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McCarrick might be ‘laicized’ this week. What’s that?

If McCarrick is laicized, the Church will no longer have responsibility to provide him with housing, medical care, or any other financial benefits. He will not be permitted to celebrate Mass or any other sacraments.

Then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick attends a Mass in Rome April 13, 2018. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Denver, Colo., Feb 12, 2019 / 03:41 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Theodore McCarrick will reportedly be laicized this week, if he is found guilty of having sexually abused minors.

But what does it mean to be “laicized,” “defrocked,” or “dismissed from the clerical state”?

Ordination, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a ‘sacred power’ which can come only from Christ himself through his Church.”

The Church says ordination marks a person with an irremovable imprint, a character, which “configures them to Christ.” Ordination, in Catholic theology, makes a permanent change that the Church has no power to reverse.

“You are a priest forever,” the Letter to the Hebrews says.

This change is referred to as an ontological change, or a change in being itself.

In addition to making an ontological change, ordination also makes a legal change in a person’s status in the Church. By ordination, a person becomes in canon law a “cleric.” The word “cleric” is derived from the Greek word for “casting lots,” a process of selection similar to drawing straws or rolling dice, because in Acts 1:26, Matthias is added to the 11 remaining apostles after lots are drawn to select the right person.

A cleric, or a sacred minister in the Church, is an ordained man who is permitted by the Church to exercise sacred ministry. A cleric is bound to certain obligations, among them is usually celibacy in the Latin Catholic Church, and he possesses certain rights, among them is the right to be appointed to pastoral leadership positions in the Church. Clerics have the right to be financially supported by the Church, and are bound by obedience to the pope and to local Church authorities.

While ordination can never be lost – no power on earth can erase the sacramental imprint of ordination – a person can lose the legal status of being a cleric- this is what is referred to as “laicization.”

When a person loses the clerical state, he no longer has the right to exercise sacred ministry in the Church, except the extreme situation of encountering someone who is in immediate danger of death.

Someone who has lost the clerical state also no longer has the canonical right to be financially supported by the Church.

Often, a man who is laicized is also dispensed from the obligation of celibacy, and permitted to marry – but this is not always the case, especially when someone has been involuntarily removed from the clerical state.

Ordinarily, the Church does not permit a person who has been dismissed from the clerical state to teach, as a layman, in a Catholic college or school, to be a lector or extraordinary ministry of Holy Communion, or to exercise other functions in the name of the Church. This is determined on an individual basis, and exceptions and dispensations can be made.

A person can lose the clerical state because he has requested it through a special petition to the pope personally, or he can lose it as a penalty for committing an ecclesiastical crime, as is likely to be the case for McCarrick. There are even provisions which allow for a priest or deacon who has abandoned his ministry to be removed from the clerical state after a protracted period of time, and through a specified canonical process.

Losing the clerical state as a penalty comes after a person has committed some crime. But it is not the case that everyone who has been laicized has done something wrong- the Church does not suggest that it is immoral for a priest or deacon to request laicization, and there are many legitimate reasons a priest might do so, though these are often deeply personal.

A laicized priest is no longer referred to as “Father,” or by any other honorary title given to clerics.

If McCarrick is laicized, the Church will no longer have responsibility to provide him with housing, medical care, or any other financial benefits. He will not be permitted to celebrate Mass or any other sacraments, except in situations he is unlikely to encounter, such as being with a person in danger of death.

If he is laicized, it is not yet known whether McCarrick will leave the Kansas friary where has been living a life of prayer and penance. Though he is reported to have some financial means at his disposal, and is likely entitled civilly to a Church pension, it is not yet known what options are available to him.

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  1. So much hatred is heaped on this man. At one point, he was a little boy of three years old who lost his father to TB. His mother apparently then went to work. He was an altar boy for his parish, and then went to a Jesuit prep school (Fordham). He was ordained by C. Spellman, who now has a blotch on his record.
    I am not satisfied with the Church merely laicizing McCarrick and those like him. Nor with simply calling what they do evil and sinful.
    If homosexuals are not born, they must be made somehow. Who made McCarrick? How do we prevent another one?

    • I agree. Let’s say he doesn’t have his own means. How would it benefit anyone to have an elderly homeless man who is clearly ill and needs spiritual guidance? I would think he should remain where he is and hope he is surrounded by the kind of people who can help him. I was recently emotionally abused by some gay priests who ganged up on me with shunning and slander so I was forced out of the parish so I have thought long and hard about this.

    • Regardless of what makes a person homosexual (be it childhood trauma, abuse, etc) all human beings have have a free will, and a conscience the ability to distinguish between good and evil. McCarrick, despite his tragic childhood, freely chose to do evil.

      • At 3 yrs. old he wouldn’t remember his dad. Many mothers go to work and the kids turn out fine. Also there are plenty kids raised by one parent or parents with drug or alcohol addiction that turn out fine. This does not excuse his behavior.

      • I don’t think his childhood was any worse than a lot of others, his choices made him and he should have never became a priest, teacher or any other line of work involving young people. Public law & church laws condemned this behavior. It is against both natural law and moral law.

      • This is exactly my feeling on this matter and so many others. “You chose to do what you did – knowing how wrong it was.” Immediate dismissal from the Church. No child should ever be abused, especially not from a priest.

    • Ms Kathryn he doesn’t deserve your sympathy. Why didn’t he seek help when those inclinations surfaced ? If his compulsion was so overwhelming he shouldn’t have entered the seminary .

      • It isn’t sympathy so much for him–he may well be laughing at us, knowing he won’t be defrocked, laicized and dumped on his…er…fanny (because he has too much dirt on other people, like the Pope maybe?). Scrubbing toilets (as suggested below) actually sounds rather reasonable.
        But the little boy he was? That is different. I feel sorry for that one. Was he scared? Neglected? Sad, lonely. Abused? By whom and when. What turned an innocent child into this wolf in shepherd’s clothing?
        Why does this happen? Too easy to say “It’s sin,” punish him, and and walk away. Yes, it is sin. But not just sin but something else. It is just not normal behavior.

        • How do you know it’s not just sin? How do you know this has anything to do with his childhood? The point is that he chose to commit what he knew was an horrible evil.

  2. Perhaps he could clean toilets in every public restroom in DC for the rest of his miserable, lying life.

    CNA should have mentioned that this piece of filth has never offered any public admission of any wrong doing.
    Contrition? Don’t make me laugh. Though McCarrick is quite likely laughing at us.

  3. Oh boo hoo, you mean he may have to live frugally like 90% of the rest of the world, who may not have hurt anyone’s family???? I think whatever income he will have, he should have to give a % back to the diocese people who paid off his problems through the years. How is his future any hardship like the rest of the church is having due to him???? Someone please say something! I can’t see how this squares at all.

  4. I was told as much as 15 years ago to watch for
    Mc Carrick’s fall by one in a position to publicize it
    and so warn others
    .” It was public knowledge his
    filthy life style”
    they told me then went silent. How many others did the same.

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