If a long-married priest is divorced on grounds of adultery, and in fact had been having affairs throughout the marriage, can he still be allowed to minister as a priest?
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closed as too broad by David♦ Nov 8 '15 at 14:57
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The short answer to the question in the title is “yes,” a priest is a priest forever, and no amount of sinful behavior on his part can change that.
However, a Latin-rite priest who is married (save in a very limited number of converts from Anglicanism) would presumably have received an indult to leave the clerical state and a dispensation from the impediment to marry (see below).
Hence, such a priest would not be allowed to minister as a priest, save for giving confession in danger of death.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains,
What this means is that a person who has validly (i.e., really) received one of the degrees of Holy Orders—diaconate, priesthood, or episcopate—cannot possibly lose that degree for any reason whatsoever. Neither the Church nor the deacon, priest, or bishop himself has the ability to remove effects of ordination. However, as the Catechism explains,
In the case described by the O.P., presumably the priest in question is either in an irregular situation—that is, he attempted an invalid marriage while still in the clerical state (see Code of Canon Law 1087)—or else he received both a laicization and a dispensation from Canon 1087 in order to marry someone.
In either case, he is still, so to speak, ontologically a priest, no matter how immoral his behavior is. Depending on what the Church has done in his case, he may or may not be juridically in the lay state.
(But the fact that priest who, having received the necessary indult to leave the clerical state and the dispensation from the impediment to marriage, then commits adultery, does not affect his canonical status. He remains, juridically, in the lay state thanks to the indult—however distasteful and immoral are his actions after the fact.)
Note that, in the Eastern Churches, married men can be ordained priests (although they cannot marry after their ordination). There is also a small number of married Latin-rite priests that are converts from Anglicanism, as I mentioned. In such a case, adultery on the part of a priest would certainly be grounds for disciplinary action, although the law does not specify that laicization is necessarily the penalty.
The standard answer of any church that still have priests and accept the Catholic councils will be that sins do not invalidate the priesthood because that would be Donatism, which would be considered a heresy by such denominations.
As any standard church history will have it, the Donatists believed that priests who sin, particularly by denying Christ during a time of persecution, lose their ability to legitimately dispense the sacraments. This position was condemned by a few Catholic councils, as the Catholic church at this time was apparently largely made up of clergy who had denied Christ during persecution, and they took it personally.
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