Switching from an order to a diocese


Is it hard for a priest that belongs to an order to switch to being a diocese priest? I see this happening now and then and wonder if it's a big deal to make this switch.



[quote="thomasf, post:1, topic:213592"]
Is it hard for a priest that belongs to an order to switch to being a diocese priest? I see this happening now and then and wonder if it's a big deal to make this switch.



It is a very big deal and it is not easy to do. Let's clarify here. There are orders and there are congregations. They are not the same thing, though both are religious institutes.

In either case, to go from the religious life to a diocese involves asking for a dispensation from the consecrated life. You must state, to the satisfaction of the Church and the satisfaction of your major superiors, that you're decision to enter the religious state was an error on your part. You must give proof of such an error. You can't just say that you changed your mind. It won't fly. The Church takes vows very seriously. To move from the religious life to the diocese, releases you of vows, returning you to the secular state.

The process is cumbersome. You must find a bishop who is willing to take you. You must get your major superior to grant permission for a leave of absence from your religious community. If this happens, you remain a consecrated religious, but you're exclaustrated. This means that the full effect of the vows remains in place, but your obligations are suspended until such time as you either return to your religious community or the Holy See grants a dispensation from the vows. This leave of absence can last no longer than five-years.

At the end of those five-years the bishop must decide that he wants to keep you. If he does not, you must return to your religious community. If you fail to return, you are then a renegade and charges can be brought up against you and you may end up excommunicated.

If the bishop who has accepted you during those five-years says that he is willing to keep you, you must still convince the Holy See that you do not have a religious vocation. If the Holy See denies your request for a dispensation from vows, you must return to your religious community.

In the middle of this process stands the major superior. He can block your request by not presenting it to the Holy See. You cannot petition for a dispensation without the support of your major superior. It has to go through him. While you're in vows, you owe him obedience. He has the right to postpone and delay. He even has the right to write his own letter arguing against your petition. This rarely happens, because major superiors do not want to keep a man who is adamantly set on leaving. It's like keeping a reluctant spouse. What's the use of fighting it? What many major superiors choose to do, if they disagree with your reasons for leaving, is to remain silent and let you deal with the Holy See. They simply forward your request without any comment.

In any case, the person must understand, that if he leaves a religious institute to join a diocese, he is no longer a consecrated man. He is a secular man. He forfeits the graces that come from the consecration through vows.

There is another option that is rarely used, but is available. The Church may decide to suspend the duties that come with the vows. The vows remain in effect, but the person is not obliged to live according to those vows, until it is humanly possible. This kind of suspension is not the same as a disciplinary suspension. In the case of a disciplinary suspension, the person's faculties are taken away. In the case where the obligation that comes with the vows aer suspended, the man, if he is ordained, keeps his faculties to celebrate the sacraments as long as he does so under the autority of a bishop.

I hope this helps.


Br. JR, OSF :)


Is it AS big of a deal to go the other way around?

I knew a diocesean priest, who after many years of faithfully and honorably serving the diocese, entered the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani. As far as I know, he’s still there, and he would have made his solemn profession by now.

My instinct tells me that it would be a far less cumbersome process – certainly involving getting permission from your bishop but likely not going up to the Vatican – for a secular (i.e. diocesean) priest to follow a calling to consecrated religious life that emerged later in life.

I’m curious if my instincts are correct.



I believe that it is easier in the other direction. One of our monks was a diocesan priest first :slight_smile:

(A holy, holy man, BTW)


Yes it is. Leaving the consecrated life is no small thing. I think that what happens is that the faithful look at a man at the altar and they see a priest. They don’t see the consecrated religious, which is understandable to a certain extent . . . at that moment he is celebrating mass. To the man in the pew, all priests look that same.

What they don’t realize is that the Benedictine who is celebrating mass is doing so as a Benedictine. He brings to the sanctuary something that a Franciscan cannot bring. The Franciscan brings something that a Jesuit cannot bring and the Jesuit brings something that the diocesan priest cannot bring. Each of these consecrated men, even though they are priests, come to the priestly ministry from their charism, which influences their spirituality, their emphasis on certain aspects of the Gospel life, colors their worldview and even determines the role of priestly ministry in their lives.

For the Jesuit, who is a clerk regular, priestly ministry identifies him. For the Benedictine and the Franciscan what identifies him is the monastic life. Priestly ministry is accidental to that way of life, not essential. The Orders of St. Benedict and St. Francis can go on without a single priest and still be what the founders had in mind. They can always get local priests to celebrate mass for them. Take away the priesthood from the Dominicans and the Jesuits and you just tore down the house.

Additionally, when a diocesan priest joins an Institute of Consecrated Life he is responding to a call. When a consecrated religious asks to leave he is saying that he never had the call in the first place. There is no other way that he can leave. He cannot say that Christ called him ten-years ago, but Christ has now changed his mind. It does not work that way. Either you were called to consecrate your life or not. Christ does not do things short-term.

Leaving the religious life to become a diocesan, you’re effectively saying that you did not have a vocation to that life. It’s a denial, not in the bad sense. It can be a very honest assessment of things. It may be very true that you are in the wrong place. What you’re doing is denying something that you mistakenly beleived, that you were called to consecrate your life to Christ.

When you enter a religious community, it’s a response to a call. Even if you’re already a deacon or priest, you may be responding to a call that you had not heard. It was always there, from all eternity, but you just heard it now. Only God knows why you just heard it. That’s not really important. What’s important is that you heard and responded.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


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