this information to anybody who might be interested in it.


1. "Anathema" in "The Catholic Encyclopedia" (1913 edition), Volume 1. This is on-line. The ritual is described in detail, with a lengthy quotation, on pages 2-3 of my print-out.

2. "Inquisition" in "The Catholic Encyclopedia" (1913 edition), Volume 8. This article is available on-line. The quotation is from the second paragraph of the article. The Office of the Inquisition is an ecclesiastical institution for suppressing heresy. It is a permanent office with headquarters in Rome (described on pages 1 and 23-24 of my print-out).

For a Protestant perspective on the Inquisition, you can go to the following article.

3. Canon 752 in "Code of Canon Law," Latin English edition, New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1988), page 247.

4. Canons 1311 and 1312 in "Code of Canon Law," Latin-English edition, New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), page 409.

5. Following is a link to an article on the Vatican's web site. [Click on "Profile".]

The Vatican web site is slow and it doesn't always come up. You can also find information about the change of name of the Office of the Inquisition at these sites:

6. "Ineffabilis Deus" ("Apostolic Constitution on the Immaculate Conception"). Encyclical of Pope Pius IX issued December 8, 1854. Near the end of this papal bull there is a section entitled "The Definition". The statements that I described are in the last paragraph of that section. Following are links to two web sites which quote the entire papal bull.

7. Paul Johnson, "A History of Christianity" (New York: Simon & Schuster, a Touchstone Book, 1995), page 308. Paul Johnson is a prominent historian and a Catholic.

8."Munificentissimus Deus" ("Defining the Dogma of the Assumption"), paragraph 47. Encyclical of Pope Pius XII issued November 1, 1950. This papal bull is available on-line.

9. Paul Johnson, "A History of Christianity," page 199.

Copyright January 2002 by Mary Ann Collins.


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