Another question about private vows



I forgot the answer to this: are private vows binding under pain of sin or additional sin or sacrilege?

For example, a person, with a lack of experience in the spiritual life, makes a private vow of chastity forever, but starts to realize that he or she may be called to married life. Does this person have to see their parish priest first, or can they just forget their vow?

From the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia:

The violation of the vow of chastity is always a sin against religion …] Some authors consider that this sacrilege is committed by the violation of even a private vow of chastity.

This might answer the question?


it is unwise and unrealisitc to make any such serious vows without preliminary shorter periods and great and careful preparations.

Which is why in religious life it takes so many years before Final Profession. Time for initial enthusiasm to give way to serious reflection

Making permanent vows of chastity while asking about the way out? :eek:


We should never make private vows without consulting our pastor or confessor. If we have made such vows imprudently, we should consult our pastor or confessor.


This. Go to your priest. One can resolve to do better, be more charitable, pray more, without binding ourselves to “vows”. It doesn’t make the effort better. But it does harm the scrupulous person.


The virtue of religion is what is engaged theologically in the pronouncement of the vow.

A person lacking in experience should not be making a private, lifetime vow. These are serious matters with serious significance. They are not at all like a resolution.

Yes, a vow binds under pain of sin because that is the nature of a vow. One should not simply “forget” about a vow.

It is worth stating that those in Consecrated Life do not make vows until they are well prepared, the issue has been discerned, and they have studied both the theology of vows as well as the theology of consecrated chastity.

It is also done according to the mind of the Church with a formulation that is precise and theologically correct and, by way of discernment for the individual and for the Church, it is done ad tempus first…a temporary vow…before one emits a perpetual vow.

One should always consult a spiritual director before pronouncing a private vow.

The solution for you is contained in the following canon of the Code of Canon Law:

*Can. 1196 In addition to the Roman Pontiff, the following can dispense from private vows for a just cause provided that a dispensation does not injure a right acquired by others:

1/ the local ordinary and the pastor with regard to all their subjects and even travelers;

2/ the superior of a religious institute or society of apostolic life if it is clerical and of pontifical right with regard to members, novices, and persons who live day and night in a house of the institute or society;

3/ those to whom the Apostolic See or the local ordinary has delegated the power of dispensing.*

Thus you may speak to your pastor or to any priest who is either a pastor or has the delegation for this from his Bishop. He would know as these are part of the grant of faculties supplied to him by his diocese, if the bishop grants this delegation.


This person was a (less) foolish person when they made that vow


Thank you all for the answers


The resolution is a relatively simple one.

The matter could be handled in the internal forum, if you confess to your parish priest. You can ask him in that context to dispense you from the vow according to the norm of Canon 1196.

It can also be handled in the external forum. You could, for example, send an email to your diocese’s vicar general, briefly explain that you had made a lifetime private vow of perfect chastity, that it was done without the advice and consent of spiritual direction at a time when you were unexperienced in the spiritual life, that you are now discerning the possibility of being called to the married state, and petition for dispensation of the private vow from him according to the norm of Canon 1196. In this way, you would have in the response a documentation that the dispensation was effectively granted.


Dear Father,

I spoke to a parochial vicar about this, but he said that it’s not binding because we are all bound to keep chastity anyway. I don’t know what I should do then.

I’m pretty dumb when I did this, so much so that I also made a vow to pray a certain prayer daily, and I asked a pastor at a different parish about this, and he said that since it was private then it wasn’t binding. I’m not sure about this either


For the purpose of being complete…I should add that without examining the actual text that you used, I am simply accepting as a given fact that you did in fact make a vow. On scrutiny, it may not have been a vow at all, depending upon how it is formulated.

This is one of many reason why the Church has specific approved formularies in the use of public profession – and, actually, why the one time fad of writing one’s own wedding vows was so severely frowned upon by the Church. The formulation is key.

There are, of course, precise theological distinctions between a vow (which binds under pain of sin by engagement of the virtue of religion), promises (which typically and above all in non-public usage) do not bind under pain of sin…and the various resolutions or expressions of resolve which can be inchoate in varying degrees.

Having said all that, the path of least resistance in this case is simply to ask for a dispensation.


OK. I’m “not sure” why you question the priests who counsel you in real life.

How can you be “not sure?”
They answered you. Accept it.
As Father Ruggero said, speak to your priest. You did. He told you not to worry.
Here you are, still questioning.
Praise God you are not the huge sinner you think you are.
I would be frankly, relieved.
Why do you continue to question when you have been answered?


I’m not sure, I have a problem with obedience…

Thank you for all the answers. I’ll accept what my priests told me.


The Catholic Church is not out to “catch:” people in sin.
Jesus Himself is full of mercy. Every time you question such things, look toward the big crucifix in your sanctuary. See His arms outstretched in love and mercy, and say a prayer of thanksgiving.
Be assured of our prayers.


When he became a Catholic, he was, in effect, vowing Chastity (vowing not to miss the mark [sin]) - He was vowing to live in holiness, vowing to live virtuously.
This is not an option for a Catholic - un-chastity is a mortal sin, a missing of the mark that leads to life.

He has forgotten his original rejection of Satan when he became Catholic, and therefore asks a question as if he were not Catholic and “toying with” the idea of a Virtue being optional.

As Jesus healed the woman caught in adultery in John 8 by declaring to her, “Go from this moment on and miss the mark no longer,” just as he commanded the blind, “Go and wash in the pool of Siloam”, so he commands us, “Go and do your doings virtuously”.

We do not “vow” the virtues; no, we Get up and Go as commanded.


I see.

I am truly loathe to try to give advice that overrules not one but two priests who are actually in situ while I am answering an anonymous query on the internet.

The response of the parochial vicar is problematic in that, yes we are obliged to chastity. If, however, we pronounce a vow regarding chastity, be the vow public or private, we have assumed an obligation over and above the virtue of chastity itself. That is one of the main reasons for making a vow.

The pastor you spoke with, on the other hand, would be correct IF he determined that what you did fell short of the category of a private vow. He would be incorrect if he thought that private vows in se are not actually binding.

You will forgive me for saying this as I don’t mean to offend you and I am trusting that you are relating as faithfully as you can what the priests said but, I am not speaking directly to the priests but whatever they said is being filtered by someone who is not a canonist or a theologian…which is different than if I were speaking to them directly. All that to say that I can’t know what actually is as it is coming to me by hearsay.


May I suggest you send a simple note to the diocese’s vicar general. Please God, he has a doctorate. Explain:

  1. You are a member of the lay faithful of the diocese
  2. At a time when you were spiritually inexperienced you made what, in conscience, you believe and understand were two distinct private vows…one regarding perpetual and perfect chastity and one regarding your prayer life.
  3. You are now discerning being called to the married state.
  4. You petition him to dispense you from the private vows according to the norms in Canon 1196…and copy and paste the above text of the canon that I gave you into the request. You may also find the text here:
  5. That you make the request to him since he has the delegated executive authority of the bishop, by grant of Canon Law.

That would be my counsel in this situation.

Of course, your other recourse is simply to ask the bishop himself, either in writing or email or when you attend one of his Masses and have the opportunity to speak to him.

Given the circumstances, this is not an involved grant – there is no decree to issue. This is not a public vow. It is a very simple act. It takes a matter of seconds. Far less than this correspondence :yup:


Yes, do ask your priest to dispense your vow. If you are scrupulous, it is very important to obey a good, holy priest.We are all called to be chaste (pure) according to our state in life.

To make a vow of celibacy means one doesn’t get married. This is different from chastity.


What you write, actually, is an assessment I know not based on what.

Assuredly, one makes vows related to the virtues. The vows of every Relgious, governed by the norms of their institute, will profess one or more vows that are directly related to the virtues.

What you write does not accord with either the theology of vows or the theology of consecrated life…which often, for various reasons, private vows will emulate or at least seek to emulate. That discussion is beyond the reasonable scope of this thread.


Actually, in this rather unique instance, there may be a legitimate problem that turns on a very narrow and precise point. That is why I wrote the subsequent and detailed answer that I did.


Your distinction is of merit. However, given the formulation of the Original Post, it appears clear to me that the intent of the intended vow was perfect and perpetual chastity, which is why in my posts I have qualified it as such.

In the formularies for members of third orders secular that accommodate pronouncement of private vows by those who are life-time professed, the formula will explicitly state whether the vow of chastity is perfect chastity or chastity according to one’s state of life.

Had the latter been the case with the original poster, then s/he would not need to seek a dispensation.

If that were indeed the case, and s/he agrees that “chastity according to state of life” was what s/he pronounced, then indeed the matter would be resolved.


I tried doing some research about this and discussed my findings with my priest… I read / was told the same as what Father said here.

It seems like private vows are binding, but they need to be actual vows and be made validly - for example, freely. A mortal sin against a vow of chastity breaks the vow, and results in two mortal sins - against chastity, and against religion. If in doubt best to probably just ask for a dispensation, just in case… I totally understand wanting to be obedient to your priest. I would feel torn in the same way too. Maybe just asking for a dispensation could help, because this is clearly a matter of the conscience.

My priest told me most people who make private vows, write their own… (Public vows use formulas though). However this is why its so important, if anyone makes a vow, to get your priest to review it. It needs to be freely made, as a vow, and clearly stating the duration… The conditions would be that its a vow of chastity (for example) binding under pain of sin, in virtue of religion, and the priest can also help to understand what it means and what actually breaks the vow.

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