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Readmission to Sacred Ministry Rehabilitation

NOTE: Please go to FAQ #30 for OBS Comments on Readmission to Sacred Ministry.

(For those cases in which the Congregation for the Clergy is competent.)

I. Dicasteries competent for cases of readmission to Ministry

1. Clerics who already have  dispensation from the obligations of Sacred Orders: the Dicastery that originally dealt with a particular case of dispensation is competent to handle the request for readmission.

2. Clerics having attempted civil marriage without dispensation: the Congregation for the Clergy is competent in the matter of the dispensation from the irregularity of exercising Sacred Orders, save in those cases where the Congregations for the Evangelization of Peoples and Oriental Churches are competent.

3. Religious clerics having attempted civil marriage without dispensation:

a) If they ask to be readmitted to their own or another religious Institute, then the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is competent;

b) If they ask, instead, to be incardinated in a diocese, the Congregation for the Clergy is competent.

II. General criteria for the Readmission

4. There is no right to readmission it is always a grace, a maternal act of the Church to be cautiously exercised with regard for the common good.

5. Pertaining to this common good is the upholding of the dignity of the ministerial priesthood, the defense of sacred celibacy against situations that can endanger it, and above all, that eminently pastoral dimension that must always have a regard for the protection of the faithful in areas sensitive to the faith. The common good must not be exposed to the risk of further scandals, with all the serious consequences which can attend same. At the same time, the authentic good of the petitioner himself should not to be ignored, and care must be taken lest a potential second breakdown, after a readmission, could cause his latter state to be worse than his former.

6. The mere shortage of priests is no grounds for readmission, nor should one proceed hastily in these matters. One must be mindful not to create misapprehensions, especially in the young, who could be led to enter into Holy Orders thinking erroneously that Sacred Ministry can be abandoned and then returned to with a certain ease.

7. Caution should be used in examining possible cases of readmission of clerics who have incurred an irregularity from exercising Sacred Orders already received. In addition, particular attention must be given to the cases of those priests who, despite having asked for and obtained a dispensation in order to contract canonical marriage, have then intentionally attempted a civil marriage out of indifference or contempt for Church law.

III. Prior and indispensable requirements

8. As a general rule, the petitioner must be welcomed by a benevolent Ordinary, who is not from the territory where the cleric has attempted civil marriage, nor where he has lived during the union. If readmitted, it is equally important that the cleric not exercise his Sacred Ministry in the above-mentioned territories. Particular circumstances can suggest an exception to this principle, yet the competent Dicastery needs to carefully evaluate such a possibility.

9. In cases where a civil bond of marriage was involved, a civil Divorce/Dissolution decree from the State is required.

10. Readmission to Sacred Ministry is not granted to someone who has been married more than once, even if the bond was only a civil one.

11. Any offspring must already have reached the canonical age of maturity, they must also be emancipated and self-sufficient.

12. All patrimonial issues regarding the wife and offspring must already have been resolved.

13. The petitioner must be of such an age and enjoy a state of health that still permits him to be useful in exercising a ministry for the benefit of the faithful.

IV. Procedure to be followed

A) The first Stage

The first stage entails a careful examination of the personal situation of the petitioner, who must demonstrate that the underlying causes of the identity crisis which led to the abandonment of Sacred Ministry, have been resolved. This evaluation is to be carried out by the benevolent Bishop under the instructions of the Dicastery.

The duration of this stage will be determined in the individual case by the Dicastery, bearing in mind the scandal caused by the defection, the Petitioner’s history before his abandonment of ministry, as well as whatever might be necessary to prove that the issues which led to the defection have now been dealt with successfully.

The benevolent Ordinary should be in possession of all information regarding the petitioner from the Ordinary of his diocese of incardination, which should explain what led to the petitioner’s personal crisis and the circumstances of the defection. The Benevolent Bishop should immediately forward this information to the Dicastery from which he will receive the necessary instructions for proceeding further.

If the case deals with a religious cleric who asks to be readmitted into the diocesan clergy, the Dicastery will ask the opinion of, and seek any pertinent documentation from the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life. The Dicastery will also ask for any existing documentation from the General Curia of the Institute of which the petitioner was a member and also request the opinion of the Supreme Moderator.

17. The benevolent Ordinary, having been fully informed regarding the petitioner and having followed the directives of the Dicastery, must confirm, in writing and onerata conscientia, his willingness to accept the petitioner into his presbyterate.

B) Second Stage

18. After having received the Ordinary’s declaration mentioned in n. 17, the Dicastery will then proceed to establish a suitable period of time during which the petitioner will reside, tamquam laicus, within a community of priests or in a religious house, under the guidance of a priest, appointed by the benevolent Ordinary to supervise the petitioner. The duration of this probationary period will be established by the Dicastery, in collaboration with the Benevolent Bishop, after consideration of the individual circumstances of the case. This probationary period, in any case, would not be less than one year.

19. During this probationary period, the petitioner will avail himself of regular spiritual direction with a priest of the community, so as to ensure that the reasons for his defection have been appropriately dealt with.

20. Moreover, the petitioner will have to be provided with a suitable program updating his knowledge of spiritual, theological, pastoral and canonical matters. This program of study should be prepared by the benevolent Ordinary and submitted beforehand to the competent Dicastery for approval.

21. During this period, according to the prudent judgment of the benevolent Ordinary and of the supervising priest, the petitioner can gradually be admitted to those pastoral activities, which may be fulfilled by the lay faithful, always respecting the directives of the Inter-Dicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio, concerning the collaboration of the lay faithful in the Ordained Ministry.

C) Third Stage

22. After having successfully completed the residential probationary period, the benevolent Ordinary will prepare a formal “dossier”, to be sent to the competent Dicastery, which must contain the following elements:

a) A written request from the petitioner addressed to the Holy Father, in which he describes the history of his own vocation, the defection, his life outside of Ministry and his motivation for seeking readmission;

b) The opinion of the Ordinary of his original incardination;

c) The written evaluation of the supervising priest, mentioned in n. 18;

d) Other testimonies concerning the fitness of the petitioner to reassume Sacred Ministry, provided by priests and laity who have known him during the probationary period;

e) The votum of the benevolent Ordinary.

The following authenticated documents must also be enclosed in the “dossier”:

f) A copy of the State’s definitive decree proving civil dissolution/divorce of the marriage;

g) The birth certificates of any offspring;

h) A medical certificate indicating the health status of the individual.

23. The competent Dicastery examines all the materials at this point and may require further information or a longer period of probation. In such a case, it must give precise indications to the benevolent Ordinary as to what is to be done in the situation

24. Having reached moral certainty, the Dicastery, if it decides to grant the dispensation, will do so by means of a formal Rescript of dispensation from the irregularity “ad ordines exercendos”. The benevolent Ordinary will then send to the Dicastery, confirmation of the execution of the Rescript and notification of the simultaneous incardination of the cleric into his diocese.


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