Earlier today, the Voice brought you news that Cardinal Timothy Dolan paid pervert priests up to 20 grand as “incentive” to get them to leave their posts when he ran the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Here’s the thing: Dolan, according to Catholic law, might not have been doing anything wrong in authorizing this payoff. In fact, the canon might characterize this decision as being “a good Christian.”
This afternoon, we reached out to Msgr. Thomas J. Green, J.C.D., who teaches at Catholic University of America’s School of Canon Law and is an expert in the field.
We wanted to get a better sense of “laicization” — the technical term for when a priest or nun leaves the Church and becomes a layperson.
Green broke it down for us…
Turns out, there area couple of different ways a cleric can leave the church — via “laicization,” which is voluntary, or via involuntary dismissal.
Laicization tends to be a long, drawn out process. “Technically speaking, that’s because becoming a priest is seen by the Church as a very big deal and a very big commitment,” he said. “It’s a serious issue and they want to make them kind of think twice about it.”
So, if a priest wanted to become a layperson, he would go to the bishop and explain his reasons. Then, the bishop would ask a staff member to prep a “dossier,” which would then get sent to Rome for review, and would include everything from interviews detailing a priest’s time in seminary to his performance in ministry. The bishop would also write up an opinion, but the Pope ultimately makes the decision.
“They’re somewhat reluctant to do so unless you can really demonstrate there’s a real psychological problem or something.”
But what about when a priest is forced out of the church, for something such as child molestation?
“If a guy who is a priest abuses a child, that would be a major reason why you would be removed from the priesthood.”
Rome is often involved in these cases, he said, but with urgent matters, the Pontiff can grant dioceses approval to handle the issue at the local level.
So how does money come into play with defrocking?
“When he’s dismissed he no longer functions technically as a priest, but the very fact that he has been ordained at a certain point in time, there is something irrevocable about that. He could still theoretically say mass and perform certain sacraments.”
Under canon law, he said, there’s still a relationship between said priest and the diocese where he served.
“He still has to be supported to a little extent,” according to canon law, Green said. “In many instances, he has no support. He really is totally dependent upon the church.”
So, even if he had been dismissed for something really bad, the Church would not turn its back on him and leave him without money or healthcare. The diocese will
“be a good Christian to help the guy out,” Green said.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 31, 2012