Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Purging the Priesthood

A few weeks ago the Chicago Archdiocese announced that having asked inactive priests to seek laicization voluntarily last year, it is going ahead to start laicizing hundreds of inactive priests forcibly. This activity caught the attention of the secular press with an article in Today’s Tribune.

The article tries to make some sense of the nonsensical situation, and sometimes gets caught up in the confusion of talking about pedophiles and married priests (two distinct, unrelated issues) in almost the same breath. You would think that the institution is intentially trying to link unrelated issues – like elsewhere, the “delicta graviora” of pedophiles and (gasp) women priests.

Law laid down on lapsed clergy

Under new norms 'indirectly' triggered by sex abuse scandal, Chicago Archdiocese moves to defrock priests with inactive ministries

By Manya A. Brachear, Tribune reporterNovember 8, 2010

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has begun to implement new norms that for the first time allow the church to start permanently removing men from the priesthood without their consent in certain cases.

Church officials say they aren't sure they will use their new powers granted by the Vatican to permanently oust all of the men removed from public ministry for substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor. Doing so would mean removing the church's oversight of at least 11 of the men, freeing them to live on their own.

But without delay, church officials are seeking to permanently remove 240 men — priests and deacons — who have walked away from ministry in the last 40 years. In many situations, the men left to marry or pursue other careers but never sealed the deal with Rome. In others, the men have been absent for at least five years.

In still other cases, church officials say some men purport to be Catholic ministers, potentially misleading faithful couples who seek a priest to officiate at weddings, a sacrament that is not recognized by the church if conducted by a cleric no longer in active ministry.

"We see this as a matter of justice for everyone," said Dan Welter, a deacon charged with processing their termination papers.

Welter clarified that spiritually speaking, once a priest, always a priest. "Priesthood is … a sacrament that is there forever. What we're doing is regularizing their relationship with the church in terms of active ministry," he said.

Historically, the church has never forcibly laicized, or defrocked (as it's commonly called), priests or deacons. They have been expected to make the request for laicization themselves. The 240 cases represent men who never petitioned Rome. The pope must sign off on each case.

Welter said many men have not responded to the letters informing them of the involuntary laicization. Some have protested, saying they support a married priesthood."

Others feel a great sadness because it seems to be ending something they didn't necessarily want to end at that point in time," Welter said.

Bob Motycka said he never requested the formal process when he left in 1997 because it contradicted his dual calling to both vocations of marriage and priesthood.

"If you apply for the process, you have to say, 'I made a mistake and please forgive me,'" said Motycka, the former associate pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Orland Park, adding that his 1979 ordination was no mistake."

I think they could be putting efforts toward other things besides circling the wagons," Motycka said.

Welter said the new norms were triggered indirectly by the sex abuse scandal. They were crafted in order for the church to sever ties with former priests and ensure they don't commit crimes under the auspices of the church.

"We want to clarify their status within the church because all deacons and priests are assigned a bishop," he said. "There is a concern on the part of everyone out there about vicarious liability … the bishop maintains that responsibility until it ends."

Motycka said many men have remained under the radar to avoid the embarrassment and restrictions that often accompany laicization. Despite intense theological training, a laicized priest is forbidden to teach theology or to serve any role on a parish altar.

In the cases of the 13 priests linked to sexual misconduct who have not resigned but were removed from public ministry, a move to defrock would evict six from the Stritch Retreat House in Mundelein, where they are closely monitored. It also would remove the monitors assigned to three priests now living in private homes. Two of the 13 must await the conclusions of canonical trials.

In addition to room and board, health benefits aside from Medicare also would cease. Laicization would not affect pensions, church officials said.

In Milwaukee, Archbishop Jerome Listecki, originally from Chicago, has moved to laicize nine men removed from ministry, saving $90,000 a year. The Chicago Archdiocese declined to say how much it costs to support the men still under the church's watch



  1. What a waste of time and energy. This happens when you marry a penchant for the exactitude of law with the control issues of a hierarchy that doesn't understand the real role of bishops. J Balija

  2. The Church is at the begining of a rebirth in a multitude of ways. I will keep you and your readers in my prayers. May the Holy Spirit open your eyes and soften your heart.