Religious life/priesthood

I don’t know much about how it all works. But is it possible to be a missionary priest not assigned to a single diocese for life, and not be in a religious order?

Not that I know of. A priest cannot work as a “freelancer”. He is always under the authority of a bishop (if diocesan), or superior (if religious).

A priest may serve in a lone missionary setting, but only with the permission of hie legitimate superior.

In the past (maybe 400 years ago) it was definitely possible for a priest from a rich family to do this, yet not so now. SVD, Society for the Divine Word, is a religious congregation that doesn’t have the “feel” of a religious order, but does missionary work. If you’re more interested in itinerant preaching (like several prominent protestant and muslim pastors do), you’re best bet might be OP (Order of Preachers, “Dominicans”).

not sure I understand the question. It is not possible to be a Catholic priest who is not under the authority of a bishop or religious superior. It is certainly possible to serve as a missionary outside the geographic jurisdiction of one’s superior or bishop with his permission, and that of the bishop where one would be serving.

The relationship of a priest to a diocese or an appropriate religious institute or society is referred to as incardination. All priests must be properly incardinated within a diocese or a recognised institute, prelature or society precisely so as to avoid their having a free hand in their activities: in other words, they must be responsible to and under the direction of appropriate higher authority.

Historically, some priests have acted illicitly or given scandal without being answerable to a legitimate superior. The current regulations outlaw this, although there are contemporary instances where priests have engineered a situation in which they try to avoid this kind of line management. Such avoidance is always dealt with as a serious offence, generally resulting in suspension of priestly status.

The details of the relevant canon law that addresses this issue can be found at:

As has already been pointed out, a diocesan priest or ordained religious can apply for duties other than their usual work or for assignment to the missions. However, such transfers or appointments (whether temporary or permanent) are at the discretion of their bishop or religious superior. So one way or another, priesthood always requires submission to authority, and a resulting loss of freedom in making certain decisions.

In the past (maybe 400 years ago) it was definitely possible for a priest from a rich family to do this, yet not so now.

It was still possible within living memory, although apparently not any more:
‘…[Monsignor Gilbey] thus entered the Pontifical Beda College in Rome in 1925 and became a priest four years later. He was ordained “under his own patrimony”, a privilege now discontinued, meaning that, as a man of independent means, he was not subject to any diocesan bishop’s jurisdiction. …’ source]

Yet he still required faculties to be granted by a bishop to publicly celebrate the sacraments in that bishop’s diocese.

Makes sense to me. Thanks for pointing that out.

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