What are legitimate reasons for a Catholic priest to take a sabbatical?
First of all, Canon Law is silent on this issue. But the local ordinary or bishop may grant a sabbatical, for any number of reasons. In fact many dioceses have a sabbatical policy in place for their clergy. Many can be found on the web.
Here is one example:
SABBATICAL POLICY FOR PRIESTS
A sabbatical is an official extended period away from current ministry and responsibility for the purpose of ministerial, personal, spiritual and theological development and enrichment.
The sabbatical is distinguished from:
a vacation, for which the primary purpose is rest, relaxation and recreation;
a sick leave, for the primary purpose of regaining one's health;
and from “special studies” which are normally of greater length and are a preparation for a distinct official post. (e.g. Canon Law studies in preparation for Tribunal work).
The ordinary length of a sabbatical is four months.
A request for an exception to the length of the leave can be made to the Diocesan Director of Continuing Education for his consideration when the special needs of the priest/pastoral coordinator or the purpose of the sabbatical requires a program that extends beyond four months.
During the time a sabbatical is being planned, allowance should be made for a period of time after the end of the official program for some rest and integration before re-entering current ministry and responsibilities.
The sabbatical leave will be granted for recognized sabbatical programs.
a) A priest/pastoral coordinator will be eligible for a sabbatical after each ten years of service in or for the diocese.
b) Every reasonable effort will be made to provide sabbatical leave for individual priests/pastoral coordinators when requested. Circumstances may limit the number of priests/pastoral coordinators who can be absent from the diocese at any given time. Two sabbaticals a year will be granted. - DIOCESE OF MARQUETTE
In my diocese (Archdiocese of Vancouver), sabbatical leaves can be for two or more years, depending on circumstances and/or studies.
I have known priests to take sabbaticals for a number of reasons in various dioceses:
- Studies in Rome.
- Temporary appointment to a Roman Congregation at the request of the Holy See (5 years).
- Temporary missionary work outside the diocese.
- Temporary leave to work in another diocese (sometimes at the request of Rome).
- Leave due to illness or depression.
- Leave of absence to rest.
- Reasons are sometimes not disclosed, for example when one is studying or being trained to become an exorcist. Many dioceses do not publicly disclose the name their diocesan exorcist(s) for obvious reasons.
Bishops need the permission of the Holy Father to take a sabbatical from their diocese. I personally know of this happening twice.
- Permission to enter a monastery as a postulant.
- Permission to take a sabbatical due to depression.