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How irregular: Catholic priests functioning as Anglican clergy

May 19, 2012

A reader sent me a link to an story about a diocese seeking the dismissal from the clerical state of three of its priests who abandoned the ministry and the Church and who are working as Episcopalian (Anglican, in Canada) clergy.  It’s not such an unusual occurence.  In my diocese we have a similar case.  The young priest left the Church, had his Orders ‘received’ by the Anglican bishop, and has set up shop as a pastor in one of the local Anglican communities.  Naturally, it causes scandal among the faithful.  So what is the status of such priests?

Well, first of all, they are irregular to exercise their Orders (c. 1044.1.2) because of any or all of heresy, apostasy or schism.  Furthermore, they are excommunicated for the same reasons (c. 1364.1).  In both cases, they are forbidden to perform any priestly ministry.  IN the latter case, they are forbidden from even receiving the sacraments.

Normally, in the penal law of the Church, to dismiss a cleric from the clerical state, a judicial process (a penal trial) is necessary (cf. c.1364.2 and 1334.2).  For all sorts of reasons, it is not always possible or feasible to hold a process.  We learned that the hard way in dealing with the clergy abuse cases; however, it is true in other cases as well.  Therefore, the Holy Father, granted some special procedures to be followed for the dismissal of clerics.  The American diocese has chosen to make use of those procedures so that the guilty priests can be dismissed from the clerical state. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t priests anymore, it just removes them from a special group of membership in  the Church — the clergy.  Further, it confirms the prohibition to use their sacred powers already in place by the irregularity and excommuncation.  If ever they repent, they can have the excommunication lifted, and even the irregularity dispensed (although there would be no reason to do that) and they would remain as lay members of the Church.

I would be willing to bet the former Catholic priests don’t give a hoot whether they are considered clergy in the Catholic Church or not.  It’s a sad situation.  But for the Catholic faithful it is probably good that they are dismissed from the clerical state.  Some Catholics don’t know any better and are heard to say, “Oh well, too bad about Fr. X but at least he’s a still a priest in the Episcopalian parish.”  Dismissal would help such people to understand that it’s not okay that Father has abandoned his ministry in the Church.

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One Comment
  1. Dan permalink

    I’m glad the 2009 faculties are being put to use. The “analysis” at the link is not very inspiring. My eyes glazed over once someone brought in the sex abuse issue. Thanks for the post, Father.

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