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Let dispensed priests play active parish role, Vatican urges bishops

By on Thursday, 29 September 2011

Cardinal Ivan Dias: says dispensed priests should be able to play a greater role in parish life (Photo: PA)

Cardinal Ivan Dias: says dispensed priests should be able to play a greater role in parish life (Photo: PA)

The Vatican has appealed to diocesan bishops to encourage priests who have left ministry in order to get married to play a more active role in parish life.

In a copy of a letter seen by The Catholic Herald Cardinal Ivan Dias, the prefect for the Evangelisation of Peoples in Rome, placed more discretionary power in the hands of bishops for discerning a dispensed cleric’s involvement with parish life. The letter, dated February 2 2011, was sent to a priest, who had written to the congregation on behalf of an Australian missionary society that is seeking a relaxation of the prohibitions on dispensed clergy.

Cardinal Dias wrote of his confidence that the Vatican’s reforms would enable dispensed priests to lead a more active life in the Church as committed Catholics under their bishop’s guidance. The usual mode of laicisation and dispensation from the priestly vow of celibacy is through a “rescript of the Apostolic See”, meaning a response from the Pope or a sacred congregation granting a favour and the conditions upon which it is granted.

The rescript permitting the laicisation of a priest prohibits celebrating Mass, delivering homilies, administering the Eucharist, teaching or working in seminaries and places restrictions on teaching the faith in schools and universities. The cardinal’s letter means that the enforcement of half the prohibitions stipulated in the rescript will now come under the discretion of the local bishop.

Prohibitions that are no longer absolute include teaching theology in schools or universities, both Catholic and non-Catholic, contact with the parish where the priest used to serve and administering the Eucharist.

  • Anonymous

    If I am reading the penultimate paragraph correctly, it seems to be saying that under laicisation, a priest may no longer celebrate Mass, deliver homilies, administer the Eucharist, teach or work in seminaries or teach without restriction in schools and universities BUT that he can do all of these things if the local bishop says it is all right.

    Sounds to me awfully like: “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” on the part of the unlaicised priest.

    Are these really the right sort of men to whom we should be entrusting future generations of the faithful? 

    What on earth is the Church coming to?

  • Stuart

    The priest has compromised himself by placing his hand on the plough and looking back…

  • Lee

    This Cardinal has highly worrying views which would not be unwelcome in protestant and especially Episcopalian circles.

  • Fr Timothy E Deeter

    No, leprechaun_himself, you read incorrectly.  The penultimate paragraph lists the complete list of forbidden activities.  The ultimate (last) paragraph says that of those activities, the dispensed priest may possible teach in schools and universities, contact his former parish, and administer the Eucharist.  “Administer the Eucharist” does not mean “celebrate Mass”.  It means he may be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

  • Johnf Murphy

    Too late for most of us. We are now ancient history. Most of us would have been very helpful once, but the complete rejection hurt. We are too old now.
    Ex Sacerdos

  • AgingPapist

    Rome is giving the green light to diocesan bishops to give a big wink to their laicized priests.  The bishops will be telling their former clergy,  “I know nothing, I saw nothing, I heard nothing”.  I don’t want to know what you’re doing, so don’t tell me.  The Vatican figures this is better than granting a blanket permission to celibate priests they’re free to marry.

    Benedict is surely feeling the heat at long last and he’s jumping off the hot seat.

    Despite what these old bugger protectors in the Vatican do and say, the cat is out of the bag and the bishops aren’t returning  to the bad old days.   Priests will be assigned to universities, student centers, etc. and they’ll be celebrating mass and administering the sacraments once again .

  • Anonymous

                             (Doubt the Papist bit) What utter tosh.

  • Anonymous

    Not celebrate mass or deliver homilies, but administer the eucharist i.e. do what ext.mins do at the moment. Better an ordained priest than a laywoman of a certain age, in my view.

  • Anonymous

    They will NOT be celebrating mass. It is forbidden. The only things that are being permitted are things which any layman can do.

  • Dendmack

    I hope that this is a step in the right direction i.e. towards optional celibacy for  priests but I think the pace of change in that direction will continue to be very slow. Also I know some laicised priests who, at the invitation of their parish priests, were serving as eucharistic ministers and readers at Mass as far back as 1988. I guess that since then JPll and BXVl may have discouraged this practice. I have always found it strange that people who have gioven years and even decades of their lives to Church Ministry should be discriminated against in this way. Is this another example of the hierarchy not wanting to scandalise the laity…if so then the laity are well ahead of them in terms of overall maturity and common sense.

  • John Welsby

    Surely this can only lead to confusion and uncertainty, better to have removed compulsory celibacy and reinstate the dispensed priests, assuming they are willing!.

  • Fr Thomas Poovathinkal





    Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

  • EditorCT

    Excuse me, the “rejection” was all yours.  YOU chose to look back after putting your hand to the plough.  I hope you find that the married bliss option proved worth it.   I have my doubts.

    This latest scandal, that allows itself the heading “Vatican” (urges yet another aberration), only reinforces my belief that God gave us Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX to ensure that the poor sheep have at least some sound shepherds, committed to the priesthood, in this time of awful crisis. 

    Failed priests is the last thing we need right now.  God (literally and quickly) help us all.  

  • AgingPapist

    I too know laicized priests celebrating Mass and administering the sacraments (in the northeastern US) and their bishops know all about it.  Thank God, the bishops tell Rome and the radical traditionalists one thing and their laicized clergy something else.  At last, the bishops are showing courage and resolve. They’re not going to be dictated to by paper-pushing bureaucrats and canonical dweebs operating in the bowels of the Vatican who claim to be “the magisterium”.  The pious peasantry may be believe that, but diocesan bishops no better.

  • AgingPapist

    Editor CT, Please go join the SSPX, sedevacantists and other arch heretics.  Benedict XVI may accept you, but others don’t and won’t. You and your ilk are agents of Satan himself. Now very much at home in the Vatican of the Unholy Triumvirate:  Ratzinger, Sodano, and Bertone.

  • AgingPapist

    Anglicans are already re-thinking the wisdom of joining the Ordinariate for any number of reasons.  A shame really because an “English Rite” makes sense, but Benedict’s version really doesn’t reach out to the vast number of Anglicans. It should be attracting Lutherans too through a Lutheran Ordinariate.

    Benedict keeps coming up short with a defective, limited concept of “Anglican patrimony”,. Catholic bishops in the English-speaking world are dragging their feet when it comes to giving the Ordinariate any real power. They don’t like the idea of Msgr Newton and the other former Anglican bishops reporting directly to Rome.  This makes them the equivalent of abbots nullius–a status few bishops since the Middle Ages ever warmed up to.  Like all bureaucrats, the bishops are the world’s oldest protectors of their own turf.

  • EditorCT

    What a confused and ignorant post.  It’s not possible for the laity to “join” the SSPX any more than laypeople can join the Jesuits. And as for your assertion that Pope Benedict – formerly Cardinal Ratzinger – is an agent of Satan … WOW!  What wuold you be saying if an SSPX priest said that?
    This latest suggested aberration is the most recent example of the diabolical disorientation foretold at Fatima by Our Lady.   Satan is at work all right but not in the SSPX – as well you know, hence your fury.  Poor you…

    Luv n stuff

  • archangelo

    There are priests who, due to some inner spiritual struggle that occurred after ordination not fitting the dramatic typecasts which usually dominate the media and imagination, have followed the merciful guidance of the Church by requesting and receiving laicization, accepting the stipulations of the rescript granting laicization (those mentioned above) and living in humble acceptance of the responsibilities still placed on them via Canons 976 and 986.2. Men who don’t love the Church don’t often trouble themselves with these things, only the ones who do love her despite their own flaws. In parish life, they seek anonymity so as to avoid the appearance of scandal, or an unintentional insult to the dignity of priestly ordination that might result through acting in a ministry that is only a part of the priestly character which they received at ordination and will carry forever. That character, honestly lived, combines with the restrictions placed upon them to create a just and continuing penance, the unique penance of the exile who is home and yet not home. Theologically, they are priests forever; canonically, they are less than laymen. In her own way, the Church shares this penance.

    If the Church has decided to permit local ordinaries with personal contact with these inactive priests to judge, case-by-case, a possible small benefit for the good of souls and the lives of the faithful through these small relaxations, then Amen.

  • Ralphpaulcoelho

    How can a Bishop, or anyone, monitor this priest. Lay people are unlikely to be aware of the conditions of the rescript and even less likely to be able to interpret them correctly..
    Maybe Cardinal Dias should be returned to the diplomatic corps.

  • Fr Thomas Poovathinkal





    Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

  • Fr Thomas Poovathinkal



    Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

  • Fr Thomas Poovathinkal


    Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

  • Mcfox14

    If Rome doen not recognize the problem that the Cathollic Church is experiencing, then we are soon to be extinct.  In our diocese, we will have 100 less priest in 10 years.  So many good men have left the priesthood, yet Anglican priests, who are married and have families, are welcomed into t he priesthood in the United States.  How does that make our men feel?  I believe in the gift of celibacy, however, many married men can serve the priesthood as married men and fathers.  Somebody had better spread the news t hat to suggest a married priesthood is not something one s hould be punished for  if they mention it.  Lay people are also inspired by the Holy Spirit.  I can take care of one home….I could not take care of two or three.  That is what we are asking our priest to do in our parish.  We are clustering and at the present time,,,,,do not have a pastor. 

  • Am Nesia

    There seems to be an assumption that the main reason why priests give up their priesthood is because they find celibacy too difficult. It is true some priests leave because they have fallen in love or fathered a child but there are also other reasons why priests leave. Obedience becomes a bigger problem when ecclesiastical authorities expect childlike faith in the wisdom of their decisions, and unquestioning loyalty to not only established doctrines but their personal biases. Often priests who find it difficult to surrender their intellect in a platter to the local ordinary are intelligent capable individuals who are able to build a second career after leaving priesthood. I know several such ex-priests who are very successful in their careers and never for a moment regret their decision to leave the ministry. I don’t think any of them  are waiting anxiously for an invitation to return to the altar. Good riddance!

    Of course the line about “putting one’s hand on the plough and looking back” works well for an inspiring homily to pious naive nuns but in real life, it is not really a bad thing to admit a mistake, regret a wrong decision, or amend one’s ways. Instead I fail to fathom the pigheadedness of people who just believe that they have to live with every decision they have made it life as though they too were infallible. Get real!

  • Cal

    I suppose breaking the vow you took before God was not the cause of your pain but the church insisting it should be kept if you wanted to remain a priest!

  • Anonymous

    Yet one more step in the undermining of the Ordained Priesthood. Parish Deacons, EMCHs, etc.  Destruction of The Faith and demeaning of the Ordained Clergy. 

  • Lukeboy11

    Is this really a Catholic site? The comments are so vituperative. I thought our Lord said we’d be known by the love we have for one another?

  • EditorCT

    Psychologists say that someone should be able to make a life changing decision after reflection for about two weeks. If couples marrying after an engagement lasting at least a year, or priests being ordained after training of several years, can’t stick with the programme,there’s something wrong with them.

    If words mean anything, and if God means what he says, it’s wiser to keep vows than to break them. To say the least.

  • EditorCT

    Well you can take it as read that Our Lord loved the money changers whom he whipped with a corded whip and threw out of the temple.  Don’t confuse polite speech/writing and / or emotional gushiness as “love”.

  • chr Lamb

    Does this mean he would not wear the stole, the symbol of his priesthood, whilst administering the Eucharist?

  • Sanctuaryhouse2

    Let them help with communion so the lay people won’t have too…I am such a layperson regarding this duty as a minister then perhaps more Laity would be more acceptable as to receiving holy communion.. ..then gain some would probaly say …I am not gong to communion to him to him either.

    God you should have stopped creation with the animals….humans made your world nothing but a big mess…sorry eternal father

  • Adrian Johnson

    Since extraordinary ministers do not wear stoles, then no.  

  • Adrian Johnson

    O ye of little faith ! The only problem is your attitude. –With God nothing is impossible. 

  • Adrian Johnson

    Consider a name change?  like “Aging anti-Papist” ? (as you judge, so shall you be judged ;-) 

  • chr Lamb

    Only I gathered that priests and deacons attending mass as part of the congregation (not vested on the sanctuary or in choir) are still supposed to put stoles on to receive communion. From what you say it seems laicised priests do not?

  • Adrian Johnson

    I contest your first statement–can you proove it other than by hearsay? I know for a fact that in the southern AU dioceses in the USA the are already quietly attracting some Lutherans. A lot is happening which is premature for media reportage, and the nay-sayers are happy to spread disinformation to discourage well-meaning people like you.  Benedict’s concept of “Anglican Patrimony” is open-ended and subject to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit developing organically.  That some bishops are not in favor of the Ordinariate is why the Pope gave the Ordinariate prelates “abbots nullius” status, which is pretty clever of him.  You forget that the po-mouthed lot are rapidly aging and dying off, to be replaced by better shepherds of which you will approve.  A few years and the Ordinariate this “new work of the Holy Spirit” will flourish; for no man can stand against the Will of God, which this is.

  • Adrian Johnson

    Young vocations to the priesthood and religious live are springing up in the mature American AU parishes in astonishing numbers–far more than in the surrounding novus ordo parishes, nothing against them –and these young men, inspired by the AU liturgy, are intending to be celebate clergy.  With these young AU vocations, I am noticing that the older, first generation of Anglican clergy coming to the Ordinariate are tending to be a “transitional” generation.  
    If a parish does not have priests, it is because they are failing to present the priesthood to young boys as a desirable vocation; and the parish is obviously failing to pray to the “Lord of the Harvest” for vocations.  If your parish mounts Eucharistic adoration just one day a week for the purpose of praying for vocations, –you will soon have at least one seminarian from your parish–as well as new converts. I speak from experience.

  • Adrian Johnson

    IF this is true, you approve of this deceit? –Doesn’t speak well of you, and makes a person take any of your “facts” with a grain of salt.  Just saying.  

  • Adrian Johnson

    For many years I would have agreed with you, however there are other factors we know more about than we used to– things involving emotional or mental illness, and personality disorders which become more unmanageable with age.  It is a mercy that lacization is an option to remove such men from active ministry for obvious reasons. While the sacramental character is indelible, the vow of chastity or obedience can be despensed for the same reasons a marriage can be declared null and void — some impediment (undiagnosed mental, emotional, etc) can surface years into a priest’s life, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they “put their hand to the plough and looked back”.

  • Joseph

    Thank you Archangelo, you are truly an angel who has spoken the truth and demonstrating the mercy of God to his dispensed priests. As for all those who have taken upon themselves to judge those priests who have left active ministry, the stones that you throw at them will, at your judgement before Christ, be cast upon you for your lack of mercy! Every priest has been configured to be another Christ and will be a priest forever! The Church speaks in the Name of God, and at last, has listened to His merciful voice granting that His priests be accepted and exercise their ministry. Praise, Glory and Thanksgiving to God, His Mercy endures forever!

  • Rev. Fr. Ronnie P. Floyd Floyd

    This seems odd, the congregation with competence is Clergy, what does Propaganda Fidei have to do with this? Isn’t this the type of question a real reporter should ask?

    Your reporter is writing for a UK paper, the UK one should note is not under the jurisdiction of the the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Evangelization of Peoples).  This ruling thus only has jurisdiction in mission countries where the Propaganda Fidei has absolute discretion and is not valid for England where the Congregation for Clergy would have jurisdiction. The discipline of the Church in ENGLAND and the United States thus remains the same.

    This is shoddy reporting to say the least.

  • Joseph

    John, I know exactly how you feel, rejected, humiliated, thown away by the Church, vilified by the clergy and the laity. Please, don’t give in to despair, you are greatly and especially loved by God Who has not, and will not, ever give up on you. Our God is an extraordinarily merciful God and continues to invite you to fulfill your predestined sanctity and eternal glorification. YOU are never too old for God! You have a great work to do exactly where you are now, faithfully living and teaching your faith in your present life situation. There is a great deal of work to be done for you as a Priest on the internet, in your parish, in your neighborhood, everywhere that you can demonstrate the love of God and your neighbor. God bless you forever.

  • Jofazi2

    Who do you think you are throwing stones at God’s priests! You’re an unmericful and judgemental sinner like the rest of those who have usurped the Judgement Seat of Christ! You will have to account to Jesus for those uncharitable words when you face Him in the judgement of your life. And may God have mercy on you who will not have mercy!

  • Crossraguel

    Excellent point Father, demands a prompt response from the author.

  • Joseph

    EditorCT, spoken like an heretical schismatic who has rejected Jesus Christ’s words to His Church and Apostles, “He who hears you, hears me. And he who rejects you rejects me.” The Church will stand forever and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Repent and come back to the Catholic Church.

  • Bob G

    I’m not a very learned man, I don’t speak with big long words of the elites. (I use the word elites with all due respect.) I’m just an ordinary, everyday layman, struggling with my salvation and trying to make some sense out of what’s going on in today’s church. I pray for guidance and try to read and increase my knowledge of the Faith. I’m fortunate to have a pastor that is a non-progressive and feel I can trust his direction. But from what I’m reading here, its evident that not all the “teachers” in the Church are teaching the same thing. In days gone by we could trust our priests and Bishops. (At least that’s what we thought.) It seems to me that the only things that should be tought are the original teachings of Jesus Christ as contained in the Holy Bible and the earliest traditions of the Church.
    In the end, we will all stand before the Lord and have to answer for our sins. Those who do not “teach” the true word will also have to answer for the souls they have lead astray.
    God have mercy on us all.

  • Schezee

    A laicised priest I know supports abortion and is a socialist. Another became a Protestant minister. I am not opposed to laicised priests having an active in a parish, but they would have to adhere to the full teachings of the Church. If not, they could use their knowledge to do some serious damage to the laity who do not have the knowledge or formation to refute them. The laity in the West have already received poor catechetical formation. This could be an absolute disaster if not done properly. As I said, I am not opposed to laicised priests having an active role. They would have to be vetted for orthodoxy first. 

  • Kennyinliverpool

    This is obviously an old issue – about 150,000 priests have left the priesthood to get married …. which is obviously really exciting and also depressing and everything else …
    If married men can and do have fulfil priestly / teaching / sacramental functions in the church then why not just let men marry? 
    Introducing this seems a bit like a cop out … ? 
    Isn’t an either / or situation …. 
    Christianity would be a lot more successful if the number of priests and preachers increased….!! That’s obviously the most important thing for the church right now, especially in Europe / UK contexts.
    - It is a step in the right direction. But if God is calling a man to be ordained and get married then the Church should collaborate with the Spirit and ordain him …. surely the Spirit should be allowed to guide the Church …?

  • Richard

    We need priests to dispense the sacrament of Reconciliation whenever they are needed.

  • Rebo84

    Deacons ARE ordained clergy.