Cardinal McCarrick's Status

I really was not sure in which category to post this topic, but as it’s basically a question regarding the sacrament of Holy Orders I’m posting it in the Sacraments category.

My question is of a technical nature and I do hope we’ll all remain charitable and deal with the question only and not digress into related issues.

The Pope has, as the secular press describe it, ‘defrocked’ Cardinal McCarrick. I’m uncertain as to the correct terminology but believe he’s been reduced to the lay state. So, my question is what is Cardinal McCarrick’s official status in the Church?

As I understand it the sacrament of Holy Orders brings about a change in the ontological state of the soul like Baptism and Confirmation and therefore cannot be repeated. You cannot unbaptism or unconfirm someone. I, therefore, infer you cannot undeacon, unpriest or unbishop someone. Am I correct to think Cardinal McCarrick remains a bishop but he must not wear clerical garb, choir dress and liturgical vestments. He cannot celebrate Mass, administer any sacrament, or preside at any liturgy. Simply, he must not do those things that only sacred ministers do.

What would happen if he administered a sacrament? The only one I can think would be invalid is marriage. Because he cannot be the Church’s official witness to any marriage he was involved with would lack canonical form. If he celebrated a Mass would the Eucharist be confected? I do know he can hear confessions, anoint and give Holy Communion to someone in danger of death.

I do not suggest he will try to do any of these things. The question would still stand if it were any other laicised cleric. I simply used his name because it is topical and puts my question in context. I’m simply trying to learn what status a laicised cleric has in the Church.

That of a laicised priest.

It would be illicit (illegal) in the eyes of the Church, but valid.

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Mc Carrick will be a lay person and do what we, the people do. If someone is dying he can hear their confession and anoint them. His own baptism and Confirmation will still be valid as well as all those he baptised and confirmed.

Is there anyone who knows if there is some kind of “ceremony” for laicising a deacon, priest or bishop other than getting a letter in the mail?

Could you clarify what you mean by this. I don’t want to misunderstand you but it seems like you are saying that you and I could hear the Confession of a dying person and anoint them. That, of course, is not correct but maybe that is not what you mean.

Confession in other circumstances would be invalid though because as far as I am aware Confession require faculties, which he only has in danger of death.

Valid but illicit is correct. So if McCarrick heard your confession and gave you absolution, your sins would be forgiven, although he would have violated a legitimate order from the Church.

I wrote “he can hear their confession and anoint them”. There is nothing about we or us, as the lay people, in that sentence.

You said: Mc Carrick will be a lay person and do what we, the people do. If someone is dying he can hear their confession and anoint them.

We the people cannot hear confession and anoint.


966 §1. The valid absolution of sins requires that the minister have, in addition to the power of orders, the faculty of exercising it for the faithful to whom he imparts absolution.

Canon 966 seems to agree with me. At the very least I’m assuming that a laicised Priest would not have facilties.

Even though a priest lacks the faculty to hear confessions, he absolves validly and licitly any penitents whatsoever in danger of death from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present.

And 976 confirms that absolution is valid in danger of death. I thought that faculties were granted but 976 does not say that. However seeing the absolution being valid even if a Priest who generally has faculties is there may imply that they are.

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Two separate sentences, both of which are correct: “McCarrick will be a layperson.” Period. Full stop. “If someone is dying he can hear their confession and anoint them.” Period. Full stop.

(Actually, it’s “if someone is in danger of death”, which doesn’t necessarily equate to “if they’re dying”.)

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Actually there is no full stop after layperson. The poster’s full sentence is “Mc Carrick will be a lay person and do what we, the people do.” That implies that any layperson can hear Confession and anoint.

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Now there will be a call to “put the past behind us” and Let the Healing Begin. But Archbishop Vigano had brought up a number of issues, including McCarrick’s alleged role advising the current pope, and perhaps other officials. He may or may not have gotten certain persons named as bishops or cardinals, where it is known the Vatican bypassed the normal nomination process.

There’s enormous pressure now to Move Forward, to ignore rather than refute Vigano. The Jesuit magazine has been investigating Vigano’s personal life (family disagreement), no doubt they will dig up that Speeding Ticket from 1979, etc.

The fact they are pressing to Forget, rather than refute, Vigano, raises suspicion he really can’t be refuted.

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The poster made an error in paragraphing, that is true, but it is no cause for argument. Just clarify.

"McCarrick will be a layperson for most intents and purposes. However, he retains a priestly character, even without possessing faculties to do most priestly things licitly.

"If someone is in danger of death, he can licitly hear that person’s Confession. He can also perform Anointing of the Sick and other last rites for someone dying.

"However, this is only permitted in emergency situations. He cannot hang around a hospital and wait for emergencies, or take appointments to do hear dying confessions, if he wants to do things licitly.

"Of course, given that McCarrick is a predator who fears neither man nor God, I suspect he does not give a care about licitness or validity. He should be in prison as an inmate.

“But if he does take this to heart, repents, confesses to the courts, makes reparations, and spends the rest of his life repenting in prison, maybe he won’t go to Hell.”

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You go to the local ordinary (or his representative), sign the letter, and walk out the door and go on with your life…no ceremony, no retirement. Do what some priests I know who got laicized did- they took vestments and chalices to the meeting and other sacramental items and “donated them” to the diocese for a “pennance.” Approaches will vary…

Canon Law Made Easy has the best explanation of laicization I have read. I believe it should answer any questions anyone has.

As for those wishing to rush to judgment on how this “predator…fears neither man nor God” and how he is likely going to Hell, they should perhaps be more concerned with where they themselves might be going in the future rather than gleefully throwing mud at others, even those who have done very bad things.

I would have a strong suspicion that McCarrick had the same kinds of things done to him as a young man that he proceeded to do unto others. Which doesn’t make what he did okay, but God would take it into account when judging him.

  1. Someone said that McCarrick should be excommunicated. I’'m not sure what this means----I used to think that the Church would hand down a judgement that excommunicated people. Then I learned that the Church doesn’t excommunicate people. They excommunicate themselves based on their actions. Is it a distinction without a difference? Is it a matter of excommunicating oneself from the Church, and then the Church informs you that you have excommunicated yourself?

  2. McCarrick is no longer allowed to say Mass. Does this mean that he is no longer allowed to publicly say Mass, or no longer allowed to celebrate Mass at all? I thought that, once ordained, priests were required to celebrate Mass every day, and that the sacrament of ordination is permanent like baptism or confirmation.

Some acts incur excommunication, by their nature. Other acts may incur excommication. It is a judgement call, by the Church official, taking into account the degree of harm, and individual circumstances.

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Canon Law Made Easy also explains “excommunication” and the purpose of it, very well.

Unless McCarrick is still committing offenses or is somehow refusing to repent, or is otherwise disobeying his higher authority in the church, there is no point in excommunicating him. It is intended as a penalty to get a person to wake up to the fact that they have committed a serious breach of Church rules and they need to get right with God and the Church before they can come back to the Church. The idea is to get someone to return to the Church. It doesn’t really look like McCarrick ever left.

We have no idea what McCarrick might have said in confession. We can probably presume he is no longer committing sexual abuse offenses given that his activities and environment have been restricted. It doesn’t look so far like he has disobeyed any higher authority; he hasn’t, for example, declared that he’s still a Cardinal, refused to stay confined at the monastery where he was ordered to go, or gone off and started his own church.

I do not understand on what grounds one would excommunicate him or what point it would serve. He didn’t defy authority or leave the Church and he may well have repented of whatever sins he committed. For all we know, the man confessed and repented everything already and is currently in a state of grace.

If he were to respond to this laicization like it didn’t occur and still go around holding himself out as a priest and saying Mass and performing other sacraments (other than the permitted hearing of confession/ providing anointing for people in danger of death) , he might be excommunicated then. The purpose of the excommunication would be to get him to stop the prohibited behavior.

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That’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure about it. Before Pope Francis gave the SSPX faculties to administer Confession, were Confessions from SSPX priests valid but illicit, or invalid? And there we are talking about priests that although they had not been granted faculties, were valid priests. If an SSPX administered Confession (prior to Pope Francis giving them faculties to do so) was invalid, not just illicit, under normal circumstances, then how Confession administered by a laicisised priest be valid (unless it was a case of life or death)?

Would it not be logical that a laicised priest could not validly adminster Confession except in an emergency situation such as a dying man’s Confession and annointing?

The way I understand it: Mcarrick is still a priest. But he is not allowed to exercise ministry. Holy Orders cannot be taken away.
Correct me if I am wrong.

The fine details don’t really matter to me. I hope he heeds the call to repent like everyone else should. I read that he contested the judicial proceedings. Not a good sign for him.

And I hope the clerics who are caring for him get their heads out of the sand and start acting prudently. Like not housing him across from an elementary school.

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