The Corner

Excommunication Frequency

When was the last time an American Catholic Bishop actually excommunicated

an elected official? On April 16, 1962, the Archbishop of New Orleans,

Joseph F. Rummel, excommunicated three men who had persistently defied and

interfered with the Archbishop’s order to integrate the parochial schools of

New Orleans. The three men were State Judge Leander H. Perez, State Senator

E.W. Gravolet, and a racist citizen activst B.J. Gaillot.

Two days later, President John F. Kennedy was asked at a press conference,

“Mr. President, would you care to comment on developments in New Orleans

where the Archbishop excommunicated three people for hindering school

desegregation?”

He replied: “No, the action of the Archbishop related to private acts and

private individuals, which did not involve public acts or public policy, so

that carrying out the spirit of the Constitution which provides a separation

between church and state, I think it would be inappropriate for me to

comment on that.”

Excommunication aims to make the excommunicant aware of the grave nature of

his sin, and the peril to his soul. At least for Perez, the excommunication

eventually worked. In 1968 he repented his fervent racism, which was extreme

even compared to other segregationists. He died in 1969 and received a

Catholic funeral.

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