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The penalty deprives a Catholic of membership in the church while still leaving him bound to many of the duties of that membership. An excommunicant cannot participate in worship or receive the sacraments and is refused a Christian burial.

Excommunicated clerics, such as Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated Thursday, remain priests but are forbidden to administer the sacraments except in certain specified circumstances. In the Roman Catholic Church, the seven sacraments are baptism, confirmation, communion, penance, holy orders, matrimony and extreme unction, or last rites.Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro said Thursday that very few Catholics incur excomunication and that many of the cases today involve Catholic doctors who perform abortions. However, he noted that these are matters of individual conscience, and no records are kept.