I have recently got into a debate with certain Protestants about the status of priests who have been convicted of child abuse. Are they always priests or is there anything in canon law that can disbar them? I argued that as soon as they carried out these crimes they were no longer priests. Was I correct?
No. When a man receives priestly orders he receives a supernatural mark on his soul that makes him a Christian priest in his inmost being. From then on, he will be a priest forever, no matter what crimes he commits or how evil he becomes. In the event of such crimes or manifest evil though, the Church can withdraw his permission to function as a priest. He is still a priest but he no longer has the necessary permission from the Church to carry out priestly ministry.