My question stems from considering the content found in https://www.facebook.com/MiraclesTruth/photos/a.268944276778281/1277844892554876/?type=3 regarding an unnamed bishop and the correction given to him by the hand of Pope St. Pius X---

As Pope, St. Pius X had to correct and reprimand several bishops and priests who had fallen into heresy or were flirting dangerously close to that edge. Some of the French prelates who supported the Sillon (a precursor to modern Liberation Theology) were particularly problematic.

One bishop who had been reprimanded continued to act against the Catholic Faith. Pope Pius X called him to Rome. When the bishop entered he made the customary genuflection before the Pope and waited to be acknowledged so he could rise. Pope Pius X remained busy at his desk ignoring the bishop for three quarters of an hour. This was a small penance which the saintly pontiff was imposing.

At last, Pope Pius raised his eyes and looked the bishop directly in the eyes, holding his gaze steady and stern. Without a word he rose and walked over to the kneeling figure. Then he greeted him: "Good morning, your Excellency." Before the Bishop could arise, Pope Pius X swiftly removed the zucchetto from the Bishop’s head and placed it on the edge of his desk. He then dismissed him,

"Have a good day, Father."

And that was the end of the meeting. No more words had to be spoken.

QUESTION: Can a Catholic bishop be deprived of his ecclesiastical rank as bishop without being defrocked? If so, does (anyone know with certainty) if the manner in which the bishop's zuchetto was taken by the pope suggest that the former was no longer a bishop?

Thank you.


2 Answers 2


Pope Pius XI took the cardinal's hat away from the great Jesuit theologian Louis Billot (1846-1931), because of the latter's associations with the conservative (albeit atheistic) French political movement Action Française. Cdl. Billot was the pope's top advisor, too. Yet, he remained a bishop.

Pope St. Pius X similarly removed that bishop's hat to show that he no longer has a right to exercise the office of a bishop publicly; he was suspended. It's not incorrect to address a bishop "Father", as bishops are have fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, but Pope St. Pius X obviously meant it as a humiliation for the prideful bishop.

In a dramatic ceremony at the Second Lateran Council, Pope Innocent II (r. 1130-43) deposed many bishops invalidly ordained by Antipope Anacletus II, saying (Doran & Smith p. 311):

Because the decrees of an irregularly appointed person [Antipope Anacletus II] are irregular, whatever he had established we destroy, whomever he had exalted we degrade, and however many he had consecrated we unordain and depose.

the pope called the creatures of the antipope forward by name and upbraided them ‘with indignation and reproach’. Next he ‘violently seized the pastoral staves from their hands, and shamefully pulled off the pontifical pallia, on which the highest dignity is based, from their shoulders, and also removed those rings by which betrothal to the church belonging to them is expressed, without regard for mercy’.

These are pallia (singular: pallium) vestments: palliums

  • Based on what you have said, may I presume that by calling the enteried Bishop, "Father", the pope had "demoted" him. Is it safe to assume that the humiliated bishop henceforth performed no episcopal duties?
    – DDS
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 0:48
  • @I.Chekhov Pope Pius XI didn't call Cdl. Billot "Father" (that I'm aware of). Pope St. Pius X called some unnamed bishop "Father".
    – Geremia
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 0:50
  • @I.Chekhov "Is it safe to assume that the humiliated bishop henceforth performed no episcopal duties?" That's certainly what that story implies.
    – Geremia
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 0:50
  • Many thanks. I just wanted to make sure.
    – DDS
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 0:51
  • Regarding "Father" Billot---my error; I tried to edit the comment when I realized my mistake. Thanks again.
    – DDS
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 1:29

Can a Catholic Bishop Lose His Ecclesiastical Rank without being Defrocked?

A bishop can if deamed appropriate by the pope be demoted to a lower ecclesiastical rank and can even be laicized if necessary.

Cardinals could lose their rank of cardinal, while still remaining a bishop. This is known as “losing their red hat”!

One clarification, I would like to bring up about cardinals loosing their red hats. Yes, cardinals can and have lost their red hat. Some cardinals have even voluntarily handed in their red hats back to the pope and some nominees, just like bishop nominees have refused these honours.

The ”ex-cardinal Louis Billot in fact did not lose his red hat as implied by other answer, but he resigned from the rank of cardinal. His red hat was not taken away.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Also reigned being a cardinal.

In the Middle Ages, there existed a ceremony for taking away a cardinal’s red hat. The cardinal in question came before the pope bare foot with his his red hat on his head, knelt before the pope and then the Supreme Pontiff himself removed the red hat and after a lecture dismissed the individual in question. Back then priest could be cardinals also. I will try to locate this ceremony online as I believe it would be interesting here.

Now if priests can be demoted to being a deacon, it stands to reason, if circumstances merited it bishop could be demoted to functioning as priests only. Their episcopal faculties thus would be limited by the will of the Holy Father.

Over the centuries, I am sure this has happened.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .