Can you explain the difference between excommunication and disfellowship? If a woman was separated and just waiting for her divorce papers to be signed by the judge, and had inappropriate sexual relations with someone, is that grounds for excommunication or disfellowship?
The following are excerpts from an article by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve concerning church discipline entitled: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings.
Members sometimes ask why Church disciplinary councils are held. The purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name.
Formal probation is a temporary state of discipline, imposed as a means to help the member fully repent. The presiding officer of the council specifies the conditions under which the probation can be terminated. During the probation, the bishop or stake president keeps in close contact to help the individual progress.
The third decision the council may take is to disfellowship the member. Disfellowshipment is usually temporary, though not necessarily brief. Disfellowshipped persons retain membership in the Church. They are encouraged to attend public Church meetings, but are not entitled to offer public prayers or to give talks. They may not hold a Church position, take the sacrament, vote in the sustaining of Church officers, hold a temple recommend, or exercise the priesthood. They may, however, pay tithes and offerings and continue to wear temple garments if endowed.
Excommunication is the most severe judgment a Church disciplinary council can take. Excommunicated persons are no longer members of the Church. Therefore, they are denied the privileges of Church membership, including the wearing of temple garments and the payment of tithes and offerings. They may attend public Church meetings, but, like disfellowshipped persons, their participation in such meetings is limited. Excommunicated persons are encouraged to repent and so live as to qualify for eventual baptism.
Great consideration is given regarding the confidentiality of the decisions of a Church disciplinary council. No announcement is ever made when a member is placed on formal probation. Decisions to disfellowship or excommunicate are generally not announced publicly unless the transgression is widely known.
The woman you referred to needs to visit with her Bishop. Part of his calling is to be a “Common Judge in Israel.” (see D&C 107:72) He is the one that would determine what course of action needs to be taken for her to complete her repentance process. Whether the need for a disciplinary council is to be held or not is his decision, The council then determines what follows.