Monday, July 6, 2009

The Laicization Process

On January 30, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI conceded to the Congregation for the Clergy the Special Faculty to handle and present to the Holy Father for his approval cases of dismissal from the clerical state with dispensation from all obligations including celibacy. Below is the document followed by comments from two transitioned priests. At the bottom under "comments" you will find other interesting reflections from transitioned priests and others about this document. Click on "comments" to share your views.
Vatican City, 18th April 2009

Prot. N. 2009 0556
To The Eminent and Most Excellent OrdinariesAt Their Sees
Your Eminence, Your Excellency,
On the 30th January last, the Supreme Pontiff granted certain special faculties to this Congregation. The purpose of this Circular Letter is to present these faculties to all Ordinaries so that the reasoning behind them and the ends which they seek to accomplish are clearly understood in the manner in which they were originally intended.

The Congregation was moved to write this letter to the Most Rev. Ordinaries by virtue of its ardent desire to honour the mission and person of those priests who, faithful to their authentic priestly identity and mission, think, act and live in a counter-cultural manner in this heavily secularized moment in history, as well as to assist the Successors of the Apostles in their daily task of preserving and promoting ecclesiastical discipline for the benefit of the entire body of believers.

1. The ministerial priesthood has its roots in the apostolic succession and is imbued with sacred power[1] which consists of the faculty and the responsibility of acting in the person of Christ, Head and Shepherd[2]. "The missionary dimension of the priest is born from his sacramental configuration to Christ the Head: this carries with itself, as a consequence, a happy and total adhesion to that which the tradition of the Church has called the apostolica vivendi forma. This consists in participating in a spiritually intense "new life", in that "new style of life" which has been inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and has been lived by the Apostles themselves../..Certainly, a great ecclesial tradition has distinguished the sacramental efficacy from the concrete existential situation of the individual priest, in this way sufficiently safeguarding the legitimate expectations of the faithful. However, this right doctrinal precision takes nothing away from the necessary, indeed the indispensible tension leading towards moral perfection, which must find a place in every authentically priestly heart"[3]. Therefore, priests are called to continue the presence of Christ, the one high priest, embodying His way of life and making Him visible in the midst of the flock entrusted to their care[4]: this is the true source of strength for every pastoral vocation, which is constituted by the lived coherent testimony of one's consecration, nourished by prayer and penitence.

2. All this is particularly important in understanding the theological reasoning behind priestly celibacy, since the will of the Church concerning it finds its expression, ultimately, in that particularly appropriate link which exists between celibacy and priestly Ordination whereby the priest is configured to Jesus Christ, Head and Spouse of the Church. The Church, being the Spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved in the total and exclusive manner with which Jesus Christ loved her, as her Head and Spouse. Priestly celibacy is, therefore, the gift of oneself in and with Christ to His Church, and expresses the service of the priest to the Church in and with the Lord[5]. Indeed, for this reason the Church has reaffirmed at the Second Vatican Council and repeatedly in the subsequent Pontifical Magisterium the "firm will to maintain the law that demands perpetual and freely chosen celibacy for present and future candidates for priestly ordination in the Latin rite"[6]. Priestly celibacy, as indeed apostolic celibacy more generally, is a gift that the Church has received and wishes to protect, convinced as she is that this is a good for herself and for the world. To this end can.277, C.I.C. states: "§1. Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity. §2. Clerics are to behave with due prudence towards persons whose company can endanger their obligation to observe continence or give rise to scandal among the faithful. §3. The diocesan bishop is competent to establish more specific norms concerning this matter and to pass judgment in particular cases concerning the observance of this obligation".[7]

3. The Bishop has, among other things, the duty to remind priests of their obligation to perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, an obligation freely and willing assumed by them at the moment of their ordination. Moreover, the Bishop must always be attentive that the priest is faithful in carrying out his proper ministerial duties (Cf. can. 384, 392). In fact "Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power"[8]. There exists between them and their priests a communio sacramentalis by virtue of the ministerial and hierarchic priesthood, which is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ[9].

Certainly the bond of subordination between priests and the Bishop concerns the area of the exercise of their proper ministry, which they must exercise in hierarchical communion with their own Bishop. The relationship which exists between the Bishop and his priests cannot, in its canonical aspects, be reduced either to the relationship of hierarchic subordination of public law in the juridical system or to a dependent relationship of an employer to an employee[10]. It is not uncommon to find in society those who, misunderstanding the sacramental relationship of the Bishop to priest, mistakenly perceive it as the same as that which exists between a director of a business and his workforce.

In this type of situation, "since he must protect the unity of the universal Church, a bishop is bound to promote the common discipline of the whole Church and therefore to urge the observance of all ecclesiastical laws" (can. 392, §1) and he must be vigilant lest abuses insinuate themselves into ecclesiastical discipline (cf. can. 392, §2 CIC).

In fact the diocesan Bishop must accompany priests with particular concern, ensuring that their rights are protected (Cf. can. 384). The vast majority of priests live out their priestly identity daily with serenity and exercise faithfully their proper ministry; but, "when situations of scandal arise, especially on the part of the Church's ministers, the Bishop must act firmly and decisively, justly and serenely. In these lamentable cases, the Bishop is required to act promptly, according to the established canonical norms, for the spiritual good of the persons involved, for the reparation of scandal, and for the protection and assistance of the victims"[11]. In this context even the penalty ultimately provided for by the Bishop, "is seen as an instrument of communion that is as a means to restore what is lacking in the individual and in the common good, when members of the People of God act in an anti-ecclesial manner which is criminal and scandalous"[12].

One must make clear, however, that the diocesan priest, who is not merely the passive executor of commands received from the Bishop, enjoys autonomy in making decisions both in his ministry and in his personal and private life. Thus he is personally responsible for his personal actions and for those carried out in the scope of his ministry. As a consequence, a Bishop cannot be held juridically responsible for the acts which a diocesan priest carries out in transgression of the canonical norms, universal or particular. This principle is not new and has always been part of the patrimony of the Church, means, among other things, that the criminal action of a priest, and its penal consequences as well as any eventual payment of damages, is imputable to the priest who has committed the offence, and not to the Bishop or to the Diocese, of which the Bishop is the legal representative (Cf. can. 393)[13].

4. It is reaffirmed that in exercising his judicial function, the Bishop should keep in mind the following general criteria:

(a) Without prejudicing the exercise of justice, the Bishop should encourage the faithful to resolve their differences peacefully and seek to be reconciled at the earliest opportunity, even after the canonical process has begun, thereby avoiding the prolonged animosity to which judicial processes often give rise (Cf. can. 1446 CIC).

(b) The Bishop should observe and require others to observe the procedural norms established for the exercise of judicial power, since he recognizes that these rules are no mere formality, still less an obstacle to be circumvented, but are a necessary means for establishing the facts and for administering justice (Cf. cann. 135, §3 and 391 CIC).

(c) If he receives notice of behaviour which gravely damages the common good of the Church, the Bishop should investigate with discretion, either by himself or through a delegate, the facts and the imputability of the accused (Cf. can. 1717 CIC). When he judges that he has assembled sufficient proof of the facts which gave rise to the scandal, he should proceed formally to correct or admonish the accused (Cf. cann 1339-1340 CIC). Yet when this does not suffice to repair the scandal, restore justice and bring about the rehabilitation of the person, the Bishop should proceed with the imposition of penalties, which may be applied in either of two ways (cfr. cann. 1341 and 1718 CIC)
- by means of a regular penal process in a case for which canon law requires it, given the gravity of the penalty, or when the Bishop judges it more prudent (Cf. can. 1721 CIC);
- by means of an extra judicial decree, in conformity with the procedure established in canon law (Cf. can. 1720 CIC)»[14]

5. However, one must acknowledge that situations of grave lack of discipline on the part of some clergy have occurred in which the attempts to resolve the problems by the pastoral and canonical means, foreseen in the Code of Canon Law, are shown to be insufficient or unsuitable to repair scandal, to restore justice or to reform the offender (Cf. can. 1341 CIC).
This Dicastery, with the intention of promoting the salus animarum, the supreme law of the Church, and responding to the exigencies often sadly experienced by not a few Bishops in their day to day governance, decided that it was opportune to place the aforementioned special faculties before the Sovereign Pontiff for his consideration and on the 30th January last, the Supreme Pontiff conceded to this Congregation:

I The Special Faculty to treat and present to the Holy Father, for His approval in forma specifica and His decision, cases of dismissal from the clerical state in poenam with dispensation from the obligations consequent to ordination, including that of celibacy, of clerics who have attempted marriage, even if only civilly, and who, having been admonished, have not withdrawn from this state, therefore persisting in an irregular and scandalous life (Cf. can. 1394, §1); and of clerics guilty of grave sins against the 6th Commandment (Cf. can. 1395, §§1‑2);

II The Special Faculty to intervene in accord with c. 1399 CIC, either by taking direct action in a case or by confirming the decisions of Ordinaries, were the competent Ordinary so to request, due to the special gravity of the violation of law and the need or urgency to avoid an objective scandal.

This is granted along with the derogation from the prescriptions of canons 1317, 1319, 1342, §2 and 1349 CIC, with respect to the application of perpetual penalties, to be applied to deacons only for grave reasons and to priests for the gravest reasons, always requiring that such cases are presented to the Holy Father for His approval in forma specifica and for His decision, and,

III The Special Faculty to handle cases of clerics, who having freely abandoned the ministry for a period of more than five consecutive years and who, after careful verification of the facts, insofar as this is possible, persist in such freely chosen and illicit absence from the ministry, taking this situation into account, to declare then their dismissal from the clerical state, with dispensation from the obligations consequent to ordination, including that of celibacy.
Once the necessary conditions are present, if a Prelate deems it appropriate to avail himself of the foregoing faculties, he should be aware of the following information and procedures.

6. This Congregation has studied the cases of clerics, priests and deacons, who:
attempt marriage, even civilly and, having been warned, have not withdrawn from this state, but instead have persevered in their irregular and scandalous conduct (Cf. can. 1394 § 1);
live in concubinage and commit other grave delicts against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue (cf. can. 1395 §1-2) and who do not demonstrate any sign of mending their ways, despite repeated warnings, nor show any intention to request the dispensation from the obligations arising from Sacred Ordination.

Often in such cases, the penalty of "suspension" and of irregularity, in the sense of can. 1044 §1, 3°15, have not been demonstrated to be sufficiently effective or suitable to repair the scandal caused, to restore justice, and to reform the offender (Cf. can. 1341). In fact, only through dismissal from the clerical state, according to the norm of can. 292 CIC, would the cleric also lose the rights pertaining thereto and would no longer be bound by any obligations of that state.[15]

Hence, His Holiness has deigned to concede to the Congregation for the Clergy the special faculties to:

to handle and present to the Holy Father, for His approval in forma specifica and decision, cases of dismissal from the clerical state in poenam with the consequent dispensation from the obligations consequent to ordination, including that of celibacy, of clerics who have attempted marriage, even if only civilly, and who, having been admonished, have not withdrawn from this state, therefore persisting in an irregular and scandalous life (Cf can. 1394, §1); and of clerics guilty of grave sins against the 6th Commandment (Cf can. 1395, §§1-2).
Such cases must be instructed by means of a legitimate administrative process, always ensuring the right of defence.

With regard to the administrative procedure (Cf. cann. 35-58, 1342, 1720 CIC), such cases are to be instructed only by clerics, and it must be ensured that:

1° the accused is notified of the accusations alleged against him and of the relevant proofs, giving him the opportunity to produce a defence, unless, having been legitimately cited, he has neglected to make himself available;

2° a careful examination is carried out, with the help of two assessors (Cf. cann. 1424 CIC) of all the proofs and the elements that have been gathered, as well as of the defence presented by the accused;

3° a Decree is issued, according to the provisions of canons 1344 — 1350 CIC, if there be no doubts about the delict having been committed and the criminal action has not become extinct according to the provisions of can. 1362. The Decree, issued according to the norm of canons 35 — 38, must contain the reasons motivating it, and have expounded therein, even if only in summary fashion, the reasons in law and in fact pertaining to the particular situation.

7. Moreover, it must always be shown that a situation exists in which discipline has been gravely breached by the cleric, and every attempt to resolve the problem through the pastoral and canonical measures already provided in the Code of Canon Law have not brought about a positive result, and no end is foreseen to this situation, thus causing grave scandal to the faithful and damaging the common good of the Church and Her spiritual mission.
In such circumstances, Ordinaries have often requested direct action from the Apostolic See, or have asked that their decisions be confirmed, in order to deal with these matters with greater efficacy and authority, sometimes even seeking the imposition of perpetual sanctions, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, should the particular circumstances of a case require it.

Therefore His Holiness has deigned to concede to the Congregation for the Clergy the Special Faculty to intervene in accord with can. 1399 CIC, either by taking direct action in a case or by confirming the decisions of Ordinaries, were the competent Ordinary were to so request, due to the special gravity of the violation of law and the need or urgency to avoid an objective scandal.

This is granted along with the derogation from the prescriptions of canons 1317, 1319, 1342, §2 and 1349 CIC, with respect to the application of perpetual penalties, to be applied to deacons only for grave reasons and to priests for the gravest reasons, always requiring that such cases are presented to the Holy Father for His approval in forma specifica and His decision.
This provides the special faculty of intervening according to the sense of can. 1399 CIC, either by the Dicastery acting directly itself or by confirming the decisions of Ordinaries, whenever the competent Ordinary should request this, in order to apply a just penalty or penance for an external violation of divine or canon law. In truly exceptional and urgent cases, when the offender has no intention to amend his ways, sometimes even perpetual penalties may be imposed.

Such cases must be instructed by means of a legitimate administrative process, always ensuring the right of defence.

8. This Congregation has experience of cases of priests and deacons who have abandoned ministry for a prolonged and continuous time. In these cases, after verifying the circumstances insofar as possible, the persistence of such an illicit and voluntary absence from ministry is ascertained, it was decided that the intervention of the Holy See would guarantee order in the ecclesiastical society and would preserve the faithful from falling into error communis (cf. c. 144) regarding the validity of the Sacraments.

Therefore His Holiness has deigned to concede to the Congregation for the Clergy the special faculty to:

handle the cases of clerics, who have abandoned the ministry by personal choice for a period of more than five consecutive years, and after careful verification of the facts insofar as this is possible, persist in such voluntary and illicit absence, the Dicastery, taking this objective situation into account, may declare the dismissal from the clerical state, with dispensation from the obligations consequent to ordination, including that of celibacy, for the cleric involved.
Such cases, even those pre-existing the granting of this faculty, must be instructed according to the following procedure:

Art. 1 The Ordinary of Incardination may request a Rescript of the Apostolic See by which dismissal from the clerical state is declared, along with the related dispensations from the obligations consequent to ordination, including that of celibacy, for a cleric who has abandoned ministry for a period of longer than five consecutive years, and who after careful verification of the facts, insofar as possible, persists in the voluntary and illicit absence from ministry.

Art. 2 §1 The competent Ordinary is that of the incardination of the cleric.
§2 The competent Ordinary can entrust the instruction of such procedures either in a stable manner, or on a cases by case basis, to a suitable priest from his own or another Diocese.
§3 In this procedure the Promoter of Justice, who has a duty to protect the public good, must always be involved.

Art. 3 The declaration mentioned in Art. 1 can be obtained only after the competent Ordinary, having completed the relevant investigation, has reached moral certainty regarding the irreversible abandonment from ministry on the part of the cleric, from either the declaration of the cleric himself, and/or from the depositions of witnesses, from well founded public knowledge or other indications.

Art. 4 The notification of any of the acts must be made through the postal service or by other secure means.

Art. 5 The instructor, having completed the instruction, should transmit all of the acts to the competent Ordinary with his appropriate summary, expounding his votum according to the objective facts of the situation.

Art. 6 The competent Ordinary should transmit to the Apostolic See all of the acts together with his own votum and the observations of the Promoter of Justice.

Art. 7 If in the judgement of the Apostolic See, supplementary instruction is required, that will be indicated to the competent Ordinary, with directions as to how to complete the "Acts."

Art. 8 The Rescript of dismissal from the clerical state, with the related dispensation from the obligations attendant upon Holy Orders, including that of celibacy, is transmitted from the Holy See to the competent Ordinary, who will provide for making it known in an appropriate fashion.

Art. 9. After the dismissal from the clerical state, in exceptional cases, a cleric who might wish to seek rehabilitation, must present that request to the Apostolic See through a benevolent Bishop.

The sincere desire of this Congregation is that each Ordinary may, in a truly paternal fashion and in a spirit of pastoral charity, undertake to ensure that his most valued collaborators know how to live ecclesiastical discipline as "discipleship", with profound interior motivations, remembering that the daily exertion of "doing" is of little value if there is not the "being in Christ" as an authentic disciple.

Claudio Cardinal HummesPrefect

Mauro Piacenz,Titular Archbishop of Vittoriana Secretary
[1] Cf. VATICAN COUNCIL II, Dogmatic Constitution. Lumen Gentium, nn. 10, 18, 27, 28; deer. Presbyterorum Ordinis, nn. 2, 6; CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, nn. 1538, 1576.
[2] Cfr. John Paul II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Pastores Dabo Vobis (25th March 1992) n. 15: AAS 84 (1992), pp. 679-681; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 875; Congregation for the Clergy, Pontifical Council For The Laity, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Congregation for Bishops, Congregation for fhe Evangelisation of Peoples, Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Instruction on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the sacred ministry of Priest, Ecclesiae de Mysterio, (15 August 1997): AAS 89 (1997), pp. 860ff.
[3] POPE BENEDICT XVI, Allocution to the participants in the General Assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy (16 March 2009).
[4] Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis (25th March 1992), n. 15, l.c. pp. 679 — 681.
[5] JOHN PAUL II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (25th March 1992), n. 29, L.c., p. 704.
[6] Ibid.; Cfr. VATICAN COUNCIL II, Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 16; PAUL VI, Encyclical Letter Sacerdotalis Coelibatus (24th June 1967), n. 14: AAS 59 (1967), p. 662; C.I.C., can. 277, §1.
[7] Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE CLERGY, Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, Tota Ecclesia, (31 January 1994), pp. 57-60.
[8] Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 27.
[9] Cf. VATICAN COUNCIL II, Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 7; JOHN PAUL II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis (16th October 2003), n. 47 : AAS 96 (2004), pp. 887-888.
[10] Cf. PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR LEGISLATIVE TEXTS, Explanatory Note: Elements to establish the area of canonical responsibility of the diocesan Bishop towards clerics incardinated within the diocese and who exercise their ministry within it (12th February 2004): Communicationes, 36 (2004), pp. 33-38. Cf. also Congregation for the Clergy, Declaration: Quidam Episcopi (8th March 1982): AAS 74 (1982), pp.
[11] Congregation for Bishops, Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops: Apostolorum Successores, (22nd February 2004), n. 44.
[12] John Paul II, Allocution to the Roman Rota (17th February 1979): Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II,(1979/2) p. 412.
[13] Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Explanatory Note: Elements to establish the area of canonical responsibility of the diocesan Bishop towards clerics incardinated within the diocese and who exercise their ministry within it (12th February 2004), in Communicationes, 36 (2004) pp. 33-38.
[14] Congregation for Bishops, Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops: Apostolorum Successores, (22nd February 2004), p. 68.
[15] Cf. also Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration: Concerning the celebration of sacraments or sacramentals by priests who have attempted marriage (19th May 1997): Communicationes 29 (1997), pp. 17-18.
From Transitioned Priests Henry and Conrad:
Questions have been raised regarding the canonical status of priests who have transitioned from the priesthood. This question is not easily answered but perhaps the following will be helpful. It all falls under “the laicization process”, which is to say, the process by which a priest is, dare we say, as they said before the 1983 code, reduced to the lay state (Now it is called “Losing the Clerical State”). Of course, this “reduction” is only for ecclesiastical purposes and the maintenance of order and control within the institution. It probably doesn’t mean much in the eyes of God, but makes for a power rush for those who perceive themselves as having such authority.
The usual way in which a priest obtains an indult of laicization is as follows (an indult is a dispensation granted by the pope; the word is from the same root as “indulge”—breaking away from prescribed law).
1) The priest makes his request known to the bishop (the so-called “ordinary”) of his diocese. At this point he is usually asked to resign any ecclesiastical offices that he holds.
2) The bishop or his delegate interviews the priest with a prepared questionnaire, seeking information about the priest’s background, reasons for the request, etc. About 25 years ago, it was said that dispensations were being granted only to those over 60 years of age who had been in a marriage for at least ten years, or to a priest who was in proximate danger of death. It appears their desire was to save the priest from damnation if he died without this indult. But it is silly to think that this indult has any authority over the Almighty. Since the indult of laicization is granted only for very serious reasons—and apparently the simple desire to get married isn’t a sufficiently serious reason—the priest requesting the indult ordinarily must admit and offer evidence that, at the time of his commitment to be ordained, he was psychologically unfit to make that decision—a rather degrading demand.
3) The bishop submits the petition to Rome, along with his own notes and recommendations.
4) The case is reviewed in Rome and, if sufficiently compelling, is submitted to the pope, who issues the indult, which they claim to be issued under God’s authority.
5) The indult is sent, not to the priest, but to the bishop. It does not take effect until the bishop, either personally or through a representative, presents it to the priest and the priest accepts it (the priest may have changed his mind in the meantime!) When the indult has been accepted by the priest, the ordinary advises him of a number of restrictions (not to live in any place where he has served as a priest, not teach in a Catholic school, not teach theology in ANY school, among others). It looks as if this priest is now considered dangerous and the Bishop is afraid he may lead others astray. However, the bishop is authorized to lift these restrictions if and as he sees fit.
Bishops are admonished to see to it that the priest is making a mature decision after ample introspection and deliberation. Above all, they are to avoid giving the impression that this is simply an administrative function in which the request is routinely and automatically granted. Priests are to understand the seriousness of the matter and that the indult is not only the action of the Church but that God is supposedly involved as well.
The Code of Canon Law provides for three ways in which a priest can be laicized. He can be reduced to the lay state if:
1) It can be shown that he received Holy Orders invalidly (extremely rare).
2) If he is living in concubinage or has engaged in seriously scandalous behavior or has abandoned his ministry for a period of at least five years, in which cases competent authority can impose the laicization. Recently new procedures were put in place by the Vatican for streamlining this route to laicization (though they do not apply in cases involving pedophilia, which require special procedures). Formerly, a bishop wishing to laicize such a priest was required to invoke a judicial trial in his tribunal; now, he can laicize such priests through a speedier and simpler administrative process, while, however, respecting the priest’s right to due process. This form of laicization is commonly referred to as “defrocking the priest,” and is enacted as a penalty for what the Church considers to be the priest’s crimes against the clerical state, in order to safeguard the clerical office, disavow the behavior and encourage other priests to avoid such behavior.
3) The priest desires to be dispensed from the obligation of celibacy and removed from the clerical state, thus making him, for legal (canonical) purposes, a layman.
There is no provision in canon law for automatic laicization, for whatever reason or cause. However, if a priest gets married (attempts marriage, in the Church’s view, which presumes to act with God’s authority), he is by that fact automatically suspended. This forbids him to act in the role of a priest. It takes away any faculties he may have enjoyed, such as assisting at marriages or hearing confessions. Thus, in effect, it is somewhat like laicization. One major difference, however, is that the priest is not dispensed from the obligation of celibacy, nor is he removed from the ranks of the clergy. He must first, by requesting to be laicized, offer homage to Church authority and recognize God’s subjugation to this authority. Only then can he receive the sacraments.
Dismissal from the clerical state and dispensation from the obligation of celibacy are treated as distinct issues. A priest can lose his clerical status (for example, by being “defrocked”) without being released from his obligation of celibacy (though the streamlined procedures cited above seem to be designed to dispense from celibacy as well), because the Church desires to continue to have authority over the priest’s sexuality. However, when a priest is released from his vow of celibacy by way of dispensation — and this is what is usually sought — he is also by that very fact removed from the clerical state, because the Church, usually, insists on celibacy within the clerical ranks.
Excommunication is an entirely different matter. The purpose of excommunication is to draw the person toward repentance and reconciliation. Automatic excommunication (latae sententiae) is restricted to those situations that are explicitly named in the Code of Canon Law (e.g. breaking the seal of confession, abortion, assaulting a priest, desecrating the Sacred Species, etc.) The list includes nothing about, for example, a priest getting married without a dispensation from celibacy.
It would certainly be nice if the dispensed priest were given some kind of rite of passage, during which he could be thanked for his years of service to the Church, etc., but the hierarchy probably deems this imprudent because it might encourage other priests also to leave. It is too bad that the dispensed priest becomes a pariah of sorts—someone who couldn’t “cut the mustard” and “walk the line.” Often the priest is perceived as losing his faith. For most of them, however, leaving the priesthood was in response to a maturing faith that could no longer accept a Church claiming such authority over themselves and over God. From the Church’s point of view, he leaves in shame, and should be seen by the faithful as leaving in shame, so that other priests will be discouraged from leaving. However, the majority of people served through his ministry still respect him and even feel compassion for him, especially with respect to the heavy yoke of celibacy that the Church lays on his shoulders. Normally, 80% or more of the laity wish the transitioning priest well and are saddened to see him leave. Statistics have repeatedly shown that they would prefer that celibacy became optional for the priest and that their pastor could remain with them as a married priest.
From transitioned priest John Horan:

An Open Letter to Cardinal Hummes
Eminence Claudio Cardinal Hummes, O.S.F.

Dear Cardinal Hummes:
Congratulations on the new responsibility you have just taken on. This past April, Pope Benedict XVI granted you the power to dismiss from the priesthood and release from the obligation of celibacy, priests who are living with women, who have abandoned their ministry for more than five years or who have engaged in seriously scandalous behavior. I am one of those you will be dismissing - not for the scandal part but for the woman part.
It is a big job you have taken on. World wide, there are many thousands of us and, to add to the challenge, most bishops have no idea who or where we are. We have been on the “pay no mind” list for such a long time that tracking us down will be quite a headache.

I have seen your picture on Wikepedia. You seem like a kind man and your vitae demonstrates that you have Doctor of the Church quality brains. You clearly have some iron in your soul as demonstrated by your advocacy for homeless, indigenous people and your stance against the dictatorship in Brazil. But you have been away from parish work for a long time and prolonged exposure to the curia can cause cataracts. I am appealing to your kindness, brains and iron.

First off, understand that this project is a matter of paperwork, a re-organizing of files in cabinets, a clearing of the priesthood balance sheet. It has nothing to do with protecting the good of the church, avoiding scandal or getting things right in the eyes of God. God knows the Catholic Church has a good deal of work in those areas, but releasing thousands of us from the obligation of celibacy should be about around 10,000th on the Vatican to do list.

Secondly, some historical context needs to be established. You may not realize it, but the Vatican has zig-zagged for years about laicizations. Under Paul VI when large numbers were leaving, there was a fairly straightforward, but slow process. John Paul II pursued a much harder line, apparently in the belief that he could stem the tide by making laicizations virtually impossible. It didn't work. The unintended consequence was to diminish the credibility of the process. In his later years, he switched to a strategy wherein a petitioner had to lie, and state that he never really had a vocation at all. Most of us could say that we had a genuine vocation to priesthood, but not to celibacy. Now, Pope Benedict has done a complete about face. Forgive us if we are a little confused but the Vatican has changed its
strategies like most of us change socks.

I left the Vatican priesthood during the late 1980’s when the church was NOT granting formal dispensations from the obligation of celibacy. During my “exit interview” with Cardinal Bernardin he said that I could apply for a dispensation, but it would not be granted until I was much, much older. I remarked that the Vatican was playing hardball. He agreed, but his eyes told me that he had no stomach for such silly tactics. (By the way, what SHOULD be on the Vatican “To Do” list is to put Joe Bernardin on the canonization track.)
So, let’s be clear. In the 1980’s the Vatican would not grant that which was asked for and now, 20 years later, will take that which has not been offered. In light of this context, please be careful about tossing out phrases like “abandon our ministry.” This revisionist bit of history is a lie, pure and simple.

I am no ecclesiastical prognosticator, but I have to believe that you are on anyone’s short list for Pope. The Congregation for Clergy is a big job and this chance to clean up the sacerdotal balance sheet is litmus test of the first degree. But you should know that it is only important in Vatican circles and in diocesan offices. Everywhere else, Catholics find it funny and upon deeper reflection, really quite infuriating.

I will give you an example. My wife and I have been in a civil marriage for the last 19 years. We couldn’t get married in the Catholic Church because I didn’t have a dispensation the Vatican wouldn’t give. Our marriage has been full of consensual sex. When my wife found out that our sex, in the eyes of the Vatican, was causing serious scandal, she laughed right out loud. “Our lawn is a scandal”, she said. “Our consensual sex is a sacrament.” I fear most women married to ex-priests will not, like my wife, find this particularly funny. They will instead fume and wonder out loud why the Holy See has such a hard time seeing real scandal and such an easy time manufacturing fake scandals.

This notion that our church will become “leaner and purer” are concepts best applied to cuts of meat and not the Church of Jesus. Cardinal Hummes ,if your kindness, brains and iron could only understand how absurd this all is to all of us, if only you could muster up a real giggle about these forced dispensations, you would surely make a terrific Pope.

Best Wishes,
John Horan
Ordained; May 13, 1981

Left the Vatican Priesthood; June 10, 1988

For those of you who would like to drop Cardinal Hummes a line, here is his
contact information:His Eminence Claudio Cardinal Hummes, O.S.F.
Official web site:
Mailing Address: Palazzo delle Congregazioni, 00193 Roma, Piazza Pio XII, 3
Telephone: Fax:

John Horan, a former Chicago priest, recently retired from Chairperson of
WEORC. John is currently directing two Chicago charter high-schools.
WEORC is an association of priests, religious women and men who have moved
from full time ministry in the Church to other work. More information can be
found at:
For more information about priests leaving the priesthood see

If you have any questions or comments about the laicization process, please click on “comments” below to share your thoughts.

The Laicization Process blog was developed by transitioned priests Henry and Conrad. Conrad was granted a licentiate in Canon Law in 1985.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Why does the Church Ordain Married Anglican Priests?

Dear Father Henry,

I sympathize with you for loosing your place in the church even though you had spent half of your life serving them. But I wanted to tell you that the Vatican has recently been accepting married Anglicans [so far over 400 converts were ordained as Roman Catholic priests]. Now that you are married, perhaps you can try to convert to an Anglican, became a minister and then convert again to Catholicism and ask to become a priest again?

Henry's response:

Thank you for your email.

Yes, I am aware of the many Anglican and other married pastors who have been allowed to become ordained Catholic priests. But, do you see the absurdity of that? It is irrational to allow these married men to become ordained Catholic priests when thousands of Catholic priests who have married are not allowed to continue in ministry. I no longer have any desire to be part of a church that propagates such injustice.

Is there is anyone who can logically explain why the Church ordains married men from other denominations but refuses to ordain married Roman Catholic men to the priesthood?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Women Who Love Priests

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I fell in love with my parish priest and kept my feelings hidden for a long time (close to 2 years), prayed to God to please take them from me as I knew it was pointless and fruitless, but the heart won out over the head time and time again. I told myself my feelings could not be sinful, yet I still suffered great pain. My heart ached and longed for his presence. He was to me the perfect man, possessing all the qualities I had ever wanted, problem was he wore a Roman Collar. His kindness, friendliness, charm and wit overwhelmed my very soul. I knew I was in trouble. We had similar working class and ethic backgrounds, same sense of humor. We worked in several ministries together and he counseled me a few times, but nothing inappropriate ever happened. At times I caught him gazing at me, and I could not get over feeling that perhaps he had also felt attracted. I felt he truly appreciated my kindness and love of the Catholic faith. After one of our last meetings, I told him how much I admired him and how much I appreciated his kindness, help and compassion and also how sad I and several others would be should he be transferred. I gave him a small token that said “You are Loved“ a very simple and general (not personal), acknowledgement of how ALL of us at the parish felt for him as a priest and shepherd of our church. But of course, I am sure he sensed I had very personal feelings. He acted very awkward almost like a school kid. I gave him a really big hug and held on for a long time---he did not push me away though.

Not two weeks later he made the announcement at mass that he was being transferred, and very, very far away too. Coincidence? I remember my knees buckling under me and I felt like I was going to faint. I was absolutely devastated, went home and wrote him a very long letter revealing my feelings, which I personally handed to him the next day. This later proved to be a big mistake for my emotional and spiritual well-being. At the time though I wanted the burden off my heart, but instead I just put it on him. I knew I should have run away from such intense feelings. He never once led me on or did anything inappropriate, but after having been extremely friendly to me prior to this, he suddenly backed off, which did indeed hurt me very much. That marvelous smile of his never came my way again.

He never acknowledged that letter, any future emails, birthday or holiday wishes. He simply dropped all communication. For almost 2 months I looked in the mail for a thank you note, as I gifted him with money and homemade prayer cards when he left. I was devastated. When other family and work problems came into my life later on, I asked for his prayers but he never answered me. This killed me.

I will never ever know if he ever felt any tender feelings for me…and yes I did want just a tiny piece of his heart. I suppose I will always hold feelings for him. It is the most painful thing I have ever gone through and I feel like he died.

I chose my words very carefully in that letter, as I did not want to offend in any way. Henry, I sent you a copy of it a previous email to you. I was wondering how, as a former priest, you thought my letter may have been received by him and what he might have thought of me.

I do not see anything inappropriate in your letter. You shared your honest feelings in a respectful way. But, I expect Fr. Jim could no longer play the game. For a priest, the game goes something like this: Flirting is ok and even welcomed but it must not be too overt. He welcomes a certain amount of affection being stirred in his heart. But, when he perceives that you are getting too close or he is falling in love, the game is up. Now he must make difficult choices and his was to leave. My guess is that he fled from his love for you if he moved unexpectedly. The game is really up for the priest when a woman expresses her love for him. Now, it is all on the table rather then in innuendo under the table.

When women love priests who are not willing to reciprocate, they are in for a lot of pain.


You want me to ask myself why I fell for him. I have asked myself many times what the draw was. One questions was " would you feel the same attraction if he were not a priest and a free man?" Yes I know all about the "safeness and unavailability" reasons. I honestly haven't a clue as to any subconscious reason for such an intense and prolonged attachment. What made you fall in love with your wife and she for you?

What I wanted was your initial gut reaction to the contents of that letter - had you received such a letter, what would you have thought? I thought it was absolutely beautiful, very sad and heartfelt and I wanted it to touch him in some small way. I put my heart and soul into it and spent a long time carefully choosing my words. If I couldn't touch the heart of a priest, how can I touch the heart of a lesser man?

When you wake up in the morning thinking of that person, go to bed at night thinking of them, want them to be happy, worry if they are safe, long to be near them, feel your heart flutter and such tremendous joy in their presence, that true kindred spirit - are you suggesting that this can't be real love unless the object of your affection feels the exact same thing?? That is how I felt when he was there. I wanted to be his sweetheart; I wanted him to think of me as his "beloved” and feel his heart beat next to mine. Instead I am a pathetic fool.

It has been a year and a half since he left--of course I no longer feel that way, but I still think of him almost daily. I’ve stopped “feeding” the feelings and dwelling on them. What point is there in doing that? Thoughts of him are fleeting ones----not so much pining and longing, only trying to understand all of it so I can heal and truly move on and put it all behind me. Time does heal, but this one is a slow healer. I pray unceasingly to be completely free. But the only way I can totally forget him is to have a lobotomy. This is one pain I will carry with me to my grave

I feel like the biggest fool in the world for opening up my heart to this man - I do not feel I will ever be able to do this with anyone, ever again. I am humiliated and embarrassed by my very humanness. My feelings did not matter and had no significance whatsoever. What a shame that I am afraid to ever open up to someone again - this because of a priest? Sometimes the pain was so bad, it hurt to even take another breath.

Is there a course in Seminary for how to react to women who profess their love? Is it aptly called, "Rejection by Silence 101?"

What I want to say to all priests: Your calling is a worthy one for the sake of God’s Kingdom. If you are able to maintain this celibate lifestyle and push human love out of your hearts, I applaud you. But live out your priestly persona and always present yourself as truly an “Alter Christus”. In other words, to be very frank and somewhat crass, if you are a priest and therefore dead from the neck down then please act like one! Please stop the winking, wearing after shave, putting your hand on a woman's shoulder, flashing a move star smile, gazing at her, holding her hand longer than you should and being witty. I suppose God calls even handsome and charming men to the priesthood, but it is so very unfair to us lonely Catholic women who have yet to find that Godly man she so desires.


I wish to respond first in more detail to a previous question of yours, that of why I think I may have fallen in love with him. Now that I have given it more thought:

Ø No, I have never been attracted to other priests or to those who are public speakers. No, in no way am I enticed by “forbidden” love.

Ø Yes, of course I am attracted to someone who is kind and compassionate to me. He was. No other man in my life was, instead they turned out to be users who were cruel and ultimately insulting. He would not use women and instead respected them. He treated elderly women so sweetly as well; this impressed me. Yes, his faith and love for God was also a big draw, no other man in my life had the spiritual dimension I so sought in a mate.

Ø He had a magnetic personality and a wonderful sense of humor.

Ø He was sensitive. I saw him cry when someone sang “Ave Maria” – it truly touched me. He was able to show his broken side to us; he acknowledged he was also a sinner who struggled. He always put himself on the same playing field as the rest of us.

Ø He had a smile that also lit up a room; a smile that would melt hearts. He was also very handsome. He made sure to make people feel valued and important; he often told me I was “gifted”.

Ø His eyes were deep set and very special – once during reconciliation his whole face seemed to glow. I was blown away. He was intelligent without being intimidating. He would not talk “over your head” or be too philosophical.

Ø In short, I simply could not help but fall in love with the very person he was. He was an amazing and beautiful soul!

Would I have felt guilty for him leaving the priesthood for me? Or would I have been willing to have a secret affair on the side given my Catholic faith?

No and Yes! I would have given anything to be with him! Even if it were only one time I would not have passed up the chance to have experienced what I believe would have been a beautiful union. I too have some issues with Catholic teaching; I feel that celibacy is a very noble thing IF a man is truly called to it. However, I feel the church should give them a choice. Marriage is not a lesser or inferior type of love from celibate love; it is just a different way to express it. I believe that God reveals himself to us in many ways, and one of the ways is with human love and the marital bond!

I am well into middle age and have never felt this way about anyone, not even for my husband on my wedding day. No comparison, not even close. I am now divorced and people may think I just did this psychological “transference” thing they talk about. Perhaps there are elements of that, I do not doubt it. But no, he did not just counsel me (only 3 brief meetings over 2 years). No instead it was seeing him regularly as I was very active in my parish. I loved assisting him in various ministries; I truly cherished that and miss it very much. (For months I found it hard to walk into that church and I even dropped out of many ministries for a while. )

We would have been fornicating if sexually involved and he remained a priest. Then he would have had two sins on his soul: breaking his vows and fornicating. This is the guilt the Catholic Church puts on people who love each other. We would both have lost our souls for acting in such a selfish manner. This is what I have been taught and told to believe. But despite knowing this, I do not doubt I would have been with him either way. I took a very brave and very great risk by putting myself out there and telling him how I felt. I lost though--as he rejected me and rejection and unrequited love is one of the most painful human experiences there is. You thanked your wife for her courage to share her feelings and view it as a gift from God; I got no such response (sad). I am now an emotional mess who needs healing. I’m definitely not an emotionally healthy woman! Oh how I wish HE could somehow read this!

According to the Church hierarchy, I am a heretic for not believing every single teaching and therefore deemed unworthy to receive our dear Lord in Eucharist with this mortal and sacrilegious sin on my soul. But God still sits on his mighty throne and ultimately He alone is the only one who truly knows my heart, my intentions and my struggles—He alone will be the judge of my love for this priest.


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Friday, November 28, 2008

Priests and Sex

Authorities in the Roman Catholic Church expect the priest to repress his sexual appetite by sublimating it through ascetical means. They perceive his sexual appetite as an alien force which must be denied.


Why treat it as an alien force needing to be curtailed when it is part and parcel of a priest’s nature as created by God and in His image?

Is there something wrong with sex? Is there something about sexual intimacy that defiles a priest or renders him ineffective as a priest? If so, what is it?

Or is it women? Why do celibate male Church officials believe that sexual intimacy with a woman renders a priest unclean and unfit for the priesthood?

The Church maintains that mandatory celibacy is somehow supposed to help priests love all people more effectively. However, untold numbers of us who have left the priesthood have found this to be untrue. We who have married and who continue in ministry have found that the love and intimacy we have with our wives has not diminished, in the least, the love we can give to others. Quite the contrary, the intimacy we share with our wives helps empower us to extend love and understanding to others even more effectively.

So, why should a priest have to sacrifice his God-given appetite for sexual union and love?

It appears there is no convincing answer to this question and the Church should, without delay, repent of its sexual oppression of priests by making celibacy optional for them once again.

What are your thoughts? Is there a rational reason why celibate male Church officials forbid priests to marry and celebrate God's gift of sexual intimacy?

Do they have a problem with women?

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Monday, November 10, 2008


"I am Priest. Vocation. Vows. Celibate. ...

But, God calls me to change. I seek freedom. Love. ... "




You can't leave!

"But, God calls me to change, freedom, love ..."

I am your God. I am the Church. I own you Priest. I am your wife and any other is a whore.

Fear me. Fear me damn you. I speak for God. I am your God. I hold your soul and will punish you.


You can't live without me. How dare you leave. I am your world. Fear me. Fear me damn you.

You're a failure. You should have never been ordained.

You damn






Bad boy.



boy ....

"I'm free."


Our vocation is seldom a straight path, but a series of unfolding tackings and turnings. A newspaper recently reported that in any given year nearly forty percent of Americans change their careers; not jobs, careers. This mobility and transition is in part the result of shifting economic opportunities, for sure, but many are changing their lives. We live longer today; there is nothing to prevent a person from having several careers, each activating another facet of the polyhedronal self. ...

When we recognize and withdraw the projections that money and power represent, then we are obliged to ask in radical form: "What am I called to do?" This question must be asked periodically, and we must listen humbly to the answer. We may, in our individuation process, be called to incarnate many kinds of energy. Just when we have achieved a measure of stability, we may be undermined from below and called to a new direction. Whatever our social burden, whatever our economic constraint, we must keep asking anew, "What am I called to do?" Then, with planning, the paying of dues and sufficient courage, we must find a way to do it. The sacrifice of the ego, with its need for creature comforts and security, is painful, but not half so much as looking back on our lives and regretting that we failed to answer the call. The 'vocatus' is to become ourselves as fully as we are able; the task is to find out how. We are judged not only by the goodness of our heart, but also by the fullness of our courage. Relinquishing security we have struggled to obtain may be frightening, but not so much as denying that larger person we are called to be. The soul has its needs, which are not served well by paycheck and perks. (James Hollis, "The Middle Passage" pp. 73-74)

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

One of the greatest joys of my life is to gaze into the smiling face of my wife. She like no other can turn darkness into light and sadness into joy. We have been married for ten years and her companionship has been a great blessing to my life. But, my love for her disqualified me from continuing in the priesthood.

Given the positive influence my wife has been upon me, I am continually puzzled why marriage and the priesthood are mutually exclusive. Sometimes I want to stand on the roof and shout to the hierarchy, "Marriage is holy! I have not been defiled by my wife! She has deeply enriched my life and ministry! Why does love disqualify priests from ordained ministry?"

Then the sadness comes and then the anger.

Then I remind myself that even if priests could marry, there are other issues that I find incompatible with my faith. A major pillar upon which so much of Catholic Church teaching rests is papal infallibility. And therein lies the real problem.

Infallibility, an attribute of God.

How do you challenge God?

It's hard for God to change his mind.

Significant reform within the priesthood will not occur because of theological persuasion. Persuasive arguments against mandated celibacy, Infallibility and other areas of needed Church reform were made centuries ago and continue to be made today but to no avail. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is interested in one thing, the continuation of celibate male control of the priesthood and Church. This is their main concern and the demon we face. It does not respond to reason. The stench of its odor can be detected within corridors of the Vatican, cathedrals and chanceries throughout the world. They have sacrificed thousands of priests in homage to celibate male power, not to mention the many women whose priestly gifts have also been dismissed.

But change is occurring now as Catholics lose faith in the Church, yet find a profound and robust interior spiritual life. If they still attend church its for different reasons. They go, not out of obligation, but because of their desire for a community where they can celebrate faith and share their lives. Their locus of control is no longer externalized in an ecclesiastical institution but is internalized within their own souls. For them, the Church is still important but it has lost its power.

This transformation is represented in the lives of priests who have left the priesthood. Within their lives the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are manifest. They continue to do Christ's work and the Holy Spirit leads and guides them apart from the authority of the Church. They are like Toto in the Wizard of Oz who pulled back the curtain and revealed the little man pulling the levers of power.

All the smoke and fire is an illusion.

We have nothing to fear.

We have found freedom and a whole new world that exists ... over the rainbow.