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On January 13, 1971, this Sacred Congregation issued the new Norms for preparing, in diocesan Curias and in the general Curias of clerical religious, petitions for reducing priests to the lay state with a dispensation from all the obligations arising from Sacred Orders.

After the publication of these Norms, some questions and problems were brought to the attention of this Sacred Congregation, especially in connection with the interpretation of certain determinations of the Norms.

To resolve these questions and difficulties, the Sacred Congregation, alert to the concern of the Ordinaries, proposes certain considerations for the authentic interpretation of the Norms which govern this serious and particularly difficult matter.

I. This Sacred Congregation earnestly exhorts the Ordinaries, in their prudence, “in season and out,” to give fatherly assistance to priests suffering from a vocation crisis lest they act precipitously in a matter which is so serious both for their own futures and for the good of the Church. No dispensation should be sought unless there are serious, objective reasons for such a request.

1. It is a matter of recent fact that some priests have demanded a dispensation because of a sudden crisis and then withdrawn the request while the case was being studied by the Sacred Congregation.

2. Others, after receiving notice that the rescript of favor has been issued, conscience stricken and moved by the grace of God, were unwilling to accept the rescript so that they might continue to exercise their priesthood.

3. Finally, there have been some who after obtaining a dispensation and contracting marriage before the Church, have subsequently proved unfaithful to their marriage promises.

An indiscriminate granting of the favor to any petitioner has never been the purpose of these Norms; they are intended rather to facilitate the formal investigation which the Ordinaries are required to make.

II. “The causes and ‘adjuncta’ or circumstances of the difficulties by which the petitioner is troubled” (Norms, n. II, 3b) constitute the principal elements of the investigation to be conducted by the Ordinaries in referring to the Sacred Congregation the reasons for the petitioner’s request. These reasons must be supported by other information and data arising even from the investigation itself (cf. n. II, 3c, d, e) as well as by the opinion which the Ordinary himself gives regarding the petition. The dispensation, however, will not be given automatically; proportionately grave reasons are required.

It is the Sacred Congregation’s duty to weigh the reasons put forward and to make a judgment on each of them, giving due consideration not only to the petitioner’s spiritual good, but also to the good of the Universal Church with faithful observance of the law of sacred celibacy.

For this reason not all reasons presented are to be judged sufficient or valid for obtaining the favor sought. Thus the following are not to be regarded as sufficient: a) the mere wish to marry; b) contempt for the law of sacred celibacy; c) attempted civil marriage, or a date set for celebrating the marriage in the hope of obtaining the dispensation more easily.

Consequently, Ordinaries are not to send to the Sacred Congregation petitions which are based only on the above reasons, especially when petitioners are priests who have been ordained only a few years.

III. It has been asked whether Ordinaries can apply the norm of Canon 81 of the Code of Canon Law to a request for a dispensation from sacred celibacy. The answer to this question is negative, because this dispensation is reserved exclusively and personally to the Holy Father (cf. De Episcoporum muneribus, n. IX, 1).

Accordingly, a marriage that may have been celebrated without a dispensation granted by the Apostolic See itself lacks all validity.

IV. A rescript granting reduction to the lay state and a dispensation from obligations is effective as soon as the Ordinary is notified of it; no acceptance on the part of the petitioner is required. The Sacred Congregation is careful never to communicate the rescript of dispensation directly to the petitioner, but always sends it to the Ordinary so that, when the rescript is executed, he may admonish the petitioner in a more personal way to lead a Christian life that will lead to the eternal salvation of his soul and the building up of the faithful of Christ.

When the petitioner is notified that the rescript has been issued, if he has a change of heart and expresses an intention to continue the exercise of his priesthood, he is none the less to be considered as suspended from every priestly function, because by the fact of notification he is reduced to the lay state; he may nevertheless present to the Sacred Congregation a new petition for readmission to the clerical state. The Sacred Congregation after an appropriate period of trial and on the favorable recommendation of the Ordinary will determine the opportuneness of presenting the new request to the Holy Father.

V. The words “similar institutes” (Norms, n. VI, 4d) include:

a) Faculties, institutes, schools, etc., of ecclesiastical or religious science (e.g.. faculties of Canon Law, Missiology, Church History, Philosophy or Pastoral Institutes, Religious Education, Catechetics, etc.). In such institutes no teaching assignment may be entrusted to married priests; any such assignments must be resigned before a dispensation is granted.

b) All other higher centers of study, even those not strictly dependent on Church authority, in which theological or religious disciplines are taught. In these institutes properly theological disciplines or those closely connected to them (e.g. religious education and catechetics) are not to be assigned to married priests. If there is a doubt about the connection of such disciplines to theology, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will decide the matter in consultation with the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education.

VI. This Sacred Congregation hopes it has adequately answered the questions of those who sought assistance, and that, with the resolution of these difficulties, the Norms may be more easily and faithfully observed.

Given in Rome, June 26, 1972.

Franjo Cardinal Šeper

Abp. Paul Philippe

* AAS 64 (1972), 641-643.