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Larry Davis wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • How long can a priest remain on a Leave of Absence?
  • At some point, does the Church require the person to make a decision one way or the other?
  • Is an extended Leave of Absence ever used by the Church to avoid dealing with a priest that may cause an embarrassment to the Church?
  • During a Leave of Absence is a priest required to be celibate?

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Larry Davis

  { Can you answer some questions related to a priest taking a leave of absence? }

Fr. Jonathan replied:

Dear Larry,

This question could be answered very narrowly or broadly and I am not sure which you want so I will do both.

Narrowly, There are two types of Leaves of Absence — with permission and without permission.

  1. With Permission is usually very limited, maybe one to three years. During this time the priest is usually discerning his life as a priest. He gets secular employment but remains celibate and is bound to his prayers.

  2. Without permission is someone who has just taken off. They have no faculties so they cannot legally do any priestly things. That can go on indefinitely — eventually they may wish to marry in the Church and to do that they will need to get dispensed from their vow of celibacy. Unfortunately, there are some priests who lose their faith and they are never heard from again.

Instead of just being absent without permission (AWOL), the priest can try to rectify his position with the Church and petition the Vatican to be dispensed from their priestly obligations including celibacy. This is commonly known as getting laicized but the term is not a Church term.

The priest remains a priest but is no longer obliged to his promises. A person dispensed from celibacy can get married in a private ceremony but will never be able to legally celebrate the Sacraments with the exception of hearing someone’s Confession and anointing them if they are dying.

Finally, if a priest is guilty of a canonical crime, such as the abuse of a minor, then the priest is dismissed which is a punishment, not a favor. A dismissed priest also cannot perform any Sacraments but is still ontologically a priest and therefore could minister to a dying person like a dispensed priest.

Fr. Jonathan

Larry replied:

Dear all,

Sorry I forgot to Reply to All. Thank you so much for your response.

My question surrounded a priest that left the Church in 1998 and has not been laicized and, as I am told, cannot participate in the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church.

If I understand what Fr. Jonathan has said correctly, if this person has not been laicized, then they are bound to continue to practice celibacy. According to the archdiocese, this former priest is on a leave of absence so is not AWOL.

This formal leave of absence for 17 years would seem to me to be unusual. . . . a mutually consented departure for what ever the reasons.

  • Regardless, is there anyway that a former priest can get married in the Catholic Church?

Thank you very much for your input and willingness to answer questions.

God bless you all.

Sincerely,

Larry Davis

Fr. Jonathan replied:

Larry,

The only way a priest can get married in the Church is to get dispensed from the obligations of priesthood including celibacy, i.e. to be laicized.

Fr. Jonathan

Larry replied:

Thank you.

This is a wonderful service available and I look forward to making a donation to help you to facilitate this work for others.

I think they call it paying it forward.

  • How long would this Laicization take and how difficult is it?
  • Do you have any commentary as to why a priest would be allowed to be on a leave of absence for 17 years without forcing a decision as to whether he should be laicized?

Thanks again.

Sincerely,

Larry

Fr. Jonathan replied:

Larry,

You said:

  • How long would this Laicization take and how difficult is it?
  • Do you have any commentary as to why a priest would be allowed to be on a leave of absence for 17 years without forcing a decision as to whether he should be laicized?

Laicizations after the age of 40 average about 9 months in Rome. Prior to 40 they don't really give them. Every case is different so I cannot comment on his case.

I meant serve as a priest not participate as a layperson.

Fr. Jonathan

Larry replied:

Hi Fr. Jonathan,

You said:
The priest remains a priest but is no longer obliged to his promises. A person dispensed from celibacy can get married in a private ceremony but will never be able to legally celebrate the Sacraments with the exception of hearing someone’s Confession and anointing them if they are dying.

  • Can I assume that the private ceremony can be a Catholic marriage?

I assume by private you mean only a priest and the couple are in attendance.

This Priest on the leave of absence for 17 years is 56 years old. He has not been celibate during this time and is currently engaged to be married. I don't quite understand how he could be engaged unless the woman has not been told the truth or there is total disregard for his responsibilities with leave of absence.

  • Who advocates for or against him being laicized?
  • Why here?
  • Why now?
  • Does the Church support the abuse of his vows for the last 17 years by now granting him laicization?

For all the rules there seems to be no rules.

Thank you.

Larry

Fr. Jonathan replied:


By private ceremony I mean a regular Catholic service but not in the parish of a Church rather in some place designated by Bishop.

Once again, I will not comment on a particular case — too many variables.

Fr. Jonathan

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