What Is the Meaning of Laicization of a Catholic Priest?

Laicization is the process of returning a ordained Roman Catholic minister back to the status of laity.
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Laicization in the Roman Catholic Church is the process by which an ordained Catholic minister is removed from the clerical state. The action may be voluntarily requested or it may be involuntarily applied by either a bishop or the Holy See, depending upon the circumstances. The word derives from the Latin "laicus," meaning not belonging to the priesthood. (See reference 1)

1 Voluntary

A voluntary laicization may be requested for a variety of reasons, but the most common one is for marriage. The Catholic Church requires most ordained persons to adhere to a vow of chastity, and some choose to leave because of this. Other voluntary laicizations occur because of a minister's personal desire to pursue another vocation such as standing for a political office. Sometimes an individual does not want to practice a formal ministry anymore. Occasionally some take issue with a doctrine or practice of the Catholic Church and voluntarily choose to leave.

2 Involuntary

The church requires today's prospective ordinands to submit to background checks and undergo psychological screenings before entering seminary, but sometimes Catholic ministers at all levels get into serious trouble. Involuntary laicizations occur because of criminal convictions or serious breaches of church policy. Individual priests may be laicized by their bishop, while bishops may be laicized by the pope.

3 Consequences

Laicized Catholic ministers are not allowed to practice any celebratory ministerial function under most circumstances. They are relieved of all Catholic offices and most individual vows to their superiors. They are not allowed to wear clerical clothing and they may not perform most Catholic sacraments except in an emergency. All Catholic ministers are still considered to possess a "priestly character" as a result of their ordination, whether laicized or not, according to Roman Catholic theology. Consequently, whenever a laicized minister celebrates a sacrament, including the consecration of the Eucharist, it is a valid sacrament but illegal except under the most extraordinary circumstances.

4 Reassessment

Ministers who have been laicized may only be reinstated to the clerical state by the pope, although this rarely happens. More common is the modern practice of encouraging those who have voluntarily undergone laicization for personal reasons to undertake responsible laity roles in their local parish churches. Previously discouraged from doing so by church authorities, the shortage of clerical ministers has allowed many Catholic men and women who formerly undertook holy orders to step in where needed under the discretion and supervision of a local bishop.

Stan Smith is a writer based in Nashville. He has been a journalist with "The Tennessean" and "The Northern Virginia Daily" since 1985 covering crime, corruption and sports. Stan holds a Bachelor of Arts in German history from The University of the South and is working on his first novel.