CDW, Dispensation from Priestly Celibacy and Vows of Religious Life, 9 February 1991. Private.


A male religious in solemn profession requested and received a dispensation from priestly celibacy from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in the early part of 1991. The votum of the auditor presented the facts of the case, the law of the Church and the application of the law to the instant case. The evidence showed the inability of the petitioner to discern and commit himself to religious life, priesthood and celibacy, as well as the lack of proper formation in the order to live the religious and priestly life assumed at profession and ordination.

Born and baptized Roman Catholic in 1935, the petitioner entered the minor seminary of the order at thirteen years of age. He made solemn profession in1958, and was ordained a priest in 1960. During his priestly life, he taught in high school, served as a college chaplain and was prior of a monastery in a large city. In1981, he left the order and ceased practicing priestly ministry. He desired to marry a woman who was free to marry in the Church.

Through reflection and counseling, the petitioner realized that he sought religious life and the priesthood at the age of thirteen out of shame caused by his parents’ forced marriage due to a pregnancy and their subsequent divorce ten years later. The petitioner was searching for fatherly care and guidance from the priests he admired, and social acceptance from a culture that shunned a child of divorced Catholics.

The votum of the auditor showed the invalidity of the vows because of the inability of the petitioner to discern and commit himself to religious life, priesthood and celibacy. The petitioner lacked the proper formation needed to assume the responsibilities he accepted. The testimony of a priest of the order and the expert opinion of a psychotherapist substantiated the petitioner’s evaluation of his religious and priestly life.

The auditor quoted cc. 1191, §1 (“…a vow is a deliberate and free promise made to God…”) and 1191, §2 (“all who have the suitable use of reason are capable of making a vow”). He noted that the maker must have the capacity to deliberate on the meaning of the vow and the effect of the vow on his life. The

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vow must be freely made, and the maker must have sufficient freedom without undue stress, pressure or inability to promise. A person lacking the suitable use of reason cannot make a vow. The qualities of due discretion and due competence required of married persons are required for a person to make religious and priestly vows, especially the vow of celibacy. If the person lacks these qualities, his vows would be null and void as is the case of a person who married without these requisite qualities. The auditor concluded that the petitioner’s religious and priestly vows were invalid because of the lack of due discretion and due competence.

The dispensation from the obligation of celibacy was granted by the Roman Pontiff on February 4, 1991, and signed by the prefect and secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on February 9, 1991. The rescript is the same as that used by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since 1980. A translation of this rescript can be found in The Jurist, 41 (1981): 227-228.




CDW, 9 February 1991, Dispensation from the Obligation of Celibacy and Vows of a Religious Priest, RRAO (1991): 8-9.