Can a Catholic revert become a deacon?


According to the Diocese of St. Louis site, a candidate for the diaconate “cannot have been Catholic, formally joined another Church and returned to Catholicism.”

Does this requirement apply to all dioceses? Does this mean that Catholic reverts have no hope of serving as deacons? I grew up Catholic and received communion and confirmation, but we never went to church. I was poorly catechized, and as a result, I left the Church in my pre-teenage years and came back 14 years later.

Could anyone that knows for sure shed some light here?


I am guessing this refers to someone that formally renounced Catholicism by sending a letter to the bishop saying “I choose to no longer be considered Catholic” .

But that’s just a guess, why don’t you call your diocese and ask?


I haven’t seen this requirement before. I agree that you should check with your diocese.


I have never read that or heard that anywhere before. I can’t imagine the purpose this is supposed to serve.


Based on what you describe regarding yourself, you stopped practicing the faith and then returned to the practice of the faith after years away. That is a different circumstance entirely than what the Archdiocese of Saint Louis is describing. It is dealing with apostasy from the Catholic Church by a formal act and becoming part of another ecclesial community.

Different dioceses may establish different criteria on admitting candidates for Sacred Order…whether for the diaconate or priesthood. That said, the circumstances can have a great impact on an eventual decision in evaluating a candidate…a child or teenager, for example, who left the Church with his family and was also with them in joining another ecclesial community will be handled differently than one who did so as an adult.

There is always discretion when it comes to these sorts of prudential decisions, as the rest of the document indicates. One must evaluate the applicant as an individual and exceptions can be warranted to various criteria.

If you are interested in the diaconate, you should speak with the director of the diaconate programme in your diocese to see what the criteria are there. You can ask them to assess if you would be an apt candidate. Ultimately, the decision of a candidate’s aptness rests with the (arch)bishop, who is the one who calls the man to ordination.


Since you asked, the reason is in part because of Canon 1041, paragraph 2:

Can. 1041 The following are irregular for receiving orders:
2/ a person who has committed the delict of apostasy, heresy, or schism;

Canonical irregularities in such an instance as this can be resolved at the discretion of the diocesan bishop. The bishop, though, would have to examine the matter carefully since the one being ordained deacon receives the sacrament of holy order and one would want to be prudent that there is minimal risk that the cleric would re-defect from the Church.


I thought the Catholic position was that you could not formally defect from the Catholic Church and that even if you join another ecclesiastical community you are still Catholic in the church’s eyes?


The answer to your question was provided by the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts.


When I left the Catholic church at age 14, I formally joined several Protestant groups, until I returned to the Catholic Church 14 years later, after having studied and understood Catholic doctrine.

I will have to speak to the bishop of Charleston or one of his delegates about this matter.


CIC (Canon Law)

Can. 1040 Those affected by any impediment, whether perpetual, which is called an irregularity, or simple, are prevented from receiving orders. The only impediments incurred, however, are those contained in the following canons.

Can. 1041 The following are irregular for receiving orders:

1/ a person who labors under some form of amentia or other psychic illness due to which, after experts have been consulted, he is judged unqualified to fulfill the ministry properly;

2/ a person who has committed the delict of apostasy, heresy, or schism;

3/ a person who has attempted marriage, even only civilly, while either impeded personally from entering marriage by a matrimonial bond, sacred orders, or a public perpetual vow of chastity, or with a woman bound by a valid marriage or restricted by the same type of vow;

4/ a person who has committed voluntary homicide or procured a completed abortion and all those who positively cooperated in either;

5/ a person who has mutilated himself or another gravely and maliciously or who has attempted suicide;

6/ a person who has placed an act of orders reserved to those in the order of episcopate or presbyterate while either lacking that order or prohibited from its exercise by some declared or imposed canonical penalty.

Can. 1042 The following are simply impeded from receiving orders:

1/ a man who has a wife, unless he is legitimately destined to the permanent diaconate;

2/ a person who exercises an office or administration forbidden to clerics according to the norm of cann. ⇒ 285 and ⇒ 286 for which he must render an account, until he becomes free by having relinquished the office or administration and rendered the account;

3/ a neophyte unless he has been proven sufficiently in the judgment of the ordinary.


Yes. Exactly.

Speak to the Vocations Director (or whatever his title/office might be in your diocese) for permanent deacons.


Perhaps you’re thinking about the changes to canon law made by HH Benedict a few years ago.

He eliminated the provision that one who formally left the Church was no longer bound by the obligation of canonical form for marriage. That often gets mis-stated here on CAF by some who say that the change means no one can formally leave the Church. You might be remembering what you read in a post somewhere.

The point is that formal defection is indeed possible. People can (and do) do it.


What is “formal defection”? Is it formally joining a non-Catholic Christian church, or is it more along the lines of sending a letter to the bishop letting him know that you don’t want to be Catholic?


Or both?


Note that canon law was revised so that Catholics are always bound to them regardless of formal defection.


So basically if you’ve made a decision to leave, and have manifested it in some way by virtue of schism, apostasy or heresy (by say joining another faith tradition), your only remaining step would be to send a letter to the relevant authority who then reviews the first two steps and enters that in the baptismal register?

Now here’s a question, how does one revert or undo a formal defection from the RCC if possible?


It means that a latae sententiae excommunication is incurred and that the bishop must be spoken to, or a priest that has been delegated by him to remove the penalty. The bishop would know how to remove the record from the baptismal certificate. I am guessing that a profession of faith is required.

Canon law is here:


Oh, look at what I found-

“On the other hand, heresy (whether formal or material), schism and apostasy do not in themselves constitute a formal act of defection if they are not externally concretized and manifested to the ecclesiastical authority in the required manner.”

So there is hope for (most) Catholic reverts!


I am a little confused. THe OP said he will have to talk with the Bishop of Charleston to see what’s up, however, there is no Bishop of Charleston in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

If you are currently in another diocese (either W. Virginia or SC), then you should probably look at those diocesan websites to see if they list anything similar…


No, I live in Columbia SC, and the bishop of Charleston oversees this state. I just happened to find that website from St. Louis and wondered if this was a general requirement binding on all dioceses, or just unique to that one.

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