Some of the priests I know were recently given a sabbatical year (in both cases it wasn't for the sake of study - the priests ended their parish assignments lasting for many years and had time to think over whether to take another parish, enter a monastery or leave priesthood completely). When looking for details how sabbatical works for Catholic priests, I found a document concerning archdiocese of Seattle - this seems to expect the priest on a sabbatical to study some special program.

So here are my questions:

1) What does Canon law say about sabbaticals (link to particular canons + brief summary should be OK)?

2) What is up to the Ordinary? How usual is the linked policy, and how different is practice in other dioceses? What reasons for sabbatical are accepted (provided that other requirements have been met) in most dioceses, what in some and what almost never?

I'm interrested especially in situations like that of the two priests I mentioned, but any other information about priests' sabbaticals is welcome.

  • 2
    Canon Law says nothing about sabbaticals, so any arrangements are going to be between the priest and his ordinary [bishop]. Aug 3, 2013 at 11:49
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    Related, but not an answer, IMB missionaries are required to do what a sabbatical implies: 1 year out of every 7. That said, for practical purposes, they tend to take half a year every 3. Aug 4, 2013 at 0:17

2 Answers 2


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:



  1. Definition

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:

  1. a vacation, for which the primary purpose is rest, relaxation and recreation;

  2. a sick leave, for the primary purpose of regaining one's health;

  3. 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.

  1. Eligibility

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.
  • More detailed answer; what is general and what is an example is clear, no confusion. +1 and accepted.
    – Pavel
    Oct 25, 2019 at 13:23

1) Nothing. Canon law is silent on sabbaticals. It's a completely discretionary thing.

2) Priests' sabbaticals can be many things. Some go on to write a book. Others indeed do study -- one of my university friends was a Catholic priest from Australia who came to Oxford, on a sabbatical, to study for a doctorate. During a sabbatical, at least for reasons of study, their faculties remain intact, but they should in general restrict themselves to co-celebration of Mass. Then there are sabbaticals for health reasons -- usually, policies there tend to be subject to diocesan policies on safeguarding the health (mental, physical and spiritual) of priests. Finally, there are sabbaticals for 'other reasons', these tend to be either giving priests some time to think things through (especially if they somehow were affected by a serious incident or experience a crisis in faith, which happens even to priests!) or as a 'lite' version of suspension. The ordinary has pretty unfettered discretion in this area, subject to, of course, not really having much of a choice where a priest is subject to incapacitating illness. Lately, given the recognition that priests are under an enormous amount of stress and need some care themselves, policies are arguably such that they're more likely to give priests some time if they so need. Sorry that's a bit of a disappointing answer, but sadly that's the best one can do when something's up to the about 400 or so dioceses that make up the Church!

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    As far as priests outside their diocese in order to study: it is quite common for a priest who is studying to have an arrangement with the local bishop allowing him to help out, say, at a local parish—so there is (in most of these cases) no need for the priest to restrict his ministry. Jan 27, 2016 at 12:16

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