CDW, Loss of the Clerical State through a Rescript of the Apostolic See, 4 April 1995. Private.

I wish to inform you that the Holy Father has accepted the request for a dispensation from the obligations of the priesthood presented by the Rev. ________

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_______, and I herewith send the appropriate rescript to you. I also wish to take this opportunity to express the profound sorrow felt by the Supreme Pontiff, and shared by this Dicastery, at the desertions of priests. Such desertions are always a sad affair, but in our time they present disturbing implications.

As your Eminence already knows, the increase of priests abandoning the ministry at a relatively young age induced the Holy Father to suspend action in the case of those under 40 years of age. His purpose was to give Ordinaries more time to exhaust every possibility in assisting priests in crisis and to allow the latter to reflect more deeply and at length before they decide to leave. The problem has universal dimensions and hence concerns the whole Church in a search for adequate solutions.

This distressing phenomenon reflects significant formational deficiencies both spiritual and pastoral, as well as cultural – in particular, in the education in chastity and the celibate life. It concerns your own Diocese (or Religious Institute) where it is possible to confirm that such early desertions have taken place after only a few years of ordination and the profession of vows, despite a long period of formation. It is necessary to utilize the fruits of this painful experience in an endeavor not so much to single out those responsible for what are by now irreversible facts, but to identify, with a view to the future, the organs of formation that can be renewed.

One indeed has the impression that many of the priests did not have a clear understanding either of the gravity of their desertion, or of their own responsibility in failing to meet promises solemnly contracted with God, or of the gratuitous nature of the dispensation granted to them. Sometimes, in fact, they go so far as no longer to request the dispensation as a grace, but instead demand it as a “right” to be vindicated as the logical consequence of an accomplished fact, such as an attempted civil marriage and the emergence of natural rights. Hence, the “spirit of humility and of penance” required by the “Norms,” rather than being made clearly manifest in a concrete commitment and a promise of reparation, appear to be reduced to a simple expedient to obtain the “dispensation.” Consequently, the capacity of these men to undertake or validly to sanate and later to uphold faithfully the seriousness of a new sacramental commitment such as marriage remains in question.

To the well known ordinary demands of formation one must add that other requirements can be gleaned from recent experience. It is evident that significant gaps of an anthropological nature need to be filled, particularly when one considers modern culture. For this reason, the candidates for the priesthood must have a strong character; they must be capable of vitally integrating the needs of community and solitude inherent in the exercise of the priestly ministry; and finally they must be able to meet the demands of perseverance. Still in force is the obligation to present mature candidates for ordination, whose fitness for the reception of orders rests on a positive moral certitude rather than a purely negative and simple “nihil obstat.”

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In order to assure a “catholic” dimension to the study now in progress, I would ask that, together with Your most trusted collaborators, you begin an intense deliberation into the precise causes that bring about the desertion of these “young men,” and that you have a written report sent to this Congregation. This will permit us to complete our research, to produce a more accurate analysis of this grave problem and to conclude it within a reasonable time.

I wish to thank you for the valuable and effective collaboration which you so generously would place at the service of the Apostolic See in the awaited and more intense evaluation of the aforementioned phenomenon with a view to its more effective treatment.

CDW, 4 April 1995, Loss of the Clerical State Through a Rescript, RRAO (1995): 6-8.