Munich, Germany, May 18, 2022 / 10:51 am (CNA).
Pope Francis has dismissed a prominent German former monk from the clerical state in the wake of his continued celebration of weddings and baptisms after leaving the Catholic Church.
The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising on May 18 confirmed to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, “that Anselm Bilgri has been dismissed from the clerical state by the Vatican.”
A diocesan spokesperson added that it was “normal procedure” for this to be communicated by the local archdiocese.
“This is also the route taken in less prominent cases,” the spokesperson said.
Bilgri is a well-known figure in the German-speaking Catholic world. He was ordained a priest by the future Benedict XVI in 1980. As a Benedictine monk and prior of the scenic monastery of Andechs, famous for its Bavarian brewery, Bilgri soon became known to a wider public.
After he was not elected as the new abbot by the monks of Andechs in 2003, Bilgri took a sabbatical, before announcing he was leaving the monastery. He spent several years working as a consultant and life coach.
In December 2020, Bilgri formally left the Catholic Church. He joined Germany’s Old Catholic community.
Old Catholics belong to a movement originating primarily in the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, consisting of Catholics who were excommunicated over their refusal to acknowledge papal authority in dogmatic matters following the First Vatican Council.
In Old Catholic communities, women can be ordained, remarriage after divorce is possible, and homosexual unions are blessed.
In March 2021, Bilgri came out as homosexual and announced that he was marrying “his long-term boyfriend,” a man almost 30 years his junior. The ceremony was officiated by the mayor of Munich.
Speaking to the German tabloid Bild, the 68-year-old Bilgri accused the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising of having “snitched” on him, saying that the pope had “punitively dismissed” him from the clergy for “persisting in Church schism.”
Bilgri told the tabloid: “They tattled on me in Rome. And requested that the pope react. Absolutely ridiculous. I left the Church a long time ago.”
But Bilgri’s departure from the Church and his continued actions as a priest are two separate things, a canon law expert told CNA.
“By leaving the Church and joining the ‘Old Catholics,’ Mr. Bilgri has committed the delict of schism,” said Father Stefan Mückl, a canon law professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, on May 18.
“This results in excommunication as a penalty. However, excommunication is intended to induce the perpetrator to insight and repentance,” Mückl explained.
“The persistence in a schismatic community, and, aggravatingly, the exercise of priestly functions in it, realizes further canonical delicts, such as persistence in schism despite admonition, as well as sacrilegious acts such as the administration of sacraments despite excommunication.”
“In addition, there is also the ‘marriage’ with another person, which obviously is also a delict for a cleric, punishable among other things by dismissal from the clerical state,” the professor told CNA.
Mückl emphasized that in Bilgri’s case, dismissal from the clerical state was an expiatory punishment, which, moreover, had a permanent character.
“The point here is to atone for behavior that is intolerable for the ecclesiastical community with an appropriate punishment,” he said.
“Mr. Bilgri has rightly earned this punishment after all that he has done publicly and non-publicly. Nevertheless, the call remains for him to repent and reconcile with the Church — for the sake of his own salvation.”
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