Priests now automatically laicized under certain circumstances?

Not sure how I missed this back in 2009.

Does this mean that priests who just walk away from their ministry, are automatically laicized after five years have passed? Or that the bishop may laicize the priest after this time at his own discretion? (I realize this would be subject to certain conditions, e.g., the absence of sex abuse allegations or similar charges.)

I don’t recommend the NatCxxxReporter as good reading, however, their strictly factual news reporting is unproblematical, and they do some good work where social justice issues are concerned. The largest church in the United States arguably should have an independent newspaper that covers it, but they have been asked by their bishop more than once to quit calling themselves “Catholic”, a request that they ignore. They could very easily rename themselves “The Reporter — Serving Catholics and All of God’s People”, or something like that. Church Militant handled its own situation in a similar fashion. Just from their names, publications such as America, The Tablet, The Wanderer, and even Our Sunday Visitor are not obviously Catholic.

No, nothing like that happens automatically.



Do all laicizations go through Rome?

Yes, they do.



Considering the concerns we get with people wondering if they’ve incurred automatic excommunication, I would hate to see the concerns we’d get from people worrying about whether or not their priest has been automatically laicized…


These guidelines are intended to address the problem of priest who have sort of just wandered off in a “gone no address” kind of way and have no interest in applying for laicisation. This creates a problem for their bishop/superior since the guy’s still a priest (albeit one in rather bad standing) and still on their books (meaning that they’re supposed to be responsible for him) but, refusing to apply for laicisation chucks a spanner in the works! So the idea of the guidelines is basically to allow bishops/superiors to apply to forcible laicise a priest in these sort of circumstances rather than having to wait for them to resurface and engage with the process.

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That makes sense. I have known of cases where priests just apparently walked away and started new lives. I think it would be a good thing for the Church to be able to say, in so many words, “if you just walk away, we can’t stop you, we wish you wouldn’t, but if you do, after such-and-such a period of time passes, if we don’t hear from you, we’ll have to laicize you — if you ever decide you want to come back, we can rescind that”. Would not the Church’s power to bind and loose apply to either scenario (i.e., leaving and coming back)?

Probably. The Church certainly determines when a person remains in holy orders but as for reversing laicisation, while I’ve heard claims to that effect (and I suppose it could happen in theory at least), it’s supposed to be a determinative act much like being ordained, so any reverals would be incredibly rare otherwise it’d undermine the whole process and create massive uncertainty.

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a half a century ago, my grandfather ended up as perhaps the first person who survived Guillain–Barré syndrome without recovering.

Because my grandmother (his wife) had a grossly underpaid job as a result of his sickness, he wasn’t eligible for medicaid care. No because of how much she made, but simply because it was more than zero.

The priest told her that she must not divorce him. She did, as it was the only way to get him medical care (and she visited regularly, using public transportation, as she never drove . . .).

The last we heard of that priest was that he abandoned his parish without permission and was shacked with some woman . . .


I am deeply sorry to know that your grandparents had to go through a civil divorce, as an administrative matter, to enable your grandfather to get Medicaid.

We really need a health care system that allows all people, regardless of their circumstances, to get necessary medical care and insurance at a nominal cost, tied to their income, and even free if they can’t afford it at all.

I would be curious to know if the Church can allow civil divorce (recognizing that the spiritual bond of marriage, the sacrament, remains inviolate) if there are grave temporal reasons to do so, treating it as merely a legal and administrative matter. Does the Church have any provision for this?

I think that the utter lack of recognition of the civil divorce is the answer to that part of the question . . .

CCC 2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law. If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.

What you’re talking about is a highly unusual situation - effectively a “divorce of convenience”! If a person has no desire to abandon their marriage but is effectively forced into it (and into a sham separation) then there is no sin.

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In my diocese there were a few dozen men who were alleged to have sexually abused minors in past decades. Some were shamefully transferred to other parishes, where they may, or may not, have abused others. (I suspect some were innocent, some guilty of a one time incident, some repeatedly guilty).

Apparently only one man’s name was “forwarded to Rome”, apparently for laicizations. Several years ago the diocese stopped reassigning men with credible allegations, but kept them on the payroll.

In the past couple years our Diocese has gone through Hell. Now, with much pressure, the diocese has forwarded to Rome a lot of names, possibly everyone with a credible allegation, though I am not certain of this.
Some allegations involve adults. Some allegations are from decades ago. Some priests are in nursing homes now. One man apparently was invited by accident to help out with confessions at a Youth convention, and he did so, causing scandal.

Well, then, there’s the “provision” I was looking for. CCC 2383 might not have foreseen the situation described here, but what is it, besides “ensuring certain legal rights”?

It’s a sad state of affairs that anyone would have to resort to that, but civil marriage, for Catholics bound by canonical form, is nothing more than a legal arrangement. It doesn’t affect validity, the sacrament, or the spiritual aspect of the relationship, one little iota. I would certainly hope that the legal requirement would simply be a period of X time not living together, and that nobody would have to testify that there is no hope of reconciliation, that the marriage is irretrievably broken, or other things that constitute a negative commentary upon the marriage. That would be very hurtful, but sometimes, when things are forced upon us, hurtfulness is unfortunately part of life.

It also helps the people who the priest was involved with. For example if he was civilly married then both he and the wife can receive communion in the Catholic Church. If there were to be any children then it would be easier to bring them up in the Catholic Church.

Agreed. In today’s world, it does no good to excommunicate them, or to keep them in an irregular status hoping that they will worry about the state of their souls, and make things right.

Once again, “the tail wags the dog” — the story of life in today’s world and today’s Church.

Especially if it has only been a few years since their ordination, I’d like to see them bound by some kind of secular contractual agreement to repay at least part of the cost of their education, which was paid for by the Church (i.e., you and me).

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