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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 at 14:57

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Hi and welcome to the site! +1 as I noticed you have tried to clean up the question a lot. It takes a while to learn the Q & A format of this site. If your are referring to the Episcopal church you might want to include that in the title. Most protestant churches do not use the term 'priest' so many readers might wonder what you are referring to and confuse it with Catholicism. – Mike Apr 20 '14 at 14:51
I see two distinct and separate questions here: (1) Is an adulterous priest still a priest? (2) Can an adulterous priest still be allowed to minister as a priest. While these questions are not mutually exclusive, they should still be given singular attention. Make question #2 a separate question. – DrFry Apr 20 '14 at 15:49

2 Answers 2

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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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

As to the message below, "This post does not cite any references or sources," I guess Wikipedia doesn't count? – david brainerd Apr 22 '14 at 22:31
It seems to me like you need to explain yourself more clearly, at the very least. It would also help to have a couple citations for the other claims you make, such as "This position was condemned by a few Catholic councils..." That may be why the single Wikipedia source isn't enough. – El'endia Starman Jul 3 '14 at 17:49

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,

As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ’s office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily (No. 1582, emphasis in original).

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,

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 (No. 1582, my emphasis).

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.

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