Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Circular Letter Concerning the Remarriage of Permanent Deacons and the Laicization of Priests, 6 June 1997.
Circular letter to diocesan ordinaries and to superiors general of institutes of consecrated life and of societies of apostolic life:
– Concerning dispensation from the obligations of ordination and from vows with dismissal from the clerical state for priests under the age of 40.
– Concerning this dispensation for priests who are in danger of death.
– Concerning dispensation from the diriment impediment of entering into a second marriage and remaining in the ministry on the part of
permanent deacons who are widowed (Code of Canon Law, Canons 1087-1088).
1. The competence to treat cases of dispensation from the obligations of sacred ordination and of vows in the above-mentioned institutes, such dispensation being inseparably connected with dismissal from the clerical state, lies with this congregation. However, the congregation does not ordinarily present for the consideration of the Holy Father, with a view to the possible granting of the dispensation, those cases in which the petitioner has not yet reached 40 years of age unless there would exist truly exceptional reasons for so doing.
2. In fact, the introductory letter to the normae substantiales et procedurales of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued on Oct. 14, 1980, and still in force, does not exclude the possibility of exceptional cases where petitioners would not have reached 40 years of age, but where the instructional investigation reveals a type of case in which there existed in the petitioner, previous to and concomitant with his sacred ordination, a psychological or physical condition construable as a valid ground for the granting of the dispensation.
3. This dicastery has asked and obtained from the Holy Father the authorization to consider among the exceptional cases to be treated in a special commission, cases conforming to a type which “goes beyond the ordinary motives for defection and above all when grave scandal is present such as when the defects had already emerged before ordination but were not taken into serious consideration by those entrusted with formation.” In response regarding this criterion the cardinal secretary of state has now communicated approval to this congregation.
“This dicastery has asked and obtained from the Holy Father the authorization to consider among the exceptional cases to be treated in a special commission, cases conforming to a type which ‘goes beyond the
. Cf. Secretary of State, Letter 230.139 (Feb. 8, 1989).
. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, letter Per Litteras ad Universos (Oct. 14, 1980), No. 5 and Art. 2: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 72 (1980), pp. 1134; 1136.
. Cf. Secretary of State, Letter 398.161 (Oct. 17, 1996).
ordinary motives for defection and above all when grave scandal is present such as when the defects had already emerged before ordination but were not taken into serious consideration by those entrusted with formation.’”
4. This congregation therefore considers it useful and opportune to inform all ordinaries of particular churches and all superiors general of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life concerning this matter. In this way, in the instruction of cases for priests under the age of 40, provision may be made in the documentation for due proof regarding the existence of exceptional grounds in situations existing prior to ordination. This will enable this dicastery to give active consideration to these cases, even though extraordinary, and to present them to the Holy Father.
5. Where there is a question of priests of whatever age who have contracted a civil union which is capable of being canonically validated and who are in danger of death, the competent ordinaries are asked to send without delay the petition for the dispensation, signed also if at all possible by the petitioner and accompanied by the affirmative votum. In these cases there is no requirement for the normal informative process.
6. As a consequence of the new disposition concerning the permanent diaconate and of the norms issued by the Holy See and by numerous episcopates regarding formation, lifestyle and ministerial activities entrusted to deacons, a difficulty that arises from the impediment preventing “married permanent deacons, widowed after ordination” from contracting a further marriage. Such a second marriage after ordination could in fact be attempted only under pain of canonical nullity.
. For obvious reasons of urgency, both the petition for dispensation and the votum of the competent ordinary may be sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by fax to Rome (local number: 69883499).
. Cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 29; Paul VI, apostolic letter Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem (June 18, 1967): AAS 59 (1967), pp. 697-704; apostolic constitution Pontificalis Romani Recognitio (June 18, 1968): AAS 60 (1968), pp. 369-373; apostolic letter Ad Pascendum (Aug. 15, 1972): AAS 64 (1972), pp. 534-540; Code of Canon Law, Canons 236, 276.2 and .3; 281.3; 288; 1031.2 and .3; 1035.1; 1037; 1042.1; 1050.3; John Paul II, “Catechesis” from the Oct. 13, 1993, general audience address: Insegnamenti, XVI, 2 (1993), pp. 1000-1004; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1554.
. Cf. Ad Pascendum, VI, and Canon 1087 in connection with Canon 1078.2.1.
7. For some time it has become evident that because of this prohibition grave difficulties have arisen for those who have been widowed after ordination but are desirous of remaining in the diaconal ministry.
8. With a view to establishing a new practice modifying the current norm, which requires three cumulative and simultaneous conditions which would constitute motivating exceptions for the granting of a dispensation from the prohibition of Canon 1087, this dicastery has requested and obtained from the Holy Father that any one of the three following conditions taken singly are sufficient for a favorable consideration of the dispensation from this impediment, namely:
– The great and proven usefulness of the ministry of the deacon to the diocese to which he belongs.
– That he has children of such a tender age as to be in need of motherly care.
– That he has parents or parents-in-law who are elderly and in need of care.
9. The cardinal secretary of state, in a letter (No. 402.629) of Feb. 27, 1997, has communicated the approval given by the Holy Father on Feb. 10, 1997, to these above-mentioned new criteria regarding the dispensation from celibacy for priests under the age of 40; and in a letter of March 22, 1997 (No. 402.629), permission was given for the new conditions under which dispensation may be granted from the impediment to a second marriage on the part of permanent deacons who have been widowed after ordination. It was further established that this circular letter be sent to diocesan and religious ordinaries informing them of these new measures for future reference.
10. Diocesan and religious ordinaries are therefore kindly requested to give due attention to these instructions should they have occasion to forward petitions for dispensation to this congregation.
Vatican City, June 6, 1997
Archbishop Jorge Medina Estevez
Archbishop Geraldo M. Agnelo
CLSGBI Newsletter 112 (December 1997): 36-39; Origins 27 (1997-1998): 169, 171-172.