Wayne Laugesen at the National Catholic Register has some of the canonical detailsof the case of the priest in my diocese, Father Rouville Fisher, who joined Rent-a-Priest and is planning to get married.
Father Jason Gray, a canon lawyer and adjutant judicial vicar for the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., told the National Catholic Register that any Latin-rite priest is automatically suspended under Canon Law 1394 the moment he gets “married.” He said the more severe punishment of excommunication “is a very rare and remarkable event.”
Canon Law 1394 states: “A cleric who attempts marriage, even if only civilly, incurs a latae sententiae (automatic) suspension. If, after warning, he has not reformed and continues to give scandal, he can be progressively punished by deprivations, or even by dismissal from the clerical state.”
“In the Latin Rite, one can become a priest only if he promises celibacy, with very few exceptions,” Father Gray said, explaining that rare exceptions have been made for married Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism. “Breaking that promise results in automatic suspension. Excommunication is an even more serious consequence than suspension.”
Father Gray said a married priest, and even an excommunicated married priest, remains a priest. However, some sacraments administered by a married priest, whether excommunicated or merely suspended, are invalid. Others are valid but illicit, under canon law.
“When a sacrament is invalid, it means nothing happened,” Father Gray said. “A sacrament that’s valid but illicit means the sacrament occurred, but it was against canon law. In general, baptism by a suspended or excommunicated priest would be valid, but illicit. Marriage would be invalid. Last rites would be valid, but illicit. Confession would be invalid. Mass would be valid, but totally, completely illicit and absolutely should not take place.”
Unlike a priest who’s merely suspended automatically by canon law, Father Gray said, an excommunicated priest cannot receive any church sacraments – up to and including Communion.
“Though he’s suspended and excommunicated, he’s still a priest,” Father Gray said. “Dismissal from the clerical state would be an even more serious penalty. Unlike dismissal from the clerical state, excommunication can be lifted if he were to repent and turn things around to the satisfaction of his bishop.”
There are of course others reasons why someone using one of the rent-a-priests would result in an invalid marriage. More than likely those seeking their services couldn’t get married in a Catholic church in the first place because of some other impediment such as a previous marriage. Another would be a lack of canonical form and Catholics in seeking to use Rent-a-Priests are not exactly likely to get a dispensation from canonical form from their bishops.
Not every priest can witness a wedding. Only a pastor of a canonically erected parish as ex officio the authority to do so–and only within the territorial bounds of the parish. A deacon or other priest may validly witness a wedding only by explicit delegation of the territorial pastor and only within the territorial bounds of the parish.
None of the marriages done by the participants in “Rent-A-Priest” or other such groups are valid, even if the couple is free to marry (i.e. no previous marriages, etc.).
Why the press has not made this clear is another example of what seems an almost willful desire to see Catholics reject their faith.
–A. Thompson O.P.
What in the world? Have people just gone plain ole mad these days?
Sometimes we see ourselfs with no background.
Are we living in a one demensional world? It would be nice to feel my back! Also what has been the proiblems with marriage and will it work out in the long run.
ExLutheran-turned catholic and deserved
Do i want people to e.mail meor is it too important to just look through junk mail, so far i can’t decide.
The article said, “baptism by a suspended or excommunicated priest would be valid, but illicit.”
Could someone please explain this to me? We looked up canon law when our daughter was going to be born with a fatal birth defect, and the Church says explicitly that any human being, even a non-Christian, can baptize someone Catholic. (As it turns out, my daughter was baptized by her father because we thought she was imminently dying.)
So why would an ex-priest’s baptism be illicit, if my husband a non-priest/never-priest can perform a baptism licitly?
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