Former US Archbishop dismissed from clerical state

On 16 February 2019, il Bollettino announced that former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick had been removed from the priesthood after Vatican officials had found him guilty of soliciting for sex while hearing Confession.  The English text of the announcement states:

“Comunicato della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede, 16.02.2019

On 11 January 2019, the Congresso of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the conclusion of a penal process, issued a decree finding Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., guilty of the following delicts while a cleric: solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession, and sins against the Sixth Commandment with minors and with adults, with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power. The Congresso imposed on him the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state. On 13 February 2019, the Ordinary Session (Feria IV) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith considered the recourse he presented against this decision. Having examined the arguments in the recourse, the Ordinary Session confirmed the decree of the Congresso. This decision was notified to Theodore McCarrick on 15 February 2019. The Holy Father has recognized the definitive nature of this decision made in accord with law, rendering it a res iudicata (i.e., admitting of no further recourse).

Original text: Italian”

Premier reports that McCarrick, 88, lives in a friary in Kansas after he lost his title of cardinal last year; he will not be allowed to celebrate Mass or other sacraments. The article also notes that the decision “comes a few days before the Pope is to lead an extraordinary gathering of bishops from around the world over the sex abuse crisis which has eroded the faith of many Catholics and threatened his papacy”. Ed Condon of the Catholic News Agency provides a detailed background to events in his article “Analysis: After McCarrick sex abuse verdict, money and power questions remain“.


Roman Catholic Church

The canonical (and thus juridic) position on the loss of the clerical state is to be found in c290-293 CIC: these distinguish between the “clerical state” and “sacred ordination”:

Can. 290 Once validly received, sacred ordination never becomes invalid. A cleric, nevertheless, loses the clerical state: (1) by a judicial sentence or administrative decree, which declares the invalidity of sacred ordination; (2) by a judicial sentence or administrative decree, which declares the invalidity of sacred ordination; (3) by rescript of the Apostolic See which grants it to deacons only for grave causes and to presbyters only for most grave causes.

Can. 291 Apart from the case mentioned in can. 290, n. 1, loss of the clerical state does not entail a dispensation from the obligation of celibacy, which only the Roman Pontiff grants.

Can. 292 A cleric who loses the clerical state according to the norm of law loses with it the rights proper to the clerical state and is no longer bound by any obligations of the clerical state, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 291. He is prohibited from exercising the power of orders, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 976. By the loss of the clerical state, he is deprived of all offices, functions, and any delegated power.

Can. 293 A cleric who loses the clerical state cannot be enrolled among clerics again except through a rescript of the Apostolic See.”

This is emphasized in the Catechism of The Church, Article 6, The Sacrament of Holy Orders, which states

“1583. It is true that someone validly ordained can, for grave reasons, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination, or can be forbidden to exercise them; but he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently.” [emphasis added].”

Church of England

In our post Safeguarding, the C of E and deposition from orders (150713), we noted that though a cleric can be banned from ministry for life he or she remains in priest’s or deacon’s orders and there is currently no mechanism for forced laicisation; and that was confirmed in July 2015 Synod by the Bishop of Durham, replying on behalf of the Chair to a question from the Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford):

“… With regard to exercising ministry, prohibition for life already exists as the most severe penalty under the Clergy Discipline Measure and may be invoked in the case of serious safeguarding offences. When the draft Clergy Discipline Measure was being considered in 2000 the Synod decided not to include deposition in the range of penalties available under the Measure. I intend to invite the House of Bishops to reconsider whether that decision was wise but amending the CDM to allow deposition would require a Measure, so change would take some considerable time.”

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Former US Archbishop dismissed from clerical state" in Law & Religion UK, 16 February 2019,


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