Becoming a priest after having left the Church?

:slight_smile: Heaven help, this is a hypothetical question!
Though it would have better fitted into a “Chuch law” forum…

Now, let’s imagine someone who has been baptised in the Catholic Church, received Holy Communion, but who hasn’t been christened because in his youth he distanced himself from the Church. The distance growing, when he got eighteen he decided to quit the Church (formally, oficially) and did so.
About his personal lifestyle it’s important to note that he never had a girlfriend nor desired one nor ever committed any sexual sins, feeling a-sexual by nature and even being somewhat anti-sexual by conviction. So no problems at all on the celibacy/perfect chastity/continence-side. Besides, he is quite the private erudite in philosophy and theology, though he doesn’t hold a formal degree in either of these subjects.

Years pass. He doesn’t enter any other religious community (nor freethinker-masonry or whatever). After seven years, motivated by long reflections and various life-events, he regains interest in the Catholic faith and feels drawn towards the Church. Naturally, he considers reentering the Church. Suppose furthermore he has some Social-Work-related degree, working with people etc… seriously regretting the foolish choice in his youth, he desires reentering the Church.

Ok. So far no problem here.

But he’d also like to become a priest, since… well… he feels called by Christ, naturally… and besides, he thinks the job-profile just suits him perfectly well :slight_smile:

But would that be possible, by Church law, that someone like him could become a Catholic priest, someone who once quitted the Church?

You cannot formally “defect” from the Church. If a person wishes to resume practicing the faith, all he has to do would be to make a sincere confession. Whether he would be called to the priesthood would be discerned by him with the help of a spiritual director. It would be a case by case situation.

I know several priests and seminarians who were not always practicing their faith. It’s not required that a person have a degree in social work or similar to become a priest, though there is an education component (and the social work education could be useful for the pastoral aspect of being a priest). One of the men who entered our diocesan seminary worked as a bartender before discerning his call to the priesthood. A friend of ours was a high school teacher, though he had long thought he might be called to be a priest (and he never lapsed in his faith as far as I know.) Another man I know of was a businessman before becoming a priest. Prior careers/fields of study aren’t, to my knowledge, considered that important.

Hi - what an interesting scenario you outline. My thoughts:

Becoming a Catholic and living a Catholic life is a long-term, in fact a lifelong, process. I think your friend is feeling like some of these matters can be rushed… that somehow he is “locked in” as a Catholic because he was baptized as a baby into the Church. This is not so. Your friend needs to find a parish, start attending Mass, perhaps enroll in the RCIA program there and learn about the sacraments he has missed, and then get these sacraments. Then perhaps he can think about taking a role in the life of his parish through the prayer group, or maybe as a lector or a Eucharistic Minister. After a number of years of embracing these different facets of living a fully Catholic life, perhaps he might go on a retreat, or two, in order to discern if he is suited spiritually and psychologically to becoming a priest. It is as much a vocation as it is a career choice.

I also want to say that you mention your friend’s “anti-sexuality” convictions as some kind of an ace in the hole…like it’s a done deal, he can become a priest because he hates or otherwise rejects sex. In fact this is a huge warning signal…It sounds like he has an unhealthy attitude towards sex and if it repels him in the way you claim it does, then he wouldn’t be suited as a priest, because in the modern day much of a priest’s work in the area of counselling and the Sacrament of Confession deals directly and unequivocally with matters related to human sexuality. Is his rejection of sex related to some form of trauma or abuse he suffered as a child? How might he perform as a priest in the presence of young children with this kind of history? Or, if his asexual (as you describe it) nature is so strong, how will he respond to young couples who come to him for pre-Cana (ie. marriage preparation) courses? I see problems ahead.

He should start slow, and get his First Communion, Confession and Confirmation completed before he considers these other things.

I for one will pray for your friend.

A person might leave the Church in the sense of not going to Mass, but once baptized a Catholic you are always considered a Catholic. So, if this happens as indicated here our “hypothetical man” is free to return and certainly to investigate becoming a Priest. He would of course need to see a Confessor and discuss his absence, and there would be the Seminary to further test his resolve and calling.

You might try reading “The True Confessions of St. Augustine” to get a better idea of this. He was a man that certainly had his time away from the Church and “running from God.” When he returned and became a Priest it did it with full zeal and eventually became a Saint.

Oh well, I just came up with the “anti sexual” component in order to make clear that celibacy would be the easiest thing in the world for him to practice. Let’s stick with he’s a-sexual: not feeling any inclination to engage in sexual activities whatsoever, although biologically not incapable of doing it.

Ok. I agree with you all, I myself wouldn’t see any obstacle per se to him becoming a priest. Though, I wonder, isn’t there some Church law impediment? I imagine having heard a special approbation of the Pope was needed, for someone wanting to become a Priest after having formally, oficially left it.

Anyone versed in Church law?

“Approbation by the Pope” - the fitting term, I guess, is “dispensation”

Oh, and please leave aside the question about my friend’s asexuality. I simply meant to say that celibacy, in the full term of the word as “complete continence”, “eternal chastity” etc. would be no problem for him - precisely because he’s living it anyway and has always done so.

And the logic why his being asexual - no feeling sexual desires - should exclude him from marriage counselling etc. escapes me.
Imagine a saintly priest incapable of feeling hatred for somebody - would that exclude him from hearing the confession of a murderer? Since when does a priest need feel the temptation to sin, or have sinned himself, to understand the sins of others?
Ok but please leave that question aside.
(It’s just I’m always reading about how the priest shortage is supposedly linked to the celibacy mandate. I just wanted to point out that my friend wouldn’t even feel there was a “mandate”. It’s just what he does, what he is, what he feels naturally inclined to anyway).

But please let’s concentrate on the Chuch law question - is this true, about the dispensation?

As I said in my PP, I don’t think you can formally defect from the Church. Are you talking about lifting an excommunication?

Yes, I am. I looked through some Internet-pages of German dioceses (Germany is where I live). They all say (at the end of the re-entrance ceremony): “The priest will then lift the excommunication” or something like this.

No idea if this is a particularity about German Church law, because here the Church and the state are still closely connected by an old contract going all the way back to Pius XII… For example, when my friend quitted the Church, he didn’t even declare this in front of any Church official, he just went to the Civil Registry Office, which handles Church exits here, and had himself ex-communicated within a matter of three minutes.

There may be a translation issue here. Excommunication is a penalty, medicinal in nature, that is imposed upon a Catholic. Catholics can incur excommunications automatically in some cases, but it’s not something you go out and get, and to my understanding all that is required to lift it is confession (and in some cases permission from a bishop.)

Formal defection from the Church is not possible. Once you are baptized you are always Catholic, regardless of whether you practice or not. I only have a passing familiarity with German laws regarding church and state, but what you are describing is a civil process, not a religious one. This would not be the same thing as an excommunication.

Yes, there is. From the Code of Canon Law: "Can. 1040 Those affected by … an irregularity … are prevented from receiving orders.

Can. 1041 The following are irregular for receiving orders: …

  1. a person who has committed the delict of apostasy, heresy, or schism…"

Basically, I think the person in your scenario has done one or more of those things, or at least that is what you are meaning he has done. The Apostolic See (not the Pope personally but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) would be the authority able to dispense this irregularity (see canon 1047).


Thanks Dan, exactly the answer was looking for!

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